What does sustainable fashion mean, when the very word ‘fashionable’ implies something transient? It turns out that it’s buying clothes to use and reuse and use again, and step away from a culture that celebrates the disposable.
Last weekend saw Bengaluru host a film festival on a topic that was jargon a few years back but may soon turn, if it’s not already, a buzz word: Sustainable Fashion. Called The GreenStitched Film Festival, the day-long programme had films that dealt with serious issues that are pertinent to the fashion industry. Fair trade, cotton farming, slow fashion, waste clothing, the future of clothing and craft revival- the documentaries and movies encompassed subjects that tend to get lost in the melee of fashion photos on Instagram and loud sales pitches on ecommerce websites.
For 23-year-old Roshni Rajendra, who organized the festival and also runs the blog GreenStitched, the idea seemed appealing because “there is a need to raise awareness about sustainable fashion”. “Think about how many clothes you owned as a kid. How many clothes did your parents own back then? How often did you and your family shop then? Compare that to the amount of clothes you own today. Clothes are cheaper now and fashion has become so transient. But amidst the sales and the glamour, we need to pause and think about how clothes have become so cheap. Thirteen billion ton pounds of textile wastes are generated each year in the US, of which only one percent is recycled. Do we really want to be sitting on a dump yard of textile wastes?” Rajendra pointedly asks.
Earlier this month, at the Times Litfest, designers and fashion experts, Prasad Bidapa and Wendell Rodricks echoed Rajendra’s concerns. “What we need today is for everyone to practice responsible fashion. People need to decide if they really want to buy a bag or a dress because it is the season’s latest fashion,” said Rodricks, while Bidapa felt that globalization of fashion had triggered fast fashion. “We need to endorse that we don’t need to buy clothes so often,” he noted.
Slow fashion, sustainable fashion, responsible fashion, fair fashion, ethical fashion, the terms are many. But do they mean something significant or are they being thrown around to sound cool?
“Sustainable fashion means different things in different countries. In developed countries it could mean having best practices in place with regard to manufacturing garments, while in India, ‘sustainable fashion’ is mixed with our textile heritage and preserving it, and because we are an agrarian economy, it’s also associated with human capital. It’s about ensuring that fair wages and fair practices are in place and the benefits go down to every last member in the supply chain. Even recycling and upcycling are combined into this umbrella term of ‘sustainable fashion,” says Jaspreet Chandok, head-Fashion of IMG-Reliance.
“What we need today is to set sustainable fashion in a global context.” Incidentally, Chandok and a team of five young Indian designers won the “International Fashion Showcase Country Award” at a special sustainable fashion exhibition that took place during the recently-held London Fashion Week. The designs that were presented subscribed to sustainable fashion principles like zero-wastage in terms of fabrics used or use of ethical silk. The installations had the designers reinterpreting the textile heritage of India’s nomadic pastoral communities. The larger perspective, according to Chandok, however is of how younger designers are going back to India’s textile heritage to make their individual statements. “In the last five and a half years, we have seen a raise in the number of gen-next designers using handlooms as the base for their creations.”
What the millennial or generation Z designers in the country may consider as “discovery” is something that ace designer Rajesh Pratap Singh has always been doing. “We have always woven our own fabrics and used natural indigo- we have been doing it since we started our label and not just because it is trendy today. But it’s a good thing that people are reacting to the issue today,” says Singh. At the recently concluded Lakme Fashion Week, Singh made a special collection for the ‘Sustainable Man’ show. The garments were woven from synthetic yarns made out of recycled bottles, yarns were made from recycled and old garments and fabric from old clothes were reused to create a whole new ensembles. The award-wining designer feels that this new interest in sustainable fashion is just a “natural reaction to the other world of fast fashion. It had to happen,” he says.
FROM FARM TO LABEL
While that’s a shift at top-end of the spectrum, there are initiatives like Chetana Organic and Fair Trade India that target the players at the bottom-end of the pyramid – the farmers.
Arun Ambatipuri, founder of Chetana Organic, set up his organization sometime around 2004-05, “when there was a cotton crisis in the country and you had a spate of farmer suicides in Vidarbha”. “One of the primary concerns was to reduce the risk and vulnerability that the farmers faced. We also wanted to get them to shift from a high-input development system to organic farming,” says Ambatipuri. From creating cooperative societies for the farmers to setting up seed banks, farmer support groups, and setting up an NGO (Chetana Organic Farmers Association) that provides capacity-building support to farmers, Chetana Organic works with cotton farmers in 518 villages across Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha and Maharashtra. “I think what one needs to ensure that ‘sustainable fashion’ doesn’t end up as mere rhetoric is to have an open and complete transparent supply chain. The end customer should be able to trace the last person who contributed to making the garment,” says Ambatipuri.
CUSTOMERS ARE KEY
For responsible fashion to gain traction it is important for retail brands to join the game. But Abhishek Jani, CEO of Fair Trade India feels that “consumers need to continue asking who made my clothes and who grew my clothes so that the brands recognize that this is an important issue that consumers care about”.
About how customers can contribute to the movement, Ambatipuri’s suggestion is simple. “Customers need to stop buying cheap garments that don’t last long. Choose to buy 4-5 good quality garments that will last longer. Customers also need to start asking labels about where their clothes were made.”
Source:Times of India