Article | Business History Review | Summer 2011

Context, Agency, and Identity: The Indian Fashion Industry and Traditional Indian Crafts

by Mukti Khaire

Abstract

Identity is an important resource for firms, since it is a critical precursor of an important strategic resource-legitimacy. However, identities of new firms in new industries are typically inchoate, since they cannot be classified within pre-existing cognitive categories and therefore do not benefit from a pre-existing understanding or identity of an industry. Given the importance of identity, it is critical that we understand how the identity of a new industry is generated. I attempt to address this gap in our knowledge in this study of the high-end fashion industry in India from its emergence in the mid-1980s to 2005. Although prior studies have attributed the specific identity, structure, and characteristic features of fashion industries in France, Italy, and the UK to the culture of Paris, Milan, and London, respectively, I find that the identity of a new industry is in fact the result of an interaction between contexts and entrepreneurial agency. With the help of oral histories, magazine primary sources, and other databases I show that the Indian fashion industry's specific identity-traditional styles with heavy embellishments, rather than innovative, modern cuts and designs-was not a function only of something inherently and ineffably Indian (as opposed to a modern, Western sensibility), or purely cultural. Rather, it was the result of the actions of early entrepreneurs in the Indian fashion industry, who were making decisions that made them more acceptable to customers given the particular social, cultural, and economic contexts within which they were embedded.

Keywords: History; Decision Making; Identity; Entrepreneurship; Outcome or Result; Fashion Industry; France; Italy; United Kingdom; India;

Citation:

Khaire, Mukti. "Context, Agency, and Identity: The Indian Fashion Industry and Traditional Indian Crafts." Business History Review 85, no. 2 (Summer 2011).