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Sustainable fashion: From slow fashion to zero waste, how desi designers are changing with the times

Apr 17, 2022 / 11:52 AM IST

Designers at eight design labels - Ridhi Mehra, Pink City, Gulabo Jaipur, Vedika M, Summer Somewhere, Flirtatious, House of Fett, Aulerth - tell us which sustainable practices they're weaving into their businesses.

With consumers taking a greater interest in the environmental impact of a product's life cycle, businesses are increasingly adopting sustainability measures like striving for a lower carbon and water footprint. (Representational image: Karina Tess via Unsplash)

Many desi fashion designers and couture brands say they're invested in sustainable fashion. But what does that really mean?

Designer Ridhi Mehra says that for her eponymous design label, it means making "sure to associate with manufacturers and fabric producers who prioritise decarbonizing material production and processing, (and) minimizing production and manufacturing waste".

It also means using high-quality, durable fabrics to craft an ensemble that lasts long and promotes reusability. Durable clothing and design - as opposed to fast fashion - helps because it promotes both long-term use and what is called fashion circularity (when a garment is designed to be used and reused - which in turn reduces the environmental footprint of your wardrobe).

Designer Sarika Kakrania, founder of the label Pink City, says: "The two most important questions in working on a sustainable route are: Where does my product come from? Where does it go once the consumer is done using it? These two questions need a promising and calculative strategy, to ensure a business model that is pro-sustainability."

Kakrania adds that "today's customers are more aware than ever before about the impact of a product's life cycle, and are increasingly expecting businesses to demonstrate leadership in sustainability."

Slow fashion is evergreen and sustainable,” says Saloni Panwar, founder of Gulabo Jaipur. "As a little girl, I used to see my mom and grandmother put clothes in trunks and they would take them out after months and the clothes would still be the same. They would use everything for the long term before discarding them... I strive to design garments that are long-lasting, that can be worn over and over again. I support slow fashion, which is evergreen and basically sustainable so when someday they (the clothes) are donated or dumped, they don’t harm the ecosystem around them. My team and I try to reduce waste as much as possible and that’s why our store is also plastic-free. We use bags that we make out of wasted fabrics. We make masks, as well as the same recycled fabrics."

Meghna Goyal, founder of the label Summer Somewhere, agrees that long-term use is key. "Sustainability means to ensure the ability for something to last over a period of time. Similarly, for sustainable design/fashion, the key is to ensure good quality garments that have longevity. The second layer to sustainable fashion is for the designs to be timeless, which means you can wear it multiple times and over the years and it would still be in-style. And lastly if you no longer want to wear the garment or are simply bored of it - you can resell it. Companies must reduce their overall environmental impact through their actions in order to be sustainable."

Goyal adds: "We use locally sourced fabrics from ethical vendors (using locally sourced helps to reduce your carbon footprint), and each piece is carefully crafted to support a conscious lifestyle with a focus on long-lasting quality... Customers can resell their garments on our website."

To Aakriti Grover, founder of the label Flirtatious, “Sustainability means being mindful of the process... As and when there are more sustainable options available, we make the switch." Grover says the label produces each piece singularly after an order comes in. "This ensures that we produce no more than we need, thereby minimizing leftover stock and waste, while also moving away from the fast-sale, use-and-throw business model," she explains.

Vedika M. Sonthalia, founder and creative director of the label Vedika M, says: “Sustainable design, for me, is a design philosophy and movement revolving around social responsibility. It's about...the nitty gritties of how the piece is produced, how long its life span is before it is discarded. For me, sustainability goes beyond just textiles but extends to production, working conditions, fair-trade, and how committed one is to reducing their carbon footprint."

"We have also started our journey towards zero waste, where each product is made by utilizing the excess fabric from our Vedika M outfits," says Yasho Sonthalia, co-founder, Vedika M. "All of the hand painting for our pieces is done at our in-house textile unit by our artists, using natural dyes," Yasho adds.

"Minimum wastage and optimum utilisation of resources" is also the sustainability mantra of Esha Bhambri and Abhinav Gupta, co-founders and creative directors of the House of Fett. "We advocate inculcating fair practices that lead to ethical garment manufacturing processes that safeguard the environment and the people... Understanding how small steps can lead to a big contribution towards a sustainable future is key," they said.

Beyond garments, designers like Vivek Ramabhadran are trying to adopt sustainable fashion practices in jewellery design, too. “We aim to inspire a change, by reducing the mining footprint generated by jewellery,” says Ramabhadran, founder of the label Aulerth.

"Did you know, gold mining generates more than 150 million tonnes of CO2 emissions? Further, a 9 gm, 22 karat gold ring would have generated over 20 tonnes of toxic waste – that’s almost 6 billion tonnes, annually," Ramabhadran says.

Aulerth's fix?

"Our jewellery is made from brass that is recycled after industrial use (automobiles, construction equipment, and so on) and repurposed for high-quality jewelry," Ramabhadran says. He adds, "We use man-made stones to ensure they carry a minimal to zero mining footprint, with the least ecological damage without compromising on design integrity."

Debarati S. Sen is a Mumbai-based independent journalist and consultant content creator. Instagram: @DebaratiSSen
first published: Apr 17, 2022 11:52 am
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