The buzz around sustainability – which started in 2009 – continues till date and is directed towards planned action to achieve the envisioned objectives. The dominance of continual consumption and globalised production systems have been witnessed in today’s business of fashion, creating environmental and social impacts…
The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) through its report ‘Pulse of the Fashion Industry’, which was published after the Copenhagen Summit on Global Fashion Agenda, the Forum on Fashion Sustainability, brings forward the fact that: “The global fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world”. The report further states that apparel consumption is expected to rise from 62 million tons today to 102 million tons by 2030. However, fashion as a consumer oriented outcome is showing significant desire for environmental and social concerns.
With this realisation leading world brands have come up with strategic planning in regards with ‘sustainability’.
Understanding Fashion Sustainability
The buzz around sustainability – which started in 2009 – continues till date and is directed towards planned action to achieve the envisioned objectives.
The enlisted forms of sustainable fashion that have been popularly used across the world include: Ethical, Fair, Green, Conscious, Circular,Compassionate; covering areas such as Ecofriendly, Organic, Handmade, Biodegradable, Renewable, Reusable, Recyclable, and Upcycled etc.
- The fashion supply chain demands the availability of appropriate raw material at reasonable distance and the very first solution against the requirement of cotton, which has created greatest harm with the enormous amount of pesticides. Organic cotton is now becoming a popular solution.
India stands at the highest rank of producing and supplying organic cotton to the world. Almost 56 percent of the total production of organic cotton of the world comes from India wherein Madhya Pradesh accounts for 24 percent of world’s organic production as well as supplying to 43 percent of countries. However, despite this, only a handful of brands from India are using organic cotton in their collection and planning new ranges.
- The success stories using organic cotton are unique cases with innovations to bring in social design as well.
Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) is one drive which is working on improvising sustainability in cotton production. Farmers associated with BCI are trained for effective use of water; maintain the health of the soil and natural habitats by giving inputs in regards with care and thus minimizing the impact of harmful crop so as to preserve the fiber quality with the application of decent work principle.
Options to cotton may come from other natural fibers such as hemp, flax, linen and even nettle; they consume less fertilizers and water. Bio-based raw materials procured from wood and bamboos are other good options to support sustainability.
- One support to the supply chain of sustainable yarns are hand spun yarns. India’s hand spinning skills are unique and give a lot of support to sustainable fashion, thus supporting Indian design innovations.
It is known that in appreciation of Indian textiles, Alexander and his successors introduced cotton to Europe and by the Medieval Era, the finest quality Indian muslins were in great demand.
Hand spun, hand woven fabrics – majorly produced in Indian villages – are in high demand. Hand spinning is also supported with solar energy making it such that the yarn can be spun faster and more easily. The recent efforts of the Government of India, through its Ministry of Micro Small and Medium Enterprise (MSME) have supported many clusters including Northeast, by providing them financial support to buy solar charkhas to enhance the production of sustainable yarns and thus providing better livelihoods to artisans.
India’s Khadi initiative is an excellent example of sustainability, spurring the Indian fashion industry towards providing an innovative and sustainable fashion.
- Handlooms are the next robust support to sustainable fashion, not only in India but also to the world’s connoisseurs of sustainability. Thousands of weavers with very specialised techniques are producing beautiful woven fabrics with outstanding quality.
Indian weaving techniques are known worldwide for their exclusive beauty and being on the wish list of the world’s leading designers. The availability of skill support is evident in the creations of renowned Indian fashion designers such as Ritu Kumar, Rahul Mishra, Rajesh Pratap Singh, Hemang Agrawal, and Karishma Shahani Khan who are known for their exquisite innovations using traditional weaves.
Another concept which has caused a fashion revolution is ‘Who Made My Clothes’. It’s a fact that the process of sustainability urges the fashion industry to change in many astonishing ways. However, it is imperative to adapt and practice the same. In a way we are very lucky as we have a very beautiful past providing us with the strong foundation of sustainable practices.
We of the Indian fashion industry need to take a review as to where do we stand amongst this plan of action for availability of resources. Taking this further we need to see how we have to come up with key initiatives especially in innovations, what challenges we are facing and a road map ahead!
Engineered weaves are new innovations that allow weaving a cloth according to pattern requirement. Such innovations are helpful since they minimize wastage that occurs when designers use full length saris or fabrics for their creations
Sustainability & Livelihoods
Hand woven Indian textiles are considered the most sustainable in the country, supporting energy conservation, and many Indian designers have been successful in establishing good examples of social design by giving artisans better livelihood through these.
Weaving textiles by hand is an extremely important livelihood option in rural India, second only to farming. The popularity and consumption of Indian handspun, hand-woven fabric is increasing – a positive sign that India is moving towards sustainability by rebuilding the past – and resources are needed to support innovations to bring in sustainable fashion.Indian hand prints, hand embroideries and hand paintings are valued surface techniques for many decades and have maintained integrated support to the supply chain. The raw materials used in printing and coloration are locally available natural materials. The preparatory processes of hand printing uses camel/ cow/sheep’s dung as mercerizing agents, sunlight as bleaching agents supporting the use of natural recourses at every stage. This involves highly specialised skills to ensure aesthetics with quality. Natural dyes are gaining lot of importance too and will be one of the alternatives to restrict the use of chemicals by fashion industry.
Innovations Will Drive Fashion
Engineered weaves are new innovations that allow weaving a cloth according to pattern requirement. Such innovations are helpful since they minimize wastage that occurs when designers use full length saris or fabrics for their creations.
The popularity and consumption of Indian handspun, hand-woven fabric is increasing – a positive sign that India is moving towards sustainability by rebuilding the past – and resources are needed to support innovations to bring in sustainable fashion
The Consortium of Green Fashion
The forum – established in 2012 – is an innovative concept which offers a platform to discuss the challenges and opportunities in sustainable fashion.
It is striving to increase and share social as well as ecological connections that involves an individual/ institution/organization from the fashion arena with an active involvement in society, and communities to facilitate research, ideas and information encouraging green fashion.
Through its activities, CGF has invited many creative minds to share their success stories, especially those who are established names in the field of sustainable fashion.
The forum initiates and conducts various activities to groom the young fashion fraternity for innovations in sustainability and also appreciates the contribution of industries in sustainable fashion. It provides a platform for collaboration to handloom and handicraft sectors to improve their quality.
Students are encouraged to participate in various competitions to bring in innovations.
It also provides support for training and development. The Indian Fashion Industry has welcomed the forum, calling it promising in its support to sustain
Many of these innovations are possible only with the support of science and technology. The ‘Biodye’ and ‘Avani’ are examples of technologies being used to create weaves which support the environment as well as keep social sustainability in mind. They have provided reliable quality in the support of hi-end fashion houses. Aside from this, with ‘handmade’ becoming the new buzzword of premium and luxury fashion, national and international designers and brands have become dependent on Indian artisans to help them design their creations which then make these designers rich and famous. A lot of designers – while supporting artisan communities – also go for certifications of Fair Trade and GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standards) for their sustainably designed creations. This helps them to confirm their quality standards.
Challenges & Roadblocks
Unfortunately, the road to being completely sustainable is still full of hurdles. The most challenging bit is the fact that companies find it difficult to invest in training, research and development to produce the large quantities that are needed in the market. Short fashion cycles also prove to major roadblocks. Ready solutions are not available on an immediate basis and the costs involved create obstacles in the journey towards successful sustainability. Nonetheless, the fashion industry is struggling towards the goal, slowly yet steadily.
India’s past evidence of sustainable practices and support of resources is expected is an exciting inspiration to many research scholars, designers, NGO’s and educational institutions. The richest in manpower if India takes this as a challenge, another benchmark in sustainability could come in reality.
The Indian fashion industry has been blessed with the support of a great supply chain which aids sustainability. The industry is now making an effort to rebuild Indian tradition with a contemporary twist and because of this, sustainable fashion is being rejuvenated. However, education and training in many areas is vital to sustain the movement of sustainability in the world of fashion in India and across the globe