MUMBAI, India – Prasan Shah grew up hearing the noise of a sewing machine from his family’s garment factory in India, which manufactures clothing that is then sold by leading designers. But he never seriously considered joining the family’s clothing manufacturing business to reflect his latest cooperative experience in Hunan Province, China, and what he learned from the class about managing the family business he took in Northeastern.
“The class made me realize that I was fortunate to have this base where my grandfather and father worked so hard to get up,” he said.
Shah joined the family’s clothing manufacturing business after graduating from Northeastern in 2016, determined not only to strengthen his foundation, but to help shape his future and strengthen the family’s heritage. He immediately focused on the company’s new dimension: clothing design. Three years later, Genuine Madras Trading Company (OMTC) fashion line was born.
“It’s quite special to be able to do this,” he said.
This new business has encouraged families spotlight after years of making clothes behind the scenes. Fifty years ago, to find American clients for his business, Shah’s grandfather traveled from his hometown in Madras, India to open an office for his growing company (also called OMTC) in New York City. Over time, Shah’s grandfather compiled a list of enviable clients who remained “some of the biggest names in American retail,” and began making their clothes from factories in India.
“He really sees the future,” Shah said. From the same office, Shah prepares to launch his family’s first original retail design.
His father diversified the company from garment manufacturing to textiles, and then food production through a sharp pickle line. Even though Shah was immersed in all these companies, it was a collection of new fashions which he found most interesting. He began by combining power with his father and a designer to create pants that were bright and breathing, buttoned shirts, shorts, and blazers without construction with a checkerboard pattern similar to plaid. While the patterns are everywhere among the neat Martha Vineyards, they are actually from Madras (which was later renamed Chennai in 1996).
This style gained international appeal in the 18th and 19th centuries as a result of crossing trade routes from the East India Company, a private company that triggered the growth of the British Empire in India. Madras was an important port for Britain, which was captivated by the checkered cloth worn by the locals and spread it far outside South India, although that popularity rarely benefited the regions where the style originated.
“Madras has a cycle in the world of male fashion,” Shah said. “With what we are doing, it is interesting to bring Madras back to fashion map.”
And in stark contrast to other companies that use checkered printing, Shah said OMTC is rich in the city’s past traditions. They have employed full-time weavers to weave their entire collection in Madras itself; most companies that exhibit these patterns make their clothes outside Madras with machines.
“We want to revive this weaving community, which is a dying community in Madras,” he said.
OMTC soon reached several important milestones in 2019 and in 2020. Last year, the collection was chosen to appear on Pitti Immagine Uomo, one of the most prestigious fashion exhibitions in the world, in Florence. Then, when the line was officially launched in March 2020, it met with initial success: one of the first stores to sell their clothing was a luxury department store Bergdorf Goodman.
“Some brands existed for years before they were recognized by such stores,” Shah said.
More and more shops around the world – from Italy and France to Japan and South Korea – are starting to show interest in their products after their success in fashion shows around the world.
Forty-five stores began carrying their clothes, but unfortunately, sales largely stopped after the spread of coronavirus. When the virus turned into a pandemic, shops began to close and the economy stalled.
Pandemics are likely to have a lasting impact on the fashion industry. Shah said industry experts were discussing the post-coronavirus world – whenever possible – where many wholesalers could close their doors.
“It will be much more difficult to move forward,” Shah said.
Even so, he believes that the unique quality of OMTC will benefit in the coming months and years: family stories, handmade clothing, slow and sustainable processes that are the opposite of fast fashion.
Shah also hopes that these characteristics can help dispel the stereotypes of Indian manufacturing, in particular that they are cheap and cheap labor. He said, “people are willing to pay dearly for something made in France. Well, I feel the same about India and the crafts that we have here. “
When the market is truly open again, OMTC will be excited and ready to share its designs with the world – designs that offer a new outlook on distinctive heritage. And they will be made by weavers with the knowledge of generations at their fingertips, who understand what Madras is.
“Madras is the reason we are where we are – as a family and as a company,” Shah said. “We want to do something that gives back to the community, and at the same time creates a smooth fashion line that works globally.”
Shah is a member Northeastern Young Global Leaders Program, which consists of more than 100 new graduates who advise university leadership and help strengthen the Northeastern international alumni network.
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