Bali based lifestyle journalist and green activist Bandana Tewari’s take on what makes fashion sustainable
APR 27, 2020 | By Bandana Tewari
Sustainability in India was a way of life before it became a buzzword. The humble handwoven sari, found in every household, is a compelling metaphor for the sartorial integrity of the Indian fashion industry. Do we know of anyone who throws away a sari? No. We simply pass it on to another. But today, we know that the skyrocketing demand for fast fashion has made the country not only a powerful manufacturing hub, but also a major consumption market.
The State of Fashion Report by McKinsey and The Business of Fashion says that the Indian apparel market is estimated to cross $59 billion in 2022 making it the sixth largest in the world. While this growth spurt is inspiring—it creates more jobs and clothes more people—it comes with devastating cost to the environment. In this scenario, unfortunately, sustainable fashion plays a very small role in this mammoth industry.
In essence, one can argue, that unlike fast fashion, high-value designer brands from India are perhaps more sustainable, as these brands are coveted and less likely to be disposed off in landfills; but they are not necessarily being made in sustainable ways. There are but a handful of prized designers—Abraham & Thakore, Rajesh Pratap Singh, Good Earth Sustain, James Ferreira and Rahul Mishra, to name a few—who have been actively involved in changing a flawed system of production and consumption.
In my opinion, what is exciting is the proliferation of smaller, tightly controlled brands, run by younger designers—inspired by the ethics of fashion production, and their deep engagement and transparency in every stage of the supply chain—who are the heroes of the sustainability movement in India. Amongst the many niche and mindful brands, the work being done by 11.11, Chola the Label, Eka, Maku Textiles, Doodlage, Nor Black Nor White among many others come to mind.
The reason why smaller labels are able to achieve their personal sustainable goals for their brands is precisely because they are small. They plant the seeds of sustainability when they start their business. They speak a different language—of nurturing and nourishing, of the reciprocity of give and take. They cultivate a loyal customer base with similar fashion ethics. They believe that the product is not necessarily the hero of the story—the process is. Most importantly, beyond product and process, they have a deep, unwavering sense of purpose. Almost every time, these small-scale sustainable brands give back to the very communities they work with whether they be artisans, dyers or farmers.
Creativity, within the realm of sustainability, is not fuelled by speed and size, but a fierce commitment to slowing down the process. For all the designers out there, who are aspiring to be sustainable brands—the beliefs should unequivocally be in simplicity—fewer, not faster; better, not bigger.