An initiative waiting to happen

Does a school uniform rob children of their individuality? Is a common dress code in the name of instilling pride for one’s school and giving children a sense of identity more of a safety net to prevent acts of bullying and intimidation? Whatever may be the pros and cons, the school uniform is here to stay. Over the years, several schools have improvised in terms of colour, styling and fabric, some even taking that important step to benefit Indian handloom craft and weavers.

Sashikant Naidu, engineer-turned-fashion designer from Hyderabad is well known for his label inspired by Indian culture, heritage and colour. His fabrics are distinctive in terms of yarn, dye, and design and he believes in working only with natural fabrics such as hand woven cottons, khadi, tussars, and muslins. Eco-friendly colours are dominant elements in all his collections.

Teacher Plus spoke to him to get his views on school uniforms and what could be done to get more schools to adopt our hand woven heritage. Some excerpts:

Most school uniforms are restricted to certain colours such as beige, grey, maroon, white, etc. Why do you think this is so and can the colour range be expanded? What would be the impact of colour on uniform design?

I really don’t know why school uniforms seem so restricted in terms of colour… cut, etc., and truly so uniform…if that is a part of discipline… I think it is high time we look at this aspect from a different perspective. If the uniform plays such an important role in shaping careers, then I guess students must wear uniforms all the way until they finish their, maybe, respective doctorates.

Checks and stripes seem to be a common feature with school uniforms. Is it advisable to have different patterns or motifs on them?

Checks and stripes seem such a British influence since the British rule in India… and we seem to be stuck till date, post- independence too… clothes are such an important aspect of life, we all are different people with different personalities… different mindsets and different images… kids should be given the freedom to wear what makes them happy… what makes them comfortable and what gives them confidence… they should not be restrained with pre-conceived ideas and rules set by others for them to grow and become whatever they choose to be.

Uniform vs. no uniform – Comment

Very few countries still follow the strict code of uniforms… and some of the best schools in the world do not know what uniforms are….

A hangover of the British tradition has been that, especially for girls, the pinafores, skirts or divided skirts continue to be the norm in most elitist schools. Do you think Indian dresses can be introduced?

I think there are quite a few schools in every state in our country where children wear Indian clothes like the salwar kameez… nothing should be a compulsion …it has to be an option… and keeping in mind that children have different body types… they should be wearing what suits them.

If you had to design a school uniform, what fabric/colours/weave/design/pattern would you come up with?

If I had to design a school uniform, I would keep a whole lot of things in consideration… above all, I would discuss options with both kids and parents and take a call on that… keeping in mind children’s acceptance and the parents’ wallet.

You have been promoting Indian traditional weaves and textiles, and even though you said you are not into kid stuff, don’t you think there is a vast market out there waiting to be tapped that can be used to promote Indian weaves among school children and thereby preserve and showcase the sheer diversity of India’s heritage?

First and foremost, the comfort of the children is priority… soft finish… lighter fabrics… and durability has to be kept in mind… I would do a variety keeping a few common elements together. Coming from Andhra Pradesh I would love to promote khadi… ikat… and I can definitely relate these two fabrics with school uniforms …it is all about finding the balance convincingly.

The kids-wear business as such is very vast and one of the fastest growing in India’s apparel industry. Introducing Indian handlooms and the huge array of Indian textiles into school uniforms… is a big initiative that should involve the government… the textile ministry… the education department… and the school management… all of them coming together is a tough task but if that can happen, it would be such a great respect we would be paying to the Indian weaver and Indian heritage.

Is there a relationship between uniform design and educational philosophy? How do you think such components as fabric, style and colour play into our idea of what school is all about?

I really don’t know if there is a relationship between uniform design and educational philosophy… but if that has to be believed… as a designer, I would want to interpret it in my own sensibility using fabric, colour and cut, keeping the institution’s school of thought in mind.