In our time, one of the most pressing issues our world is facing is environmental degradation, with problems like climatic changes, pollution, extinction of flora and fauna, water shortages with oceans filled with garbage and more. This World Environment Day—which is on 5 June—we look at how the fashion industry that has been touted as one of the most environmentally destructive industries out there, is changing for the better because of people who love their planet as much as they love fashion.
In the past, sustainable fashion conjured up an image of rough fabrics, patchwork techniques and immature styling, making it less of a fashion statement. In recent years, however, sustainable and eco-friendly designs have seen a major shift, elevating their style sense to the level of ready-to-wear while seeking out innovative approaches to lessen their impact on the environment.
Looking deeper into what sustainability is: it is actually a pillar of three equally balanced factors—social, environmental and economic (a.k.a. people, planet, profit). All must be in sync for a system to be called “sustainable”. Unfortunately, the fashion industry has to resort to cheap labour or environmental destruction to ensure a brand’s economic sustainability, to meet the demands of the industry for faster and affordable fashion. But aiming for a definition is tiresome. Not everyone can achieve it wholly, but there are so many brands using different types of sustainable materials that putting a definition to it could limit innovation.
For example, a lot of handbags are currently being made with fruit leather, such as pinatex and apple leather. There are companies that are finding ways to make bags out of cork that also don’t necessarily look like cork. As long as we keep moving forward, towards including more and more sustainable materials, the industry is moving in the right direction.
However, we at Label Purvi Doshi have managed to overcome a majority of the challenges faced in becoming sustainable—an accountable supply chain, fair wages for artisans and workers, good labour conditions, using natural dyes, along with creating a zero-waste structure. Though it wasn’t easy, we have managed to overcome these challenges by changing stringent mindsets and bringing a change in our surroundings. Since the very beginning, we have believed that “looking fabulous should feel great too”. And our motto has driven us to create garments that support clean air, clean water, sustainability, ecological balance and humanity.
The answer to creating a sustainable wardrobe is not to throw everything away and start from scratch, nor is it to stop buying clothing altogether. It’s the small changes that will add up to a big difference. Fast fashion, pop culture, and traditional as well as social media have created a cult of consumerism that’s overzealous and uncompromising than ever before. The consumers need to be educated about sustainability, and about the impact of their consumption.
Consumers need to believe in “fashion with a conscience” and abide by this belief while looking for garments that are cruelty-free and ecologically-sustainable. The production cycle for garments made from hand spun and handwoven organic fabric and naturally dyed becomes a hurdle at times as the process is slow—a single garment takes 3-6 months to get ready with hand-embroidered work being done in the remote villages of India. We believe that it is important to educate the customers about the importance of each garment, which is made with a conscious effort towards saving the planet, no cruelty towards animals, and the revival of our arts and crafts. This kind of information makes consumers think twice before switching to fast fashion again.
Being sustainable hasn’t been easy for us, but definitely rewarding. Maintaining consistency in production cycles for sustainable garments can be challenging as the garment includes hand work, which can have minute variations as they are done by different artisans each time. The handmade fabric has its own limitations as sometimes it is thick, sometimes thin. The weave of the fabric is never even and since it is produced by hand, the yarn is sometimes broken and the fabric also has a few stains. Naturally-dyed shades are also very unlikely to be uniform as the shades of the natural dyes can be impacted by the weather, and the quality of the plants, fruits and vegetable barks etc. of the respective growing region. We are proud to say that all of our garments endure the warmth of human hands, and each piece is unique and priceless.
The conclusion being that sustainability is all about efforts and intentions. No designer/brand can be 100% perfect, nor can any consumer. It starts with education and making conscious choices, but at the end of the day, fashion is always about looking good. Sustainable fashion is always about fashion first. And we believe in attracting the consumers with style and then telling them the story.
The author is an Ahmedabad-based fashion designer