This section on Ethical Fashion is made possible with the support of Bhu:Sattva
“Fashion is not necessarily about labels. It’s not about brands. It’s about something else that comes from within you.” – Ralph Lauren.
Over the years, with the realization of the unsustainable and hugely exploitative nature of the fashion industry, there have been attempts to go against the grain and prove that ‘sustainable fashion’ need not be an oxymoron. In India, veteran designers like Ritu Kumar, with her continued patronage of traditional weavers and Deepika Govind, with her experiments using organic denims, have set the stage for a fashion revolution, for an industry where clothing is conscious.
Here is a sample of an emerging breed of young, forward-thinking Indian designers whose work goes beyond beautiful design and highlights the attention to fair practices, social responsibility and environmental sustainability – elements that truly set their creations apart.
1. Anupama Dayal
Her fashion label ‘Anupamaa‘ is synonymous with its philosophy of being wholly organic. With her vibrant prints, Dayal attempts to revive ancient hand-printing, dyeing and needle-craft techniques. Her creations use vegetable dyes and hand carved wooden blocks prepared by master craftsmen and undergo natural processes of colouring and drying.
2. Siddhartha Upadhyaya
Siddhartha Upadhyaya belongs to the young crop of designers for whom good design is more than just aesthetic appeal. With his eco-fashion label August, his focus is on zero-waste design. His technological innovation DPOL helps restructure manufacturing processes in ways that generate less waste, thereby sending less of it to landfills. With DPOL, Upadhyaya is able to increase fabric efficiency by using far fewer raw material including yarn and dyes and create less fabric waste with his signature made-to-fit garments, guaranteeing designs that are truly one of a kind.
3. Anaka Narayanan
Anaka Narayananan left her job as an economic analyst in a New York City firm to start her Chennai based venture, Brass Tacks. Her line carries influences of the clean lines and flattering silhouettes characteristic of Western couture, blended seamlessly with vibrant colours and patterns that make them appealing to modern Indian sensibilities. However, the central focus at Brass Tacks is the use of traditional textiles, natural, hand-woven fabrics, and Indian prints like Ikat and Ajrakh. Brass Tacks’ clothes are better for the environment because the fabrics are all natural (no polyester, rayon), the dyes are safer for the environment, and the hand-woven and hand-block-printed fabrics use less energy. There is no carbon footprint there”, she explains. In the works are khadi denims, giving everyone’s favourite grunge-chic distressed jeans an eco-friendly twist.
4. Swati Argade
Bhoomki, the label of this Indian-American designer was born out of a sense of disillusionment with the sheer waste taking place in the conventional fashion industry – of effort and resources that went into producing large collections that often went unsold. Her desire to create long-lasting, ethically produced fashion in ways that preserved the environment and promoted disappearing textile traditions led to the birth of Bhoomki. With her offerings, she not only advocates, but practices recycling, re-purposing and upcycling. She launched a collection of coats made from recycled bottles and organic cotton last year and says, “These coats will have the lowest carbon footprint vis-a-vis competition in America.”
5. Karishma Shahani
‘Co-exist without contradiction’ is the motto of this eco-friendly designer who recently graduated from the London College of Fashion. Her label Ka-Sha represents her quest to rethink modern design, integrate it with age-old techniques and create products that are truly global in their appeal. Guided by a zero-waste policy, Shahani is known to use plastics, fabric waste and discarded clothing as well as recycle and reuse fabric scraps by weaving them back into her creations.
6. Sheena Matheiken
Sheena is a girl on a mission to make the world see that sustainable fashion is not a contradiction in terms. Rising to fame with her ‘Uniform Project’, she showed that the common lament of ‘I don’t have anything to wear’ is often far from the truth. “The Uniform Project was born out of a desire to do something creative that was also consequential“, she says. Her experiment involved one outfit, a Little Black Dress, styled a different way each day, for a whole year and proving that fashion is really about thinking out of the box by combining looks, accessories, and patterns in ways that appear fresh. Her quirky style won her a huge following, helping her raise funds for the Akanksha Foundation. The Uniform Project is now focused on challenging women to simplify their wardrobes, turn thrift to chic and get creative with a lean wardrobe.
7. Samant Chauhan
Samant Chauhan is perhaps one of the most creative entrepreneurs in India’ s sartorial eco-system. His line of eco fashion in ethical and handcrafted raw silk is an homage to the traditional silk weaving communities of his native town of Bhagalpur in Bihar and an attempt to rejuvenate their slowly disappearing art. His palette comprises of a range of muted, earthy tones that give the garments a natural, flowy feel. Chauhan has also, in association with the Ministry of Textiles developed a line of handloom denim.
8. Shalabh and Anita Ahuja
Shalabh and Anita Ahuja, through their initiative, Conserve, are dedicated to the cause of fashion, with a cause. This socially and environmentally responsible enterprise is refashioning waste into lifestyle products for Western markets, empowering in the process, vulnerable rag-picker communities in India and keeping waste off the streets and away from the landfills. Conserve has patented an energy efficient, dye-free upcycling process whereby plastic waste is turned into Handmade Recycled Plastic (HRP), which a team of trained individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds model into bags, jewellery, and belts for the global market.
9. Paromita Banerjee
Paromita Banerjee’s work is rooted in redefining indigenous handlooms to make them relevant in a global context. “Handlooms give a wider scope to the maker to truly create and manipulate…..and hand-woven fabrics take time to make”, she says of her year round support of rural artisans. Her brand ‘Boro’ borrowed from the eponymous Japanese folk practice of fashioning clothing from rags or cloth scraps to create a distinct blend of textiles and cultures. Her collection is easily identifiable from its generous use of handspun, hand-woven and natural dyed fabrics like khadi, ethically sourced from weavers across the country. Besides, to reduce fabric waste, cloth trims and scraps are upcycled into bags, tags, notebooks and embellishments.
10. Ruchika Sachdeva
Ruchika’s love for sustainable fashion began when she was a student of the London College of Fashion when thrifted, vintage, upcycled garments featured prominently in her wardrobe. Her internship with revolutionary designer Vivienne Westwood helped shape Sachdeva’s own brand Bodice whose underlying message in one of social and environmental ethics. Her design, which she describes as ‘thoughtful‘, relies on ethically sourced fabric and minimal wastage. Her pieces are held in high regard as much for their easy, minimal and modern aesthetic as for their focus on utility and re-usability. A highlight of her collection are the versatile, reversible jackets, garments in adjustable sizes and the use of fabrics that can do without washing or ironing. Her foray into social entrepreneurship was marked by partnerships with local weavers and artisan clusters in Benaras and Rajasthan aimed at improving their income with access to better market opportunities.
The Sustainable Fashion Hub is a series that examines shifts in the the global fashion industry to more sustainable and ethical practices and processes, with a special focus on India. It explores what goes into creating a just and sustainable fashion value chain – from the creation of garments and lifestyle accessories to making them available to consumers. All content on the hub is produced with 100% editorial independence by The Alternative.
The Hub is supported by , India’s first certified organic fashion designer brand in India. With products that are directly sourced from organic cotton farmers at fair trade terms. Bhu:Sattva® uses natural colours, vegetable and herb dyes and goes further to work on reviving various forms of traditional weaving and handloom. Information on its products and processes can be found at http://www.bhusattva.com