CHENNAI : Supriya Vasudevan is a 28-year-old working professional who loves splurging on all kinds of clothes. Fast fashion stores were her go-to hotspots, as they’d provide “cheap and cute” clothing. However, a year ago, when she watched a documentary suggested by a friend, her outlook towards fashion changed completely. “The documentary highlighted the inhumane working conditions of people in factories where clothes are mass-produced,” she said. “It left me flabbergasted and prompted me to read up more on the ethical issues surrounding the fast fashion brands that I was purchasing from.
It was through the course of my reading that I came across the term ‘sustainable fashion.’ I had heard it before, but never gave it much thought. The more I read about it, the more I realised that I would much rather spend my money on clothing like that.”Last year, The Guardian had reported that around 540 workers at factories that supply Gap and H&M shared incidents of threats and abuse in garment supply chains.
The reports claimed that these allegations recorded in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, were a “direct result of pressure for quick turnarounds and low overheads.” While Supriya does wear some clothing from fast fashion brands, she is trying to be as conscious in her choices as possible.
With sustainability becoming a buzz word as Chennai witnesses its worst water scare in years, CE spoke to designers and those in the business to understand what could make fashion sustainable, and if it is a viable option for working professionals, owing to its image as primarily runway fashion.
“I don’t get paid very much at work and as much as I would like to buy sustainable clothing, I find it all to be too expensive!” said M Varsha, a junior advocate. “I frequent a lot of these exhibitions and find that plain white kurtas with no embroidery work or anything else are exorbitantly priced. How do you expect people to buy that kind of stuff on a tight budget? So I would much rather buy from a fast fashion brand that looks better and lasts longer.”
However, VR Ananthoo, founder member of Tula, an environmentally conscious brand, spoke of the value of sustainable fashion and merits of conscious consumerism.“We use indigenous cotton seeds grown in rainfed conditions where there is no need for manual irrigation,” he said. “Dyeing too, is done naturally. Even if we do use even 10,000 litres of water during the dyeing process, it can all be reused as no synthetic dyes are used. Further, a lot of energy is conserved as we only use human energy for the weaving and spinning processes and barely have any mechanised procedures in place, which is what fast fashion relies on heavily.”
Another well-known designer known for his sustainable products who has showcased his work at several Fashion Weeks said that a common misconception about sustainable fashion is its price. “Of course you have designers who are brands in themselves who have sustainable fashion lines but that isn’t all,” he said on the condition of anonymity.
“Anita Dongre has her own line of sustainable clothing, just as I do, and we cater to a niche audience, but now I can say with confidence that there are a number of other smaller designers who are very good and cater to different price points, styles and sensibilities. Depending on your budget, all you have to do is search the Internet or Instagram. Organic fabric will be more expensive than regular fabrics, but that is a small price for the amount it helps the environment.”To Kirthana Ravikumar, founder of Arodhi, sustainability not only means the material used but also how it is used.
“Sustainability doesn’t come only with the use of organic fabrics but can reflect in the way of making clothes as well,” she said. “I don’t generally use only organic fabrics, because it is more expensive and is not the most affordable option for my customers. But I make sure my fabric wastage is almost zero. Extra fabric is used as patchwork for my waistcoats or cushion covers or sometimes even as the filler for cushions. My products range from about `900-`2,500 and I even take up customised orders using organic fabric if the customer’s budget permits.”
She said that customers need to be aware of the importance of sustainability. “Many customers prefer synthetic fabric,” she said. “When it comes to organic fabric like cotton and khadi, there will be creases, it will get crumpled and will have a dull finish. That is the nature of the fabric. But when it comes to mass-produced clothing, there are serious ethical issues that have been raised with working conditions that they must be aware of.”
Terms you must know
Ethical: Relates to labour practices, good working conditions, living wages, fair working hours, and transparency in their supply chain.
Sustainable: Minimising environmental impact through choice of fabrics, and style of processing and operation. This can be anything from using innovative fabrics, to renewable energy in factories, or creating a product while using less resources.
Organic: Natural fibres, fabrics, and materials grown without the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides.
Natural: Only using natural fabrics and not synthetic. Note: Natural does not necessarily mean organic.
Handcraft: Involving the use of manual handiwork such as block printing, weaving and embroidery.
Zero Waste: Reducing/removing the waste created in the design process, especially fabric scraps.
Slow Fashion: Clothing and accessories manufactured at a slower pace, and creating lesser quantity than typical factory-made outputs, which is better for the environment because it uses fewer resources, and is likely to create less waste.
*Source: Varsha Mohan, Chennai-based sustainable fashion blogger behind Moderas.in