Asma Hussain is a Lucknow-based designer who founded a fashion institute in UP in 1994. Hussain spoke to us about reviving the lost art of handicrafts, the challenges she has faced, and finding a market for Indian designs outside the country.
Q. You entered the fashion industry from Lucknow and have worked extensively to popularise the crafts of UP. Tell us about your journey.
A. I was pursuing medicine, but I had to do something creative, so I joined fashion designing. But my journey started in childhood. I don’t remember when I started stitching my own clothes. That was a hobby which got mixed with art and culture. Then I organised my first show in 1994 in Lucknow. I wanted to revive the lost art of handicrafts and fabrics of UP. I started organising and training artisans who did not have means to do anything. I gathered funds for their employment. That’s how my NGO, Youth Upliftment and Welfare Association (YUWA), started. That’s why I stayed back in Lucknow.
Q. What kind of difficulties did you face in establishing the Asma Hussain Institute of Fashion Technology in UP?
A. When I started, people were not ready to recognise what I was doing. As an institute, we were not able to tell people what fashion design is. Nobody knew at that time and asked, “Are you going to make them tailors or models?” So creating awareness programmes, conducting seminars, workshops, counselling sessions for students and their parents, in schools, colleges, and clubs was frequent. Our major industry after agriculture is handicraft and fashion. It’s a very viable industry and we need professionals in it. Now the deal about dressing up is that no one questions it. Its acceptance as an essential part of life has happened.
Q.What can be done for the underrepresented artisans of Lucknow?
A. Staying in Lucknow is challenging as there is no market there. Artisans live in poverty. Some incentives and tax cuts should be given to people in handicrafts. We have to compete with machine-made things which are cheaper and manufactured faster. Commercially, my label was always at a loss, but I wanted to stay back because the artisans were there and market myself in Delhi, Mumbai and outside India. Ultimately to survive, you have to make the brand economically viable. Our investments get blocked and infrastructure is also an issue. People need to know that when they buy handcrafted items, they empower some artisan. Everybody should wear it with pride. So instead of investing your money in foreign brands, give your money to local people.