Irene-Marie Seelig, Iciar Bravo Tomboly, Ana Pasalic, Agraj Jain, and Elise Comrie have plenty to wax triumphant about. On Monday evening, the five London College of Fashion students found themselves crowned the winners of the 2016 Kering Award for Sustainable Fashion, an annual competition born of a five-year partnership between the lifestyle and luxury conglomerate and the university’s Centre for Sustainable Fashion. Designed to inspire the next generation of ethical designers, the contest whittled 400 applicants to 10 finalists before determining who best fulfilled briefs for two of Kering’s subsidiary brands: Seelig, Tomboly, and Pasalic for Stella McCartney, along with Jain and Comrie for Brioni.
“All students, coming from different academic disciplines and personal backgrounds, showed a deep commitment to fashion and the environment, along with a strong interest to more sustainable practices in business in general,” a spokesperson for the organizers said. “By taking part in the 2016 Kering Award for Sustainable Fashion, they were looking to merge their passions and illustrate the economic relevance of a more sustainable fashion industry.”
Most of the applicants developed their projects by “rethinking the whole production cycle and value chain in fashion,” from material sourcing to end-of-life management.
“This echoes Kering’s own commitment to drive luxury fashion toward higher levels of economic, environmental, ethical and social performance,” the spokesperson added.
Meet—and hear from—the winners below.
By utilizing a “master batch” solution for dyeing, her “Uncoloured Colours” project could help cut back on water use while avoiding the human risk involved during the synthetic dyeing process.
“Reflecting on my own work made me understand that if I want to change the fashion industry I have to do it right at the beginning, on a business level and on a personal level,” she said. “Albert Einstein once said ‘We can’t solve a problem by using the same kind of thinking as when we created it.’ Through the knowledge and the experience I gained during MA Fashion Futures I understood how I, as a designer, could influence and change the fashion industry, starting with materials.
ICIAR BRAVO TOMBOLY
Tomboly, a postgraduate student specializing in fashion-design management, centered her project around measuring a company’s social impact based on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and Kering’s own code of conduct.
Sustainability, she said, needs to take into account “all the human beings” involved in the supply chain and the impact our actions have on social values.
“I believe we cannot change our environment without renewing humanity,” Tomboly said. “So we should achieve an integral ecology that focuses not only on environmental and financial issues, but also on social issues.”
Seelig first researched the holistic properties of mushrooms after her mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. While studying fashion entrepreneurship and innovation at the university, she developed a renewable, biodegradable, and vegan-friendly leather alternative using the skin of amadou mushrooms.
After testing the material for durability and aesthetics—both prime considerations for viability in the luxury industry—the California native unveiled two shoe prototypes as part of her presentation.
“Going through that journey with my mother made me realize that sustainability was no longer just about what the composition of the material was to ensure sustainability within the fashion industry,” she said. “It is about the whole ecosystem of a supply chain, from the well-being of the workers within that supply chain to the well-being of its consumers, what components we allow into the production and processing phase, and how we can begin to design products around the cradle to cradle concept through renewable, biodegradable materials with well-being qualities.”
Comrie was inspired by her upbringing in Saskatchewan in Canada to develop a dye derived from tobacco, a fast-growing plant that takes only 90 days from seed to harvest.
“I grew up with a close-knit relationship to indigenous peoples of the region that I’m from and at a young age I learned the spiritual and healing benefits of the sacred tobacco plant,” she said. “It was of prime importance to me that my history and who I am spoke clearly in my proposal. So much of the fashion industry is removed from people and their stories and I felt this to be an important aspect of my project.”
Working with Dimora Colours, which specializes in the development of nontoxic tobacco dyes and fibers, Comrie proposed a line of Brioni smoking jackets composed of the tobacco-dyed textiles.
“I felt it necessary to have a masculine and yet innovative solution that the Brioni man could relate to,” she said. “I felt strongly about the innovative tobacco dye as a platform to help the Brioni client relate and see the importance of sustainability but still have the ‘cool’ factor.”
Jain, who is pursuing a degree in fashion design technology for menswear, drew upon his Jainism roots to present Ahimsa or “peace” silk as a cruelty-free alternative material for Brioni.
Rather than boil the silk cocoon to prematurely release strands of filament-like fiber, Ahimsa silk is extracted only after a metamorphosing worm has emerged from its cocoon.
Since silk is used in the linings of most of Brioni’s suits, as well as its shirts, ties, and scarves, Jain saw an opportunity for the firm to not only boost its ethical profile but also have a “beautiful story to tell.”
“For me, sustainability is a ‘healthy’ positive lifestyle,” he said. “That’s what I try to consider during my work: along with outer beauty a product should have a beautiful soul and the process of its production should be beautiful, too.”
*This story first appeared on Ecouterre
Last year, handlooms witnessed a great revival both on and off ramps and became a major talking point in the Indian fashion industry. The government’s efforts to make Benarasi weaves the fabric of the year contributed to a growing consciousness too. Ecological practices have been steering the fashion industry towards a greener environment. And while one-off initiatives are a boost, there are some designers who are shaking things up at the very core by opting for the sustainable route right at the onset of their careers, tirelessly narrowing the gap between grassroots and glamour.
Designers Mia Morikawa and Shani Himanshu of 11.11 / eleven eleven — the pret label of CellDSGN Pvt Ltd — have consolidated the roots of their brand in the luxury space with an organic method. Their seed-to-stitch approach towards making garments generates human capital, with zero use of machinery and electricity, resulting in the lowest production of industrial waste. “Since the launch of our 100 per cent handmade line in 2013, we’ve been guided by desire to create consciously,” says Morikawa. The brand is now synonymous with khadi denims where the hand-spun denim is made from 100 per cent khadi cotton and is dyed in natural indigo. The kala cotton used is 100 per cent native organic cotton, the production of which is an environmentally conscious process and a viable alternative to agricultural practices that require irrigation and chemicals. This season, they have revisited bandhani, clamp-dyeing and block printing as embellishment techniques while continuing with their ever evolving signature hand-painted aesthetic.
While Morikawa and Himanshu work together to add value to traditions, designer Rina Singh of Eka singlehandedly nurtures her brand by working with handloom clusters around West Bengal. “We have a long-standing relationship with the weavers and provide employment to almost all the families that work with us throughout the year. Supporting them adds sustainability to my business,” says Singh. She does not work with a whole lot of traditional textiles and weaves, but tries to modernise the methods and bring a new flavour to the looms. The fabrics she employs are natural yarns and blends of wool, silk, linen and khadi cotton. “I never buy off the rack, all the fabrics for any given season are worked on at the looms by us,” she adds. Anavila Misra of Anavila, applauded for her immaculate sari drapes just as much as for her saris, is all about fuss-free apparels. She uses fabrics like linen, organic cotton, cotton linen, silk and wool, and jamdani, khatwa, and hand-block prints.
The up-and-coming designer Priyanka Ella Lorena Lama, of P.E.L.L.A, who recently showcased a capsule collection at the HUL Green Wardrobe Week with Lakmé Fashion Week, used indigenous pure eri, aka ahimsa silk, and its yarn waste, noil fibre. For her recent summer resort collection, Maitake, showcased at Lakmé Fashion Week, she also incorporated reclaimed wood work by budding artist Mayank Saini. “The wood is retrieved from packaging used for shipping containers, giving it a new life. It is not about reusing; it is about not creating any further waste,” says Lama. The exotic mixture of lightweight handwoven pure ahimsa silk, cashmere and pashmina is what she usually plays with each season. “Each thaan (fabric roll) is different and some have inherent impressions on the fabric. We consider them to be the impressions of beauty of the human weaving it,” she says. Not only the fabrics and techniques, but the NIFT graduate also incorporates zero-waste principles in pattern-making itself. “Every design includes minimum measurement and sewing but is painstakingly hand-rolled and hemmed, which is invisible to the naked eye. Each garment is made from a single block of fabric with no zippers or buttons for fastening, save for a sash which holds at the waist,” says the young designer.
Craft revivalist and textile conservationist, designer Madhu Jain has been instrumental in introducing bamboo fibre, an alternative textile, in 2004. “Textiles made of bamboo yarn are ideally suited for hot Indian summers because of their breathability and anti-bacterial properties. They are naturally UV-protective and biodegradable. I don’t use factory-produced fabrics, though there are some great innovations out there. Each textile is rendered differently and has its own unique production technique.
For instance, the Srikalahasti kalamkari that I specialise in uses organic raw materials such as indigo, iron rust, cow’s milk and katha (catechu). I have just experimented with it in a khadi version which has proved to be a highly successful line,” says the veteran.
While high-street chains pour with fresh and affordable designs every week, with supplies exceeding demands, sustainable fashion faces many challenges. “The Indian handlooms sector is in desperate need of a boost. With markets leaning towards synthetic, man-made textiles, weavers are turning away from old traditions and migrating in search of jobs,” adds Jain, who is currently supporting 300 weavers. “When you make things with hands and add details manually, you add cost at every step,” says Misra. “We have to partner with retailers and other organisations that understand the what, why and how. Infinite patience and pure passion is necessary to take the slow route,” adds Morikawa. Singh too agrees that it is a slow process but the results boast longevity and she contends that her designs transcend age, race and cultural barriers. “The boutiques I work with across the world are wholehearted supporters of this fashion movement that we endorse. Also, these relationships are not fickle. The challenges in real time would be the weather conditions, the floods that stop the weavers from being back on the loom unexpectedly…the rains that hinder the process of beating the wood used to make the printing blocks…the harsh summers that make the yarns crisp, causing them to break at every odd warp. But we’ve learnt to overcome these setbacks. Sometimes I do feel that our signature style creates limitations for us in terms of our entire product portfolio. But then that’s that! Not everyone gets this language. We might have a less number of buyers who would like to invest in a piece of handmade clothing sans embellishment and frills, but with the growing ecological awareness, that number is growing too,” she says.
When asked at which point in time the whole sustainable shift began in the country, Singh explains that the movement started when veteran designers such as Rajesh Pratap Singh, Abraham and Thakore, Ritu Kumar and Rohit Bal put sustainability of crafts at the forefront of their brand philosophies. “They worked extensively with artisans and craftspeople across India and with the best available natural textiles. The only difference between then and now is that no one used it in their marketing strategy. Today it has become a design language which for me is a more contemporary take on traditional textiles,” says the designer.
As much as there is a shift towards all things bygone and indigenous, there’s also a change in the mood. Clothes have become a lot simpler in form, function and appearance. There’s a growing love for earthy, subtle hues as well as light and comfortable fabrics. The results of going natural have been refreshing as people are now more attracted towards ease and utility rather than trends. The connection between sustainable fashion, comfortable silhouettes and minimal adornment is getting stronger every season. “I prefer zero ornamentation because I feel that the textile that is so laboriously crafted is corrupted by adding five more elements to it. The whole idea is to bring attention to the painstakingly woven fabric, its feel and its fall. Heavy embellishments cannot be sewn on handmade materials and the functional aspect of the garment is maintained only by not machining the textile heavily,” says Singh.
There is a wave of change in the Indian fashion industry, and the most impactful one the industry has seen in years. As awareness is gaining momentum, more and more designers are using India’s sartorial traditions to make their designs super covetable and cool. So be it Rahul Mishra’s Gandhian philosophy, Aneeth Arora’s Kutch-inspired designs on Chanderi and Maheshwari dresses, Suket Dhir’s androgynous silhouettes in fine mulmul, wool and bamboo or Anita Dongre’s Grassroot, to name a few, the synergy between fashion savants and weavers and artisans is empowering the nation. As individuality takes the lead, a new consumer has emerged, one who’s willing to blur the lines between ancient and au courant by passionately proclaiming that we are what we wear.
*This story first appeared on Verve