Fashion could be really dirty — and, apparently, it is the second largest polluting industry after fossil fuel production. According to environmental stats, fast fashion is the cause of 10 percent carbon footprint in the world caused by synthetic fibers, usage of pesticides and water wastage from industrial productions. Keeping in mind the harmful effects, designer brands are now consciously making an effort to promote sustainable methods for creating products that are guilt-free and absolutely eco-friendly.
On one hand, engineered innovations with cotton, wool, silk, cork leather, faux leather, faux fur, hemp, pleather etc. are wooing the designers, while on the other consumers are educating themselves about sustainable options that do not harm animals or the environment. Designer Gaurav Jai Gupta of Akaaro opines, “Sustainable fashion is not just about wearing organic fabrics and accessories; it is an overall process of creating a product that uses eco-friendly ways with zero-wastage, minimum water waste and completely hand-done from yarn to outfit stage. We have been using specially engineered wool and yarns to create outfits that can be worn for several seasons — as a brand, we believe in upcycling everything and that’s an ideology that will benefit fashion business in the long term.”
In the past half-century or so, chemical processes have completely replaced natural ones in the dyeing of silk yarn. To revive the practice of using dyes derived from natural substances such as turmeric, pomegranate and indigo to colour silk yarn, Niranjana Viswanathan, Director, RmKV silks, is working with over 10,000 weavers to create garments that are long-lasting. Niranjana says, “As a brand, we are antithetical to fast fashion: we emphasis artisanal processes over industrial ones. We work with over10,000 weavers from across the country to preserve crafts. We have provided them with the Modern Pneumatic Handloom or MPHL, a device that eliminates the physical strain of weaving while preserving the skill of the weave.”
Whereas, designer Mahima Gujral of Sue Mui mentions that vegan leather, recycled fabrics, plant-based and wood-based materials such as tencel, organic fibers and hemp innovations are definitely the next big thing in fashion. She says, “We work with hemp on a regular basis and it is one of our star fabrics. Hemp qualities are diverse, and one to take home to. We also pay attention to upcycling post-production waste — we do not leave our scraps or throw them away, we create accessories and other display materials out of it.”
Turns out that the introduction of vegan leather in fashion was a big booster, as the market size of this product according to the Grand View Research survey is projected to reach $85 billion by the year 2025. Designer Poonam Dubey who works extensively with Jharcraft, Development Commission of Handicraft to promote cruelty-free fashion, says, “It’s important to make cruelty-free options in fashion and promote vegan fashion because that directly affects animals. It makes no sense to harm innocent animals to dress. We do our part by aggressively promoting organic fashion and using vegan leather and silk in our creations.”
Not just offline, but online brands like The Kaithari Project, Khara Kapas and Metaphorracha that work with Etsy network encourage dialogues on sustainable choices. Himanshu Wardhan, Managing Director, India-Etsy says, “The Indian sustainable fashion industry is now a movement that is steadily making headway. Consumers, especially millennials, are becoming increasingly conscious about the social and environmental impact that their fashion bears and that’s why campaigns like #Imadeyourclothes become so significant. There are plenty of sellers on Etsy who are making unique and creative products out of recycled items and are getting a tremendous response from the consumers.”
Although sustainable fashion has a long way to go, supporting it could be a costly affair for the makers. Saloni Sakaria, Founder, The Third Floor Clothing, mentions, “As designers, we are aware of our entire supply chain, and look after the people involved in that supply chain. But eco-friendly materials are not commercial materials. They are produced on order and usually takes a while to procure. Whether they are eco-friendly yarns, dyes, fabrics; their processes take longer and thus end up being more expensive than off-the-shelf materials. When using eco-friendly materials, you end up being involved with the makers of these materials directly, giving fair wages for the same. This increases the value of the products.”
Bananas, coffee, pineapple, lotus, stinging nettles, and hemp — what sounds like the ingredients on an exotic shopping list are actually all natural resources that can be turned into sustainable textiles. Speaking about the costing, designer Kunal Anil Tanna adds his two cents, “Sustainable fashion tends to be more expensive than clothing produced by conventional methods. This fact is because of the efforts that go into minimising environmental impact when growing materials, manufacturing, packaging, and shipping. But that’s the right way to go forward.”