Try getting away with mink wear and silk sarees – the generation dares you! In a time where sustainability is not only becoming a reel-time and real-time trend, but also conversation around class and consumerism, these four millennial women have been trying to understand the politics of sustainable fashion, while remaining rooted, relevant, and as reasonably priced as possible (the capitalist market spares who anyway?)
Old is New
Everything of my great grandmom’s has always been repurposed. Sarees have become curtains and blankets, Shararas have become pillow covers. The Indian middle-class tradition runs deep in repurposing anything and everything. So, one can’t help but wonder – what happened to make ‘upcycling’ of clothes a fashion trend, when it really was just a way of life?
Fast Fashion is what happened, according to Kinjal Pawar. Kinjal is the founder of sustainable Mumbai based clothing brand ‘Saga’, which, characteristic to the pandemic, is wholly run on social media. “There is an emotion attached to clothing. Earlier, Indian families would buy clothes only during special occasions, but fast fashion has made consumption easier and cheaper – of course at the cost of the environment and the lives of many many people,” she explains.
“Sustainable fashion is easy if we just reduce and repurpose,” says Kinjal whose brand focuses largely on in-house sustainable designs, zero-waste clothing and customized upcycling. “At Saga all orders are made to size, only once orders are placed with us, except for sample pieces of our designs. Customisations on upcycled fabric is something that we always take up, because we do believe that something brand new can be made from something old,” she says. The NIFT graduate who has worked with multiple fashion houses before, has designs of her own which can be found as a part of her online look-book on Instagram and Facebook. “These are all made from sustainable fabric, sourced from ethical and regional vendors,” she adds.
The pandemic brought in more people to look at slow fashion, Kinjal believes. “There was time to dig deeper. And with brands like Zara and H&M being called out for their terrible work conditions and less-than liveable wages, thanks to social media, more people have started to consciously think about making the shift,” she explains. But Kinjal acknowledges that there is a gap that needs to be bridged before slow-fashion clothing can actually become accessible and mainstream. “It is not true that sustainable fashion is not accessible (one just needs to just stop throwing things out!), but it is true that there is a long way to go for it to become successful,” she says. In order to keep her line economical, Kinjal doesn’t price any of her clothes over INR 3000.
For Kinjal, the idea is simple – the more people start upcycling, the more they will start spending on conscious clothing alone, while retaining the sentimentality to clothing. To me, the logic is simpler: There is light at the end of the tunnel, but how many of us actually make that collective journey through the tunnel to that light, is left to our sensibilities (if any).
Check out their instagram page on @sagabykinjal to know more about their conscious clothing line
Less Is More
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s this: less ordering out, is more money saved; emptier roads and offices, means better air quality; lesser Teams calls, means better mental health!
And if all of the above is true, so is Sanjana Sriram’s philosophy – the lesser you buy, the more you repurpose. And for the uninitiated, upcycling is the epicentre of slow-fashion!
Currently only on social media (and offline at their office/showroom), with a soon-to-be-launched website, Sanjana’s ‘The Thaiyalist’ is based out Chennai and was kick-started earlier this year. The conservation biologist by education says she got into fashion by chance, in her journey to work with environmentalism. “My mom runs a boutique and we have always tried turning her old sarees to skirts and kurtis,” Sanjana tells me. In her exploration of trying to understand conservation in the context of lifestyle, she found that upcycling was the best way of trying to get something old to make something new! “The whole idea of changing sarees into lehengas or anarkalis also caught on with some intrigue with our customers,” says Sanjana, whose three-month old sustainable start-up has already seen some popularity in the pop-up markets of the city. Sanjana currently works with designer Poorvaa Jain, who helps their collective ideas come to life for The Thaiyalist.
Of course, apart from customisations and in-house designs, Thaiyalist also is a conscious brand inside-out. “We reduce our waste, upcycle, source dead-stock and organic fabric, and make sure that we promote a safe work environment,” Sanjana tells me. In-line with reducing waste, they are also coming out with a zero-waste collection soon.
But just like most sustainable fashion designers, Sanjana too agrees that there is a price margin that makes sustainable fashion a class issue. “It is expensive to make clothing that is 100% sustainable. Slow fashion also means that there is no inexpensive mass production involved and so rates are automatically higher,” Sanjana explains. Which circles back to her less is more philosophy with upcycling. “Upcycling reduces the waste created, ensures that you only consume what you need and can repurpose, and reduces the burden on your pockets. It really boils down to how much we actually need vs how much we want!”
The Thaiyalist’s price range starts anywhere at INR 1300 and goes upwards from there based on the complexity of the work and designs. “I started off during the pandemic, albeit at a better phase of it when people were actually able to step out. So I do think I got lucky in terms of how the brand and its pricing was viewed,” she says. The biggest challenge in the pandemic though was to source ethical and cost-effective resources. “This has taken some getting used to, but I think we are getting the hang of it!” she tells me.
The Thaiyalist has a showroom in Chennai where you can come to discuss designs or check out their own collection of clothes. They currently also take orders via instagram.
Check them out on insta via @thethaiyalist
Conscious Is Cruelty-Free
There is a little bit of The Phoenix Company in whatever I have bought in the past couple of years. From apparel to accessory to art, Aditi Maithreya’s The Phoenix Company is everything you need when you want to be your quirky best, while also being eco-friendly in your choices.
A family run small business, The Phoenix Company was started by Aditi’s father as an advertising agency, before Aditi took over a few years ago to add to its portfolio – cruelty free clothing and accessories. The company hosts multiple labels under it that spans from tees, accessories, apparel, Indian wear and more. “Being cruelty free has always been a big part of our growing up. So, it was quite natural for the concept to seep into our brand as well,” says Aditi, who is an artist, designer, and a writer.
In its initial stages, about six years ago, Aditi and her sister Upasika, were focussing on more in-house designs, until they were introduced to weavers across West Bengal, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh who wove cruelty free sarees. “It took my sister to say no to silk during her wedding, for us to seek a better alternative for festive sarees. This took us to the weavers in Bengal who used banana fibre for their clothing. We then learnt about Ahimsa Silks, that really caught our interest and went well with our ideologies,” she says.
The process of getting silk fabric seems most unappealing after I speak to her. “While trying to get silk yarn, the traditional way to do it is to boil the cocoon alive – when the silkworm is still inside,” she says. “This is where Ahimsa Silk works better. It makes sure that the yarn is extracted only after the silkworms have naturally left the cocoon” Aditi explains.
Apart from cruelty free sarees, The Phoenix Company also gets weavers and artisans from across the country to contribute to their range of apparel – dresses, dungaris, dupattas, and more curated by Aditi and her mother. “Banana and Jute fibre-based clothing has definitely become a curious hit among our customers. We also work with ikat and other block printed Indian designs to make diverse clothing,” Aditi adds.
“We wouldn’t say that we are entirely sustainable yet,” Aditi confesses. “There is a lot to learn and incorporate still in our line of products, but with each year we do our best. For example, you will never find leather, silk, or pearls in our range. We use up our fabric waste, and also don’t invest in branded covers for packaging,” Aditi said. Over the past six years, Aditi has authored a book and gotten a series of her paintings showcased with The Sketchbook Project by the Brooklyn Art Library.
The Phoenix Company currently runs four brands under its umbrella, that have apparel, accessories, stationery, an exclusive men’s wear collection, as well as a dedicated collection of upcycled clothing. They also take up projects to custom-make gifts and doodles.
You can find their collection on www.thephoenixcompany.in
Classy Couture meets Calculus of Conscience
I may hate math, but I’ll be the wingman for this one. Mobius Strip could have been just an Avengers reference, till Sanah Sharma decided to make it a full-blown sustainable fashion technique of her own out of it.
That is correct. The Planar Flux is a cutting technique that Sanah Sharma has curated to ensure that her line of clothing is, in her own words, “in a constant state of flux.” “Humans are in a constant state of movement, so it just made good sense to make clothes that go with this ideology of existence,” Sanah tells me in obvious logic.
“I started looking at 2-dimension designs from a 3-dimensional platform. Instead of designing on mannequins, I use kinetics of the body to make a piece of clothing. So ideally, this same piece of fabric can be used while running, jumping, or just casually stepping out,” she explains, while also summing up the philosophy around her ‘Pret’ collection.
When she started out, Sanah was already making low waste designs, but it took her a few months of research and trial to become zero waste. “Turns out that it was all about precision – for each line I make on a fabric, there will be two parts of use to it throughout the design. So, you can easily redesign it from one piece to another, while retaining its aesthetic” she tells me.
This theory-meets-art designer is all about the madness in precision. “During the pandemic, when we started taking in material from people to upcycle and customise, I went with a risky artistic approach. I played music that complimented the rhythm of the fabric, and went along with it to make designs out of it. It’s never gone wrong!” she explains, almost still surprised by her own process. While her Pret and Virtual Drop collections are high-end conscious fashion, her Upcycled collection makes sustainable clothing budget-friendly.
Chennai based Sanah, who has been teaching since she was 23, is a big advocate of fashion being accessible, which she feels can only happen when slow conscious fashion becomes mainstream. “It is so important that influencers and popular figures wear sustainable clothing; that policies change and taxation on unsustainable practices increase,” she says. We are in agreement when we discuss clothing being ethical – how else should it be? “It is almost bizarre when I have to say that something is made ethically or sustainably,” she complains.
Sanah is also the first winner from India for the Red-Carpet Green Dress (RCGD) contest. The RCGD was kick-started nearly a decade ago by Suzi Amis Cameron, an actress, author and environmentalist, who also happens to be James Cameron’s wife. “Every year the RCGD winner gets to design and dress an Academy Award Winner, to help bring sustainable fashion to the forefront. I won the contest in 2020, but thanks to the pandemic, I only get to travel sometime in early 2022 for the Awards,” Sanah explains.
There is Sanah and then there are the likes of us who struggle to draw cats, let alone getting into the theory of doing it. For now, we’ll stick to making the sustainable shift, over replays of The Avengers.
You can check out Sanah Sharma’s collection and work on www.sanahsharma.com
Ayurveda meets Fashion
Gauri Mohan Kuchhal of Ayur Satwa adds, “We have been advocating slow fashion for a long time now. We harness the healing powers of Ayurveda and the energetic properties of plants and herbs to create bespoke natural and medicinal plant dyes. Each dye bath is crafted in small batches according to specifications to dye hand spun threads and infuse them with healing energies before they are woven into textiles and fabrics. Through our brand AyurSatwa, we create meaningful and toxin-free lifestyle products for the mindful fashionistas of today, powered by the ancient knowledge, traditions, and principles of Ayurvastra. This festive season let’s make a conscious effort to not add to our landfills and wear conscious clothing.”
You can check out Gauri’s works on www.ayursatwa.com or @ayursatwa on instagram