Jeans have become popular. Rather they have been popularized. They have become a fashion. Fashion means modernity, liberal attitude and global outlook. Fashion is nothing more than a successful marketing operation. The market experts target children and women first. For products like jeans, college boys and girls are the first target. It may not suit all body frames, but fashion being fashion, it sells. The girls end up getting more attention while dressed in jeans. It provides good photographs for the magazines, newspapers and television. While many of them enjoy such attention and publicity in the media, their parents feel edgy sometimes. Once it is adopted by the college going crowds, such fashionable wear becomes popular with the non-college going ones too. Girls live in the villages too and so do boys. A girl dressed in a jean in the countryside draws attention of all age groups, men and women alike. They find it objectionable, uncustomary and offending. They either don’t allow or discourage girls to wear jeans. A variety of code of conduct gets imposed in the village according to which girls cannot wear jeans. The feminist activists grab such opportunity, because it provides a photo opportunity, television debate, interviews for magazines and newspapers, candle-march and agitation for the protection of women’s rights. Who on earth can question such fair intentions? I am with these women rights activists, excepting on economic grounds.
Let us be honest, candid and discerning in matters economic. The jean is a disruptive assault on our economy, which provides jobs to millions of men and women called the weavers. They are manufacturers of sarees, the traditional and graceful wear of the Indian women. They run tiny manufacturing facilities, make beautiful designs and produce attractive sarees. It is their livelihood. If the vast market for their sarees is taken over by the jean, millions of workers will be rendered unemployed. It is not technology which is causing the disruption. It is fashion. Traditional wear like the Lehnga, lugadi and choli has already disappeared largely. After disrupting such a sound economic activity and robbing millions of ordinary people of their jobs, the economically powerful have now converted it into a fashion of huge profits. This shift of livelihood of millions in to a monopoly business of a few fashion designers and marketers has proved fatal for many and windfall for others. Look at the incongruity of the fashion designers and marketers, these very outdated traditional wear of lehnga, lugadi and choli have been made into class wear under the garb of traditional marriage. Let us see their price only to get an idea of the price they command: from 25000 in the lowest category for the very ordinary fashionable class, it goes from 125,000 to 500,000. The bejeweled ones can go still higher. All this huge profit goes to the marketer and designer, who had disrupted the traditional wearer and manufacturer in the first instance by just branding it old fashioned or outdated and mining gold from the same venture by establishing monopoly of the market and establishing a brand. The jean holds similar threat to the saree industry in Benaras, Kanjeevaram, Ahmedabad and hundreds of other places. The size of the market can be judged from the numbers of the customers: A whopping 50,00,00,000 (Fifty Crores) or 50,000 crore rupees. Can we afford to suffer such an economic slaughter?
I have picked up the jean as a symbol of the economic catastrophe. There are several other equally potent products and services that suffer threats from fashion wear and beverages. The Indian climate led to development of products suited for it. Take the sherbats, which have been thrown out by Coca Cola and Pepsi. The extreme heat of India needs a drink like one of the dozen sherbats to quench the thirst, which coke or Pepsi don’t do. But offer the fashion conscious or educated urban Indian sherbet and watch the face she makes. Another variety of a soothing summer drink , the thandai has almost been forgotten. A big chunk of the indigenous herbal beverages has already been eaten away by Coke and Pepsi. Market strategists would not allow it to be made public but the hard reality is that both Coca Cola and Pepsi are health hazards, can cause diabetes, obesity and ulcers. The traditional drinks were healthy and nutritious and within reasonable price bands. But they are not in fashion, they are out and Coca Cola and Pepsi are in.
It is not different from fruit juices marketed in India. Under the authority of doctors, consumers are discouraged from consuming grapes and mangoes for their high sugar content. But the same fruit are sold in the form of juices, attractively packed and priced high to impart it the glow of a class and advertise their nutrition value. Huge amounts are spent on advertisements to sell them as a nutritious product, whereas it is dangerously high on sugar and synthetic preservatives. This is neither technology nor health issue but naked marketing strategy in the name of fashion or class and destruction of economic activity of immense value and large employment potential.
The attack on Indian sweets is even worse. Rasagulla is harmful to health, chocolate is not! Can there be another example of twisted logic? This economic activity provides the highest number of jobs to the uneducated in the country. The workers are trained in their vocation and have a name for their product akin to brands in modern markets. They enjoy “goodwill” that the best international chocolate manufacturers cannot claim. But their operations are manual, not mechanized. The reason is that the activity has been so organized to provide local opportunities for employment and supply of products and services. They are small restaurants but also cater to big parties and marriage feasts. They help reduce migration of workers. When chocolate comes into fashion fully, the sweet shops will close down.
The point at issue is: What kind of economic policy do we want for India? One that generates jobs or destroys them? Professional skills of these trained people put to disuse once will be gone forever. Once they are forced to migrate to other vocations, they shall never return back to pursue them and their children would not even think of doing that. Closure of traditional economic facilities due to the market stress caused by products and services introduced as a sign of fashion, is bound to disrupt and destroy existing facilities and livelihood. It can never be the goal of any government. It has to design policies to make traditional economic activity face challenge from fashion effectively.