Being eco-friendly is more fashionable than ever, and since we’ve been seeing environmentally conscious style take centre stage everywhere, from award shows and parties to the runway, Purva Indulkar & Jagruti Verma thought it was time to tell you more about it
“The concept of eco-friendly fashion is in opposition to that of fast fashion, as the former involves quality production and also values long-term sustainability,” says Samarpita Dasgupta, fashion director at Roposo, a fashion-focused social-network. She believes that with the fashion industry ranking as one of the top contributors to worldwide pollution, the idea behind eco-friendly fashion is not to produce clothes with hippie sensibilities, but to introduce production techniques, materials and designs that propagate environmental well-being and ecological accountability.
Everything comes back in style
The first tip to eco-friendly fashion is recycling your own clothing. Given that distressed denims and boyfriend shirts are in trend, you can hoard old clothes. Samarpita tells us, “Fashion follows cycles; what goes out of trend one season comes back in another.”
If you’re guilty of getting rid of your clothes because you just don’t like them anymore, you’re not alone. “Developing designs and fashion with a social and emotional connection is in conflict with the purpose of eco-fashion. Eco-friendly style also supports local artisans, which will help you get superior quality products too,” Samarpita adds.
It comes with its own challenges
Why isn’t eco-friendly fashion the norm yet? One of the major challenges is consumer awareness. Sonia Agarwal, founder and CEO of Whitenife, thinks that consumers need to be educated about ethical fashion and how it can benefit them. Designers also have problems dealing with eco-friendly materials when they’re making clothes. “There are two problems; either the designer is not exposed to ideas of how the product could be sustainable, or they have no access to sustainable raw materials. However, if they make the effort, they will find that these materials are available. Also, today designers don’t often get a proper platform,” Sonia explains.
Eco-friendly fabric, made of cotton fibre, poses a few problems for designers. Designer Ridhi Arora says, “Cotton fibres are short in length and over time, lint tends to develop on cotton or khadi fabrics. Also, due to the nature of this fabric, elasticity is poor and it lacks lustre. Wrinkling and shrinkage are some of the problems with this fabric. Washing can be a problem too because after repeated washes, the garment looks faded. All these factors make it a bad option for gowns or fancy dresses. Though it’s good for flat patterns, it can’t be used for drapes.”
It’s tough to go organic
“Organic cotton is more expensive to grow than conventional, chemically drenched and unsustainable cotton. You have to ensure that the fabric used truly aligns with your vision and goal. It requires immense commitment and research to find the most organic option,” says Nidhi Mehta, co-founder, NeedyBee.com. Fashion blogger Resha Antony adds, “Making eco-friendly clothes costs a lot. Also, they are delicate and tough to handle. Soy, hemp, lyocell, wooden beads, pearls, organic cotton and silk are just a few natural eco-friendly fabrics in the market. Before you buy them, it’s best to know the ins and outs of each.”
Friends of nature
Raw materials such as bamboo, hemp, organic cotton, Ahimsa silk (derived without killing silk worms) and many more can be used to make eco-friendly outfits. Sonia says, “Most clothes are dyed with certain chemicals that contribute to water pollution and wastage. However, many types of herbal dyes are also available today. They help us avoid water wastage and pollution.”
Real jewels shine bright
Over the years, a lot of eco-friendly jewellery has been made in India. Rhea Nasta, jewellery designer from the Popley Group, says, “The alloy of gold used to make jewellery includes materials such as silver and copper. We no longer use nickel, which is considered poisonous for the skin.” But, it’s not just about the materials; even making jewellery has become eco-friendly. “Old methods that involved things like the blow pipe torch are being replaced with ethane gas methods, which produce powerful, carbon-free flames that help jewellers make fine gold and silver jewellery.”
Jewellery designer Shillpa Purii tells us more about eco-friendly jewellery materials. “Raw material such as wood, semi-precious stones such as crystals and Quartz, and metals are commonly used.” But, are people comfortable with them? “We bank on our designs. Elements such as wood and semi-precious stones can look great together. We try to create styles on the basis of the materials that we have in place and want to play around with them so that we don’t have to compromise on style,” Shillpa adds.
We’re not all aware of eco-friendly jewellery, but designer Nidhi Mehta says there is a segment of people who are. “Eco-friendly jewellery is durable and it can be contemporary as well as quirky. With evolving trends, we’ve seen several trendy designs showcasing how well different materials can be used to create such pieces,” she tells us.
Compromise is key
Nidhi explains where, saying, “The price point, the intricacy of the print and the desired aesthetic are some areas of compromise. In fact, some printing techniques only work with synthetic fibres and accommodate a certain level of detail. At such stages, we have to compromise with style.” However, she adds, “We usually don’t have to compromise when it comes to jewellery as there are more design options. Responsible design should be the ultimate goal in fashion.”
But, even responsible designers can’t help push these products into the market sometimes. As Nidhi explains, “A lack of credibility or trust by consumers, because of the presence of adulterated organic raw material, is a challenge. Not to mention, people aren’t willing to pay the high price for eco-friendly products.” She finds this surprising, because India is the largest producer of most organic raw material such as organic cotton. “Since most organic material produced in India is exported, it makes it difficult to justify the price of an eco-friendly product here,” she adds.
The bottom line
So, will we see more eco-friendly fashion as time goes by? Though trends are growing, and the media and consumers are becoming eco-conscious, there is still a lot of work to be done. “We need awareness drives for people to get on board with using eco-friendly products. It’s a step-by-step process that will lead to overall education and create a better market for eco-friendly products,” Nidhi concludes. So, now that you know it all, are you ready to go eco-friendly?
Our favourite eco-friendly celebs
In 2010, Emma joined hands with British brand People Tree to create three collections of eco-friendly clothing. She also teamed up with luxury designer Alberta Ferretti to produce an eco-friendly range called Pure Threads.
In 2015, Olivia teamed up with H&M to endorse eco-friendly clothes made with recycled polyester, organic cotton and silk. She is also the co-founder of Conscious Commerce, a venture that supports sustainable fashion.
Portman abstains from using fur or leather products and prefers man-made materials. In 2008, she designed a vegan shoe line, and before signing with Dior, she made it clear that she wouldn’t wear anything obtained from animals.
Gwyneth’s company GOOP is known to be quite an eco-friendly one. It even partnered with Amour Vert to create an eco-friendly fashion line that features tops and T-shirts made from organic fabrics.
Eco-friendly designers we love
- Anupamaa Dayal Dayal’s designs are wholly organic and are made with vegetable dyes and hand-carved wooden blocks and are -
produced using natural colouring and dyeing processes.
- Anaka Narayanan We give Narayanan brownie points for designing khadi denims as well as other natural, handwoven and environmentally friendly clothes.
- Swati Argade Argade’s label Bhoomki was born out of her desire to create ethically produced fashion. Last year, she even launched a collection of coats made entirely out of recycled bottles and organic cotton.
- Karishma Shahani Khan This London School of Fashion graduate started her own label Ka-Sha, which has a zero-waste policy. We love how she weaves plastics, fabric waste and discarded clothing into her creations.
CLOTHING WITH A CONSCIENCE
Making eco-friendly products is rare, but Meenu Tiwari made a career out of it as the founder of The Plavate, which manufactures clothes that are woven by traditional weavers from Assam, Bengal and Madhya Pradesh. Their handmade designs are minimalistic yet eye-catching, and the fabrics are handwoven and dyed in pomegranate and cow dung! Madhu Jain, veteran fashion designer, changed the fashion game in 2003 by introducing bamboo fabric. She joined hands with Milind Soman to unveil an entire collection, showcased at the 7th Bamboo Congress. She successfully merged bamboo with khadi, chanderi and wool. We asked the two designers how they approach their work.
Taking on challenges
For Meenu, timing is tricky. “Since all our products are handmade, producing them takes more time. We are meticulous with our materials so weaving the clothes also requires a lot of planning,” she says. Madhu doesn’t source readymade fabrics, and so isn’t at the whim of inferior cotton textiles with low thread counts. “Instead, I develop my own handmade, loom-based textiles and weaves, which conform to the highest industry standards. My challenge lies in innovating with high quality weaves, yarns, designs, and fresh combinations.”
Dealing with disadvantages
We asked both whether dealing with eco-friendly fabrics stunts experimentation, but Meenu argues otherwise. “The unique characteristics of the fabric are what make it beautiful. Every weave is different,” she says. Madhu innovates in both production and design, telling us, “When developing my own textiles, I have clear ideas in my head. This forms the final thread count, the nature and arrangement of organic dyes or patterns I’d like to include. But the inherent nature of every textile influences the silhouette that is eventually created by a fashion designer. If a weave is intricate, keeping the design element minimal is a good idea.”
A step further
Meenu explains that apart from the clothes, the process of dyeing the fabric can be done in a way that doesn’t harm the environment. Madhu agrees saying, “Crafting handmade textiles is an eco-friendly process. It involves traditional, hand-operated, non-electric looms and we also use organic dyes, wooden or rudraksha buttons and tulsi beads.”
In recent years, the debate about conserving the environment has come to the forefront. Meenu explains, “People are realising that we have been destroying our surroundings and traditional arts in the mad rush for consumption. We’re getting more aware of what goes into the production of the things we purchase. It’s a healthy trend since we must give back to nature what we borrow from it.” Madhu thinks it’s only natural that more people are turning to eco-friendly fabrics; they’re better than the rest! “What’s not to like? Natural fibres allow the body to stay at a comfortable temperature, making them suitable for our weather. No animals are killed in the process of making the fibres. Harsh chemicals are dispensed with, making the manufacturing process cleaner and greener. In India, eco-friendly fibre is developed by hand, without the aid of machines or electricity,” Madhu says.
Words of wisdom
Meenu says that upcoming designers should make more conscious efforts to preserve the environment. “Do not compromise on the quality of your product just so you can save some money. In the beginning, getting visibility for your brand is difficult, but be true to what you believe in and things will fall in place automatically,” Meena advises. Along similarly lines, Madhu thinks that designers need to protect and respect nature. She tells us, “There is enough space in the artisanal sector for designers to flourish if they care to experiment and work hard at fashioning new weaves and designs.”