There was a time, a couple of years ago, when shopping mindlessly was one of life’s greatest joys for me. Forever21 was Mecca and me, its greatest devotee. Today things are slightly different. Attribute it to the almost obsessive need for comfort or a growing academic interest in fashion. To say that, reading up on the horrors of fast fashion and the emergence and necessity of sustainable and ethical fashion left me shocked, would be an understatement.
Apparently it takes over 2700 litres of water to produce one cotton t-shirt from crop to shop or that Levi’s uses over three thousand litres of water during the full product cycle of a single pair of 501 jeans or the fact that the fashion industry is second largest pollutant in the world?
And we’re just scratching the surface here. What about the deplorable conditions that most factory workers in the textile industry work in? Or the landfills filled with un-recyclable refuse from the fashion industry?
Thanks to more awareness though, both designers and consumers are growing socially conscious, and the sustainable fashion movement has been given a push. Nationally, labels like Pero, Doodlage, Ka-Sha, Bhu:sattva, No Nasties, are all paving the way for a fashion industry which incorporates fair trade practices and makes social accountability an integral part of its creations. And the design brigade in Pune is trying to do its fair bit too…
Meet Fedora Fernandez, who started the label Dor-kha, to create comfortable, wearable clothes from Khadi. She is unapologetic when she says, “It wasn’t awareness, or even a need to do socially conscious work, that drew me to sustainable fashion. It was the fact that I wanted something comfortable, wearable and chic. It was only afterwards that I realised the advantages for the environment and weavers. While I worked with cotton for a while, it didn’t give me the same finish and structure that khadi gave me.” But is it easy to work with fabrics like khadi and what is the life for a fabric like that? “Khadi will definitely last longer than your polyester but it also needs greater care. Also, organic, high-grade natural fabrics are expensive”.
“The consumer needs to be educated about proper care and made aware that natural fabrics will lose colour, but they will also get better, and these ‘flaws’ only make them more unique.”
There is also the question of trends. In the book Fashion India, Phyllida Jay quotes Rajesh Pratap Singh as saying that even the most organic of cotton is not sustainable if it then enters a fashion system based on trend-led seasons where clothes are discarded for the next new thing. It is the concern for this waste-led fashion cycle that has encouraged designers to upcycle, creating buttons, tassels, and embellishments out of leftover fabrics.
Amita Deshpande and Nandan Bhat, the founders of Pune-based Aarohana EcoSocial Developments, took upcycling to the next level when they decided to use plastic to create fashion accessories. From tote bags to slings, Aarohana creates products that are trendy and chic, working with tribal women and youth in Dadra and Nagar Haveli. Says Amita while talking about their process, “We work with waste pickers to collect plastic bags from households; the bags are cleaned and washed, manually torn into strips, and then used to weave a fabric using
Says Amita while talking about their process, “We work with waste pickers to collect plastic bags from households; the bags are cleaned and washed, manually torn into strips, and then used to weave a fabric using traditional loom. These fabrics are then used to create several products based on the designs from our team of design interns and associates.”
So, if the designs are available and the products are stylish, why do we not see more sustainable fashion on the roads? Fedora makes an apt observation about what ails the ethical fashion business, “Handloom and sustainable fashion needs the same kind of popularity that a Jägerbomb gets. You can’t go out partying without someone calling for shots, can you? We need to reach a point where handwoven, organic, sustainable outfits enjoy the same popularity. They need to become a way of life, not a choice.” Amita adds to the conversation, “Not everyone understands what we do and the associated price point. At the end of the day, awareness needs to increase. The market will be sustained only if it is customer driven.”
That’s something we can’t deny. Think about this statistic: if we used a garment for nine more months that we do currently, studies indicate that we could save INR 48 billion on the cost of resources required to produce, launder and dispose clothing. Mind-boggling, isn’t it?
The cost of our wardrobe is much bigger than its actual price tag.
How much do we really want to spend?