Our continuous quest for what’s new and what’s next, is taking a mammoth toll on the Earth and its resources. Sustainability, which was never a trend to begin with, is today not even an alternate solution in the fashion industry. However, as human beings,sustainability is a part of our lifestyle and our entire fashion system revolves around this axis of responsible living…
Little did Oscar Wilde know that the only thing constant in fashion is ‘change’ and that this form of ugliness would just get murkier in times ahead. Fashion’s shelf-life, which was earlier six months, has now depleted rapidly to merely six weeks and soon will be a dangerously low six days. Our continuous quest for what’s new and what’s next is taking a mammoth toll on the Earth and its resources. Sustainability, which was never a trend to begin with, is today not even an alternate solution in the fashion industry. However, as human beings,sustainability is a part of our lifestyle and our entire fashion system revolves around this axis of responsible living.
Producing clothing in India has always been sensitive towards nature. Be it then the crops planted or how they are woven, everything – including the folklore we weave – is rooted with the purpose of connecting and celebrating every micro-contributor to the eco-surroundings. In the realm of viscous modernity, many of our unconscious eco-practices are forgotten with times. We all would shy away from admitting the fact of trading a steel utensil in barter of our old clothing from the bartanwala or simply just repeating our newly bought clothes for the third or fourth outing. From when home décor became seasonal, I still hold on to my warmest quilt which my late grandmother hand sewed by up cycling her old cotton sarees.
What is Sustainable?
Organic Cotton? Which takes in more water consumption then the regular the crop, which itself is super thirsty plant in itself.
Plastic? It’s a taboo and most hated word in the urban dictionary of sustainability. But isn’t plastic forever – something which will survive every test of time?
Unfortunately, the question is no longer about what will survive but how we will sustain to make our surroundings flourish for future generations. We have always been one step ahead of the western world in this race but now in this competition of being part of global homogeneousness is making us re-think and re-analyze the foundation of our Indianness.
Here’s a look at the 5 R’s of sustainable fashion and see how Indian homegrown talent are re-imagining and interpreting them in their own unique ways.
Reduce: Minimizing carbon and other hazardous chemical emissions, responsible usage of resources, waste management, etc
Recycle: Closing the loops and focusing on circular economy strategies
Re-use: Up-cycling and re-purposing clothes into newer products post their actual life-cycle
Revival: Re-discovering our regional heritage in the context of textile and embroideries.
Reform: Reforming new policies supporting greener innovations and launching sustainable initiatives.
Re-Purposing the Mundane
Designer Amit Aggarwal laid the foundation of this creative movement of imaginative recycling to create unique ensembles out of many industrial scraps. His second label AM.IT (abbreviation for “I am it”) apart from his eponymous couture line focuses on re-inventing forms and structure. For his 2016 LFW resort line, he recycled old tattered Ikat saris and blended them with industrial waste of sticker bindi sheets and created this fabulous line of modern separates. The following year, he created a harajaku inspired line using local cotton towels along with recycled polythene bags.
With every collection he masters the art of re-engineering the mundane and the discarded to construct a new dimension. For one of his bridal couture finales, he extended the idea of ‘re-forming the forgotten’ by constructing opulent bridal ensembles and his signature gown sarees using old Jamdhani brocades and patola sarees.
His products define the new Indian consumers who are ready to invest in innovation and sensitive designs. But his creative experimentation is surely not for the faint hearted. On the other spectrum of this brigade of green designers are designers creating clean minimal designs using authentic organic materials and re-imagining the crafts of our nation.
The best proving case study would be that of Doodlage by Kriti Tula. This young design label is completely based on up cycling textile scraps, re-imagining export surplus, end of roll textiles, etc.
Designer label 11.11 constantly thrives to create modern contemporary designs, incorporating the all-natural approach with quintessential artisanal authencity. They were the first ones in the country to introduce the wonders of Kala cotton (a wild variety of the crop which takes less water intake in its cultivation) and the beauty of hand-spun Khadi denim. Their unique approach of contemporary slow fashion carved that niche to this whole new category of “organic chic” in India. With every collection they consciously reimagine the traditional techniques of textile art and fabric dyeing skills. They have experimented with the painstaking art of micro bandhani from Gujarat and for their latest range they explored the whimsical world of kalamkari hand painting from Karnataka. Each collection is homage and revival of such skills sets which provides craft clusters a ray of new hope.
Ka-sha by Karishma Shahani Khan is one such young brand who is re-defining sustainable in its colourful best avatar ever. Everything is made with hand and lots of love with her signature burst of organic dyes. Her core label creates easy, contemporary silhouettes using local textiles, innovative hand-dyeing skills with interesting embroidery techniques incorporating up cycle materials.
For their AW 2019 collection, they collaborated with Corozo – Vegan Ivory, supported by Pro Ecuador. Corozo is a material made from the Tagua nut sourced from the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador. The nut is harvested naturally and is renewable in nature. With its innate ability to be shaped and carved, they incorporated it in form of buttons, embroidery materials to create alternate ceremonial clothing along with lots of hand spun stripes materials from various part of India.
Their Zero-waste policy led to the creation of ‘Heart to Haat’, a brand that focuses solely on post-production remnants and using innovative techniques to give them a new life. They also offer up cycled products and textile waste management solutions for other brands, manufacturers and designers who are looking to deal with their waste responsibly.
The mantra of up-cycling has proven to be a successful business model here in India as well. The best proving case study would be that of Doodlage by Kriti Tula. This young design label is completely based on up cycling textile scraps, re-imagining export surplus, end of roll textiles, etc. They not only construct one of a kind unique pieces but also functional accessories for every and any hipster lifestyle. The newest joining brand in this category is LOTA by Delhi-based couple Adhiraj Singh and Shradha Kochhar India. This cool brand only focuses on creating genderless shirts styles by mixing motley of discarded printed saris. The response has been tremendous both online and offline and they are quite a rage amongst the Millennial.
Up-cycling of our very own six yard wonder – the sari – helped Italian entrepreneur Stefano Funari win the prestigious ‘The Responsible Disruptive Award’ in Milan, Italy as well the Circular Design Challenge Award 2019 in collaboration with UN Environment. ‘I Was a Sari’ by Stegano Funari is a zero dividend initiative that invests all its profits back into developing the brand or to advancing their main cause – women empowerment. This small project got its major support from GUCCI group and is part of their first global CSR venture under Gucci equilibrium. The project focuses purely on training women from underprivileged communities to become the artisans and ultimately thrives for women empowerment by converting them into skilled artisans and being financially independent in the future.
The Allure of Ayurveda
Couture designer duo Lecoanet & Hemant identified this supreme need to blend nature and clothing a few years ago, when they launch their second line Ayurvastra, a first of its kind label dedicated to the craft of integrating Ayurveda into clothing. Every design from this brand is engineered to have healing properties infused in it through dyes, fabric structure, etc. It’s indeed a perfect blend of ‘scientific, sustainable and spiritual elements’ into something fashionable. It’s astonishing to see how creative sciences are contributing in generating new ideas reflecting the powers of our past.
Designer Shruti Sancheti from the time of the inception of her brand focuses on creating grass root programs with weavers across the country and work towards their authentic revival. From Glistening Paithani of Maharashtra to Kerala’s simplest cotton Kasavu, the label always focuses on re-imagining traditional looms and crafts for contemporary urban consumptions. Her newly launched luxury prêt extension, Pinnacle, also focuses on creating special seasonal capsules incorporating the authentic weaves and embroideries across India.
One brand which has consistently contributed in shaping this globalised Indian sustainable aesthetic is Pero. Aneeth Arora magically whips collection after collection from decades past, which are ecosensitive, on trend yet timeless and poetically responsible. Each and every product crafted in her studio is in keeping with her brand’s tagline ‘Labour of Love’, reflecting it truly. She has contemporarily re-imagined the plethora of Indian textiles and embroideries across the length and breadth of our diverse nation. She is credited with excavating the dying craft clusters and has redefined what we know today: Made in India hand-made luxury.
No Indian sustainability dialogue is complete without mentioning the industry genius – Sabyasachi Mukherjee. This visionary legend made Vintage cool all over again, making all of us conscious about our rich regional legacies, while igniting the thirst to preserve them. His debut collection two decades ago, Kashagar Bazaar, set the tone for a whole new set of aesthetics based purely on the chaotic synergy of up cycling patchwork. Ever since then, a major pie of the Indian luxury (bridal) market has thrived on this idea of patched symphony.
In October 2019, Mukherjee introduced an amazing idea of an upcycled and deconstructed line offline jewellery. He meticulously mixed polka pendants with Tahitian corals, Tourmaline drops along with emerald drops and strands of pearls. Remixing the old with the new, adding some precious stones amongst the mundane has been his secret formula of creating sustainably fashionable iconic pieces.
Fibre of the Future
The sustainability bug has not only bitten the design fraternity, but consciousness has hit right at the fibre level. One successful venture in creating futuristic fibres has been Liva from the Aditya Birla Group. Liva single-handedly branded the cellulosic manmade fibre. Early in 2019, the company also launched Livaeco by Birla Cellulose, a natural fluid fabric which is eco-enhanced. Sourced from FSC certified sustainable forests, the journey of every Livaeco tagged garment can be traced to its origin. It’s redefining Indian retail by incorporating block chain strategies to promote a fair and transparent supply chain in our domestic apparel industry.
Another visionary, who has actively stepped into this dynamic Indian eco-fashion movement, is Reliance industries. RIL is expanding its horizon into future fabrics and has patterned with more than 25 mills that are equipped to produce new-age fabrics using R|Elan products. Their ever expanding pan-India network provides assurance in context of streamlined production, realistic timelines and supreme quality. They have developed and created a vast textile portfolio of sub-brands but the most exciting is GreenGold, which comes with authentic eco-credentials. R|Elan’s Green Gold textiles are constructed from recycling post-consumer PET bottles through renewable energy sources, which minimizes their carbon footprints. Green Gold fabric can be manufactured from pre-coloured fibres, thus further eliminating downstream dyeing and further contributing to responsible energy and water consumption.
Talking of contemporary Indian designs and sustainability, in the past five years, we have observed a tsunami of organic looking, anti-fit driven, and cerebral chic-ish stream of designer labels. This influx of aesthetics somewhere killed the great movement of eco-fashion. The market became saturated with these ‘in your face’ eco-warriors and somewhere down the lane, sustainability became an overabused term. Sadly, in today’s time, it has just boiled down to a marketing gimmick and consumers too are genuinely fatigued by the excessive ‘Green’ agenda.
Sustaining the Future
Fashion events held both in Delhi and Mumbai are consciously celebrating the greener side of the industry. They are actively promoting home-grown ‘green’ labels by dedicating an entire day for sustainable and textile centric runway presentations and are also hosting dialogue programs such as live forums with eminent panelist to generate awareness about sustainability.
What we need to reflect as society is that we need to analyze the power of the cloth again. The Charkha needs to spin; the swadeshi within needs to be awakened from its deepest sleep. It’s time to go back, slow down and rethink our fast consumptions. It’s time to rewind and replay the basic rules of luxury. We need to go on the urgent fashion detox, cleanse our wardrobes and flush out the toxicity.
More than our self, I think it’s our wardrobe which is in this immediate need of Ikigai.