Sustainable seams: India’s sustainable clothing brands

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Find out how these Mumbaikars ensure that green remains the colour of the season.

By Moeena Halim

Cool As Cotton

When Apurva Kothari read about the ridiculously high number of farmer suicides in the country, he decided to fi nd a way to help, and that was the motivation to set up No Nasties. After working in the US, Kothari and his fashion designer wife Shweta Deliwala decided to return to India to run a company that uses only organic cotton and follows fair-trade policies. KEEPING IT SIMPLE Deliwala, who heads the product development team, says designing for an online audience is tricky. “Clothes have to be easy to wear, stylish yet simple; the silhouettes, simple and easy to wear, and the colours, neutral and monochromatic,” says Deliwala.

THINKING GREEN According to the duo, cotton farming in India makes up 55 percent of the pesticide usage, even though it only occupies fi ve percent of farm land. At No Nasties, their policy includes no genetically modifi ed seeds, artifi cial pesticides and toxic dyes. Chetna Organic, a farmer-owned co-operative that focuses on the welfare of cot-ton farmers, connected them to Rajlakshmi Cotton Mills, who they now work with. “Both the farms and the factories are certifi ed by third-party auditors, which assures us that they are not cutting cor-ners,” says Deliwala. Even their packaging and branding material is eco-friendly. Their business cards and tags are made with recycled cardboard, and the clothes are packed in reusable organic-cotton bags. “No plastics, no nasties,” she says. PRICE Rs 599 to Rs 2,199 AVAILABLE AT

Linen Love

After working for several years in rural clusters with her alma mater, National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) Delhi and the Ministry of Rural Development, designer Anavila Misra decided to work with organic linen that was being manufactured in a factory in Kolkata. GOING NATURAL In 2012, she launched her cloth-ing line, Anavila. The name, which means “pure” in Sanskrit, rightly describes Misra’s use of sustain-able, luxurious textiles with which she has been making contemporary saris and is now planning to include tunics and dresses. The raw materials for the linen she uses come from Belgium and France and are grown naturally, with-out pesticides and chemicals. “At the state-of-the-art Jayshree Mills in Kolkata, they take the coarse stems and process it into a beautiful yarn,” she says.

DRAPE IT RIGHT By choosing to design contemporary saris, Misra helped the movement towards popularising the sari before the now trending 100-sari pact. Yet, refer to her as a sustainable designer, and it is obvious it has become her pet peeve. “I realised that you’re forcing weavers to do something that doesn’t make commercial sense to them,” she explains. “We can’t help the weaver until we fi nd practical use for those weaves. Because like it or not, only crafts, which have pull from the markets and manage to get them profi ts, will work in the long run,” she adds. But what makes the designer feel optimistic about the future is that she now fi nds more and more young students eager to work in rural clusters across the country. _ PRICE Saris from Rs 9,500 to 25,000 AVAILABLE AT Anavila Studio, next to Hakkasan, Waterfi eld Road, Bandra West

High Design

Claiming to be the only company in the entire world that deals with hemp handloom fabrics, the seven boys behind BOHECO have been working tirelessly for two years to get hemp in the limelight in India. The idea of working with hemp came to them while they were still students at HR College, studying commerce. “We worked on Project Chirag, a rural electrification project, through which we visited several villages and realised that just providing water or electricity was not enough. We needed to help the farmers in a more sustained manner,” says Yash Kotak, director of project and quality management.

MAGIC FABRIC It was around the same time that Jahan Peston James, director of strategy and communications, was travelling in Australia and came across hemp production in an extremely prosperous village there. “While we had seen cannabis growing wildly across rural India, this was the first time we realised how useful cannabis sativa could be,” recalls James. This particular strain of weed grows wildly across Kashmir, Kerala, Orissa, Punjab and Uttarakhand. BOHECO has found artisans who have been taught to weave fabric from hemp by their ancestors. “The tradition has been there for centuries. It’s just that urban India and the government has been ignorant of it,” says Kotak. The team, which also includes Sumit Shah, 24, is now working closely with the governments of various states as well as the Textile Ministry. Currently, BOHECO is able to source seven different weaves that can be used for upholstery, shoes and bags. Until they are able to create a finer quality fabric, they are importing hemp to design and retail crisp white shirts and a black printed T-shirt through their brand, The Hemp Couture. SUPER CROP What’s most crucial to them now is developing the right kind of hemp seed for agricultural purposes suited to Indian climatic conditions. Their goal is that one day the super crop will be able to provide for roti, kapda and makaan. PRICE Rs 1000 to Rs 2,500 for garments and Rs 550 to Rs 1,800 for fabrics AVAILABLE AT

Handloom Heroes
MAYANK ANAND, 35, SHRADDHA NIGAM, 38 Mayank Anand Shraddha Nigam

Ever since actors Mayank Anand and Shraddha Nigam decided to turn fashion designers and launch their own label in 2010, they knew it would lead to a commitment to handloom and the weavers. “Weaving is the second largest economic activity in India after agriculture. There are about 53 lakh weavers, but the number is dwindling, because most of their children don’t want to stay and carry forward their legacy,” says Anand. WORKING BACKWARDS The duo is striving to make weaving a lucrative profession for the next generation. Sustainability is equally important. Rather than sketch their ideas, their first step is to study the fabrics that are available to them from their weavers in Maheshwar, Bhagalpur, Assam and Kolkata.

PRETTY IN PATCHWORK Strong believers in the fundamentals of reuse, reduce, recycle, repurpose and recreate, the designers have been, for the past two years, collecting rejects as well as fabrics that would go to waste. “While showcasing our collection at last year’s fashion week, we draped our garments with shawls made of sustainably created cottons in the final round. This was our way of standing up for what we believe in,” says Anand. This year’s collection-The Textile Brigade-included a lot of patchwork fabric. They also tied up with NGOs such as Gramshree, which empowers women by offering them vocational training. They’re going a step further for their next collection and using wildly grown cotton, known as Kala Cotton. PRICE Rs 4,000 to about Rs 24,000 AVAILABLE AT

Going Organic
SHISHIR GOENKA, 50 Do U Speak Green

When talking of sustainable and eco-friendly clothing, it is hard to ignore Do U Speak Green (DUSG). Shishir Goenka launched his company, Fusion Clothing Company, in 1992, but it wasn’t until much later that he began manufacturing organic clothing. “It was my passion for the environment that led me to launch Do U Speak Green,” he says. The brand was India’s first to produce and sell organic clothing, he says. GOING THE EXTRA MILE “It was a challenge, but we studied the movement of organic clothing in the international market and adapted it here. Our core ethos is to use the planet’s resources intelligently, provide safe working conditions and give back to the manufacturing communities,” says the entrepreneur.

Apart from fashion for men and women, they now retail clothes for children and make yoga wear. “Our yoga wear designs are inspired by wildlife, nature and spirituality. We work extensively with freelance designers from India and abroad,” says Goenka. But the biggest challenge is getting people to spend more to buy an organic T-shirt. OUT OF THE BOX Apart from using organic cotton, DUSG also makes use of bamboo fabric. Made from the pulp of the bamboo grass, it is considered one of the most sustainable fibres. What’s great is that unlike synthetic fabrics that incorporate petroleum additives, bamboo fabric is completely biodegradable. PRICE Rs 675 to Rs 1,850 AVAILABLE AT

*This story first appeared on India Today.

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