India: Significance And Challenges Of Protection To Traditional Fashion Under Geographical Indications

Last Updated: 18 July 2017
Article by Aprajita Nigam

Any contemporary colloquy on 'Fashion' is generally founded on a surmise that the discussion conjuncts to modern fashion apparels and products, the designs created by celebrated designers, design houses or even nascent, but modern fashion designers. We largely associate fashion with what is displayed at ramps across the world, from New York to Tokyo and London to Delhi. Fashion, however, is not confined to its modern form. It also envelops the traditional fabrics, styles of clothing, textiles, dresses, etc., which have been manufactured since hundreds of years, not in premium design houses but by local handloom weavers, knitters and other kind of expert workers employing their traditional production methods. Traditional dresses are regarded highly and are combined with modern fashion to create beautiful, colorful and distinctive designer garments.[1] From Pashmina of Kashmir to Kancheepuram Silk of Tamil Nadu, and from Surat Zari of Gujarat to Muga Silk of Assam, India is a land of traditional fashion assets, which hold high economic value in not just national market, but international market as well.

For protection of traditional fashion, 'Geographical Indication' (GI) has features that effectively respond to the needs of indigenous and local weavers, knitters and designers. It indicates that a particular product originates or is manufactured in a specific country, region or locality and embraces some special characteristics, qualities or reputation attributable to such place of origin or manufacture. These special characteristics may be resultant of various factors such as climate, geography, methods of manufacture, concentration of similar businesses in the same region or specialization in the production or preparation of certain products and maintaining of certain quality standards.[2] GIs are jointly owned by communities working in similar business in the same region and accentuate the relationship between human efforts, traditions, culture, land resources and environment.[3] Principally, they perform three chief functions: (i) identifying fashion goods as originating from or manufactured in a particular territory, region or locality, (ii) informing the consumers about quality standards of fashion products, attributable to their geographical origin and (iii) promoting sales of fashion goods of a particular area.

Apart from performing the said three functions, GI protection proves to be a valuable asset for local and indigenous communities of weavers and designers for recognition, promotion and expansion of business. Small local and indigenous communities of fashion workers not only lack bargaining power, but acting individually often makes it difficult to gain recognition for their products. To make things worse, the dearth of capital and resources obstruct large scale production. In such a scenario, collective knowledge, group work, and coordination help in making their ventures successful.[4] As GIs bestow economic benefit to owners for a period of 10 years which is renewable from time to time without any cap on number of renewals, it helps them to generate revenue for further investment which is vital for continuation and promotion of the business of traditional fashion works.[5] Prior to attaining GI status for Banarasi Silk and Brocade, the Banarasi silk handloom industry was doomed under huge loss due to the competition from mechanized units producing the Baranasi Silk Sarees at a faster rate and cheaper cost. Another source of competition was the Sarees made of cheaper synthetic alternatives to silk. To ameliorate this situation, weaver associations in Uttar Pradesh secured the GI rights for the 'Banaras Brocades and Sarees'.[6] Quality, productivity and marketability of products from remote areas also escalate through GI protection. For instance, Shaphee Lanphee, a type of shawl made by needle work without the use of frame over the Loin Loom fabric is woven by Meetei women of Manipur and is worn by the Nagas of Manipur as recognition of honour.[7] Subsequent to attaining GI status, this product became so popular that it is now being manufactured throughout the state. Additionally, it is also pertinent to underline that the economic and financial strengthening of local and indigenous weavers through GI protection further results in economic, social, educational and cultural development of a region or locality.[8]

Though the significance of GIs for traditional fashion can never be an embellishment, there is a need to address the limitations that hinder this potent protection. The mandatory requirement of registration and its territorial nature act as a constraint in the path of seeking protection.[9] Moreover, the lack of single filing system for international registrations adds to the misery. The long and strenuous registration procedures, coupled with the expenditures of registration and renewals in different countries, cost these small communities an arm and a leg. There is a compelling need for a single filing system for GI protection that will not only save time but will cut costs as well. It is pertinent to note here that Lisbon Agreement for the Protection of Appellations of Origin and their International Registration as amended on September 28, 1979 provides for a single filing system for international registrations[10] where the application for international registration can be presented to the International Bureau by the competent authority of the country of origin.[11] India, however, is not a member party of the Lisbon Agreement till date and must deliberate upon attaining the said status for the benefit of the current and prospective GI owners of the country.

The last straw in GI protection is the lack of awareness among prospective beneficiaries. Local and indigenous communities of workers are often not aware of the tools that can be employed to protect their knowledge, skills, creativity and products. Steps must be advanced to initiate IP legal awareness programs for such community of workers where information can be spread about their rights and assistance can be provided for acquiring the same.

[1] Stefan Siegel, "Not just a Label in India", available at: (last accessed on April 15, 2016).

[2] Surekha Vasishta and Amar Raj Lall, 'Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999', in AK Koul and VK Ahuja (eds), The Law of Intellectual Property Rights: In Prospect and Retrospect, 2001, p. 248.

[3] Felix Addor and Alexandra Grazioli, "Geographical Indications Beyond Wines and Spirits: A Roadmap for Better Protection for Geographical Indications in the WTO/TRIPs Agreement", The Journal of World Intellectual Property, 2002, pp.865-97, p.866.

[4] H.S. Siddamallaiah, "Geographical Indication And Knowledge Capital In Evidence-Based Society", DESIDOC Bulletin of Information Technology, Vol. 27, No. 6, Nevember 2007, pp.13-18.

[5] H.S. Siddamallaiah, "Geographical Indication And Knowledge Capital In Evidence-Based Society", DESIDOC Bulletin of Information Technology, Vol. 27, No. 6, Nevember 2007, pp.13-18.

[6] Binay Singh, "Banarasi Silk gets GI Recognition", The Times of India City, September 17, 2009.

[7] Government of India, Geographical Indications Journal, No. 55, November 29, 2013, p. 9.

[8] Dwijen Rangnekar, "The socio-economics of geographical indications – A Review of Empirical Evidence from Europe, May 2004, available at: (last visited on May 15, 2016).

[9] Sec. 20, The Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999.

[10] Art. 5, Lisbon Agreement for the Protection of Appellations of Origin and their International Registration as amended on September 28, 2979.

[11] Rule 5, Regulations under the Lisbon Agreement for the Protection of Appellations of Origin and their International Registration (as in force on January 1, 2016)

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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