Upcycled, ethically-made and cruelty-free, many young Indian brands are celebrating sustainability by bringing together zero-waste design, small-scale production and time-tested Indian traditions.
The tension between consumerism and the climate crisis is a tight trope. However, these Indian brands are on a mission to chart a responsible and conscious design process for garments, footwear, and accessories. From Mumbai-based brand, Doh Tak Keh breathing life to fabric waste, Papillon du thé upholding local craft techniques, to clothing label Kaiyare’s conscious clothing that only uses natural fabrics, these brands prove why sustainability is about all of us pitching in small ways.
RECYCLE AND UPCYCLE
Indian brands are carrying centuries-old practices of recycling and up-cycling like Kantha embroidery on old saris and quilts and the use of katran (fabric waste) in our clothing into the future. By ditching the use (and wastage) of new resources for production and adding its design signature, these brands have managed to turn fabric scraps into clothing and old tires and recycled plastic into footwear. “I believe that upcycling is not just a sustainable practice towards an eco-friendly future but it also serves as a design challenge to construct unique products,” says Juhi Melwani, designer and founder of Doh Tak Keh.
DOH TAK KEH
Juhi Melwani’s Mumbai-based luxury streetwear brand takes fabrics scraps and turns them into pantsuits, jackets, shirts and skirts with intricate embroideries of hand-made illustrations. Its Spring-Summer ’20 collection features skirts with patchwork that are made from single-use grain sacks, khadi dresses and co-ord sets. Besides sourcing textile scraps from all over the country, she also reuses leftovers from her Doh Tak Keh studio that get translated into beautiful details on her creations.
Making shoes can be extremely wasteful if the resources are not used to full potential. Enter Paaduks, the footwear brand that shapes old tires, rubber mats, and even conveyor belts into comfortable, everyday-wear sandals for men and women. Co-founded by Jay and Jothsna Rege in 2013, the brand made its first prototype with the help of a master cobbler in Govandi, Mumbai. Its shoes have distinct Indian designs as they use kalamkari, ikat, ajrakh, dabu, and indigo prints.
Nothing New gives sneakers a sustainable twist by using plastic worth 5.6 water bottles (one litre) in each pair. The brand claims that all the materials that go into the making of its sneakers, down to its lace and the label, are made from recycled plastic.
Organic fibres reigned supreme in India in the form of cotton, jute, and silk before synthetic materials like polyester, rayon, and nylon took over the racks of fast fashion outlets. But now, Indian brands are turning to organic cotton, banana fibre and ethically-sourced wool and interpreting them in an urban aesthetic. “When we were exploring Indian craft and sustainability, it was very clear to us that traditional techniques, materials and methods of production defined sustainability in itself,” share Anvitha Prashanth and Nikitha Satish of Kaiyaré.
This clothing and accessories brand strikes a harmonious balance of everything handmade and sustainable, seeped in Indian craft traditions. Besides using waste fabrics for its clothing, the brand also uses agricultural waste like banana tree bark in its line of bags, baskets, and home accessories. Kaiyaré works with the women artisans from the villages around the forest reserves of Kabini in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, highlighting the importance of working with the people who inherit generational knowledge of natural fibres and fabrics.
A BIG INDIAN STORY
As veganism gains ground in the country, the lifestyle is inspiring not just dietary changes but also the way people shop. While footwear hasn’t been popularly associated with organic materials, A Big Indian Story is breaking conventions by being India’s first accessories brand to use Piñatex, a natural textile made from pineapple tree leaves, in its everyday-use bags and shoes for men and women.
This footwear brand brings together natural, recycled, and repurposed into its sneakers, slippers and high-tops. All Birds’ shoes are made from Merino wool from New Zealand, TENCEL Lyocel from South Africa, SweetFoam™ made from sugarcane in Brazil, and the brand’s own natural yarn Trino that is made using eucalyptus tree fibres and Merino wool.
SMALL SCALE PRODUCTION
The model of mass manufacturing has failed the environment on multiple fronts. But, these labels making products in small, sustainable batches can save the day. “We must improve efficiency from the ground up to have a sustainable financial growth,” says Sayesha Sachdev, co-founder and creative director of CORE by JSI.
While working for brands like Calvin Klein and Armani for a decade in New York, Carol Miltimore travelled solo to India. This led to the discovery of its rich craft community and her decision to start Seek Collective. Its garments involve handloom weaving, natural dyeing, and hand embroidery.
CORE BY JSI
With classic silhouettes like shirt dresses and blazers in a neutral palette, CORE by JSI champions slow productions with its eco-friendly textiles like Tencel and recycled banana crepe and eco-friendly and vegan inks teamed with high-precision tailoring.
The global apparel industry is responsible for grim statistics in the wastage of its resources as a large portion of fabric scraps end up in landfills because it’s cheaper than recycling. Call it fashion’s most radical ambition but zero-waste design is now paving the way for many upcoming Indian brands. Mayura Davda-Shah of Mayu says, “It is imperative for fashion businesses now to be thinking about the whole supply chain from a sustainable lens.”
Minimal, utilitarian and timeless, MAYU’s bags, laptop sleeves, wallets and card cases for both men and women use European fish leather, which is tanned with natural dyes and made by Indian craftsmen in a zero-waste facility in India. All the leather is sourced from organic fish farms in Ireland.
Made with hand-dyed yarns that are handwoven in age-old handlooms in different parts of rural India, Moborr’s minimalist, transseasonal clothing for women is made with rain-fed organic cotton, plant-based dyes and features coconut shell buttons.
LOTA India, the brainchild of Delhi-based couple Adhiraj Singh and Shradha Kochhar, not only uses industrial fabric waste to collage it into graphic shirts but also refrains from carrying out campaign shoots to cut down on its carbon footprint.
One could say that the return to handmade is a response to fashion’s fatigue over the industry’s relentless pace. Many designers are ditching hectic production schedules to create pieces that are meticulously made by hand.
Gujarat-based label RaasLeela’s designs use appliqué that are hand-stitched from the smallest of the fabric remnants. All of its clothing—handmade, upcycled, dye-free and bleach-free—celebrates local culture and natural materials.
Thiruvananthapuram-based Alan Alexander Kaleekal’s genderneutral brand uses merino wool, silk, cashmere and organic cotton, and waste silk yarns which is then hand-woven by local artisan clusters in Kerala.
Electrical engineer-turned designer Soham Dave’s designs—from monochromatic staples with traditional Ajrakh motifs to shibori dresses—are consciouslyhandcrafted with biodegradable materials.
LOCAL CRAFT TECHNIQUES
Every state in India has its unique certain weaving, dyeing, embroidery, or printing technique that is sustainable in its very construct. Many young brands are now relying on the deep sense of ecological responsibility and wisdom of these techniques to guide them along the path of sustainability in creativity. “It’s important for us to help sustain the future of these crafts and the skilled artists who rely on it craft for their livelihoods. It would be a real loss to let that intergenerational knowledge and expertise disappear,” asserts Nisha Marani, creative director of Sunday/Monday.
New York-based designer Nisha Mirani ’s textiles celebrate India’s craft traditions with Indian motifs in her scarves, rugs, and tableware that are handwoven in Gujarat and Rajasthan. The textiles are designed in New York and handmade by the weaving families in Gujarat and a blockprinting family in Rajasthan. Mirani, a daughter of Gujarati immigrants, has a single-sighted motive to uphold, preserve, and showcase India’s craftsmanship traditions in the global market.
PAPILLON DU THÉ
The Sri Lankan jewellery brand’s roots lay deep in the country’s ingenious crafts and the excellence of its craftsmen. Creative director Saskia Fernando’s necklaces, rings, and earrings are inspired by traditional Sri Lankan jewellery worn by its locals and made using techniques handed down over generations. “As a local brand, we engage artisans in our production process from start to finish. Our collections are created in small workshops by craftspeople who depend on boutique brands such as ours to keep their trade going,” says Fernando.
Co-founder of STRAW India, Sonam Shah has travelled the world in the quest for local craft techniques and the artisans behind them. STRAW India’s bags use raffia from the farmers of Ghana and recycled brass and wood for its jewellery made by the residents of Malawi. “We collaborate with artisans/brands from around the globe who handcraft in small batches adopting traditional techniques and raw materials native to their region,” shares Shah.