hen Rajesh V Shah was appointed chairman of the board of governors of National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) in 2017, there was none of the apoplexy surrounding his predecessor, former cricketer Chetan Chauhanwho departed to become sports and youth affairs minister in Yogi Adityanaths cabinet in Uttar Pradesh. For many reasons. Shah is co-chairman and MD of Mukand Limited, is the proud owner of a Charles Correa-designed home in Mumbai which is a showcase of the best work of 300 artisans, and comes from a family with deep connections to Mahatma Gandhi.
It was on the Mahatmas insistence that his grandfather and Jamnalal Bajaj took over Mukand Steel and ran it together, an arrangement the two families continue to honour even now. Shah is possibly one of the finest ambassadors of Make in India. While Mukand Limited produces over 400 grades of specially engineered steel to stringent requirements for customers across the globe, his involvement in NIFTs revival suggests his seriousness in giving a boost to textiles, which embody the cultural heritage of the country. Shahs mandate is clear: to set right the institution, started in 1986 by late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi at the insistence of Pupul Jayakar and now in 16 centres with 11,000 students and 800 staff.
What is your mandate at NIFT?
Textiles and jewellery form a large chunk of Indias exports apart from IT and NIFT has a very important role in the industry, of textiles, apparel, footwear, jewellery and accessories. The entire industry has not grown as fast as it should and we really need to expand the employment offered if we are to make it grow and provide value addition. At the Textiles India 2017, Indias first ever mega textiles trade fair, at Gandhinagar, Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said something that really struck a deep chordhow textiles would be playing a vital role in the journey from farm to fibre, fibre to fabric, fabric to fashion and fashion to foreign. That helped me in outlining the vision of what we want to achieveto define who we are, which at the core is the student, and the only measure of success there is job offers. Our target should be to get them at least two offers upon graduation with attractive pay packages.
Were there any initial problems?
We found that the faculty though excellent was less than half the strength. For more than ten years, they hadnt been given an increment which had created an extremely demoralising atmosphere, increments and promotions were effected straightaway. Then we found our communications left a lot to be desired, with not even a proper website to represent us. So, we launched the website in November last year highlighting student activities, industry connect, craft interventions, archives and research studies. This we hope will give a global connect to the pan India network of 16 campuses. We have also finalised a new curriculum, which incorporates greater emphasis on course flexibility and learning in depth our traditional crafts techniques while bringing in the latest in global technologies. All this was possible in a short span of time only because of an extremely efficient Director General, very knowledgeable and constructive Board of Governors and of course the total support from the minister Smriti Irani.
Whats the road ahead for NIFT?
Well in one sentence, we want to offer a learning experience of the highest global standards in fashion design, textile and technologies, encourage our diverse student body to revive traditional arts and crafts while remaining relevant to industry and society. As part of this, we want to enhance the NIFT-industry and NIFT-alumni connections and become the largest repository of knowledge and techniques of traditional crafts and textiles. We have also taken on an ambitious India Size project where NIFT will scan more than 25,000 persons across age groups across India to create specific India sizes for garments. We feel this will be a major contribution to building Brand Make in India. NIFT was set up by an Act of Parliament and has tremendous autonomy. The faculty is excited now, because of the flexibility in curriculum and the opportunities for retraining. We intend to recruit new faculty and also rejuvenate relationships we have had with major international fashion and design institutions. The destination is clear and were enthused about the journey.3