Conscious Couture: These Contemporary Labels Are Driven By South India’s Community Effort Towards Sustainable Living | Verve Magazine
India's premier luxury lifestyle women's magazine
Fashion
July 28, 2022

Conscious Couture: These Contemporary Labels Are Driven By South India’s Community Effort Towards Sustainable Living

Text by Shirin Mehta. Interviews and styling by Akanksha Pandey. Photography by Carl Van Der Linde.

Spotlighting the work of eleven designers who are fashioning separates that reflect a deep connection with their environments, Verve frames evocative tableaux set against the changing face of nature

These creators of garments, textiles, weaves and embroideries, with strong ties to various parts of South India, have spent a significant part of their childhoods with nature, using their hands for farming or creating handicrafts while learning to connect with and protect the flora around them. A lifestyle that is emblematic of the region’s particular environmental consciousness has seeped into their work and designs; the local sustainable practices and ideas of community that were central to their upbringings or formative professional learnings are, today, intrinsic to the style philosophies and actual practices of their labels.

Highlighting ecologically sound creation while shooting against stark natural backdrops — simple, almost austere, in their aesthetic — Verve presents fashion imagery with a message that resonates in the face of the stripped-down future earth that we are confronting….

1 and 4: On Kirtana Vurgese, block dress made from a single block of fabric using zero-waste pattern-cutting technique and thread silk painting on handloom mulberry silk organza with eri silk lining hand-stitched and hand-hemmed (all covered in plastic), from P.E.L.L.A.; 2: Handwoven jacket using honeycomb technique finished with azo-free dyeing, by Naushad Ali; 3: On Tina Sweerin, double-sided jacquard knit scarf made from 100 per-cent organic and regular cotton, soft 100 per cent organic cotton jacquard knit sweater with neuron artwork, both from Biskit, tie-dye jackets (left and right, fastened at the waist), from Oshadi; hand-painted shirt, from Tobetwo.

Naushad Ali by Naushad Ali (Puducherry)
“Nature and the simple, traditional lifestyle of the people around us inspire us every day. We practise the most basic sustainable design processes at our studio here: we save, we choose and we curtail excess. We have a system of segregating cut-off fabric pieces, which are organised by colour and size, followed by patchworking and then cutting out designs from these patchworks. The cut-offs are further twisted into ropes to be woven into fabrics by local weavers on basic handlooms.”

Priyanka Ella Lorena Lama, P.E.L.L.A (Bengaluru, Karnataka)
“Growing up in Indian households, sustainable practices are seen all around us. I stumbled upon my own practice when I was developing my graduating collection in 2013 at NIFT Bangalore, where I was using pashmina and silks for the first time. These were too beautiful and expensive to be cut recklessly, and I pushed myself to explore designs that had only one seam in the whole garment. Ever since, I’ve been more aware of exploring within just the given limit of a rectangular piece of fabric. This block has been able to give me limitless outcomes.”

1: Vegan wool swatches, all from Faborg; 2: Handwoven, hand-embroidered with appliqué technique cotton shirt and textile art, both from Kalki; 3: Double-sided jacquard knit scarf made from 100 per-cent organic and regular cotton, soft 100 per-cent organic cotton jacquard knit sweater with neuron artwork, both from Biskit. 

Harsha Biswajit and Shruti Biswajit, Biskit (Chennai, Tamil Nadu)
“The ethos of Biskit is to break the psychological barrier of defining the gender of a piece of fabric, thereby encouraging people to buy one piece of clothing that can be worn and shared by everyone. Our unisex design philosophy and limited sizing are deliberate choices, and as part of this new initiative to limit our production levels, we have decided to make only single-edition pieces or a maximum of 21 editions of every style.”

Gowri Shankar, co-founder, Faborg (Auroville, Puducherry)
“Nature has provided us with all the resources for sustainable fabric manufacturing, and it is time to explore natural fibres without adulterating them. Weganool is a 100-per-cent plant-based fabric that is made with zero harm, zero chemicals and zero waste. The calotropis plant provides two very unique hollow fibres that give excellent insulative properties to the fabric, making it an excellent choice for warm wear. The potent residue from calotropis fibre extraction is concentrated and converted into insect repellent for the farmers.”

1: Hand-painted sari in natural dyes, from Tobetwo; 2: On Vandana Vinod, tissue sari, from Rouka by Sreejith Jeevan; 3: Naturally dyed organic cotton fabrics, by Naushad Ali. Tissue sari with hand-embroidered floral motif, from Rouka by Sreejith Jeevan; 4: Handwoven and hand-embroidered shirt, from Kalki; drape skirt, stylist’s own. 

Karunya Rajan, Kalki (Mettupalayam, Tamil Nadu)
“Hailing from a small town with agriculture at its heart, I have grown up seeing hands being an integral part of creation — from holding the seed between your fingers, sowing it in the soil, to nurturing and harvesting. This inherent creation by hand is the very fabric of Kalki. Everything we make comes from a tangible, sensory process. And everything we make is a community effort, much like a close-knit farming community. We source our fabric directly from local weavers: we indulge in everyday conversations with them, we share our profits and become a part of their lives. Nothing comes close to this sense of belonging, which seamlessly translates into our art as well.”

Sreejith Jeevan, Rouka (Kochi, Kerala)
“In Kerala handloom, nature forms a part of the process — all the processes are carried out in the open and have relationships with certain times of the day. For instance, the warp is usually made in the early morning sun. Being a fabric culture from a place that lives very closely with nature, these relationships are beautiful.”

Anna Palashevskaya, Tobetwo (Auroville, Puducherry)
“Our hand-painted technique was brought to us by a French designer in the early ’80s. Today, we have many local artisans who are experts in this form of textile design. Nature is our inspiration, from both an ecological and aesthetic perspective. We have adopted hand painting not only for its craft and design value, but also because it requires very little water in processing; we do not pollute the groundwater, as the residue of hand-painted textiles is very low.”

1: Azo-free pigmented swimwear with block printing with plastic waste, from Lal Design Studio, and Vegan wool fabrics, all from Faborg; 2 and 6: Handwoven, hand-embroidered with appliqué technique cotton shirt and textile art, both from Kalki; 3: Eco-printed sari with locally found leaves dyed with Indian madder, from Aeka by Anupriya; 4: Block dress made from a single block of fabric using zero-waste pattern-cutting technique and thread silk painting on handloom mulberry silk organza with eri silk lining hand-stitched and hand-hemmed, from P.E.L.L.A; 5: On Urmila Krishnan, textured jersey jacket with special cord-edged finishing brushed in-print paste, from Ravage by Raj Shroff. 

Raj Shroff, Ravage by Raj Shroff (Bengaluru, Karnataka)
“The process of creating textiles through manipulations helps to save a lot of exquisite textiles, especially when you use them to create patterned styles. For example, when you create a jacket using ikat or jamdani, there is a whole lot that’s left over after you have achieved your pattern. The leftovers excite me. So, our wastage as a production unit has always been moderate.”

Bidisha Samantaray, Lal Design Studio (Auroville, Puducherry)
“My inspiration has always been the environment I have grown up in and where I am still growing as a person and as a designer. Pondicherry, to me, is a culture. It’s an aesthetic. It’s a vibe. It’s authentic. The kind of prints we develop and the fabrics we choose bring us to that effortless, breezy and sensuous feel that Pondicherry is.”

Anupriya Biyani Dalmiya, Aeka (Bengaluru, Karnataka)
“When we talk about eco-printing, the results vary according to many conditions — plant season, plant part used, water quality, type of fabric etc. Eco-dyeing, also referred to as eco-printing or eco-bundling, is a method of imprinting leaves, flowers, and other organic materials onto fabric. Hues vary by season and climate. This is a slow process since it’s all hand done, right from picking leaves to placing them and bundle dyeing.”


1: On Reema Rao, Stem fibres of vegan wool, from Faborg. Handwoven and hand-embroidered shirt, from Kalki, and patchwork jacket, by Naushad Ali; 2: Hand-blocked textile art, from Eachaneri; 3: Cotton sari with floral appliquéd details, from Rouka by Sreejith Jeevan; 4: Handwoven, hand-embroidered with appliqué technique cotton shirt and textile art, both from Kalki; 5: Textured jersey jacket with special cord-edged finishing, brushed in print paste, from Ravage by Raj Shroff. 

Rakshit Reddy, Eachaneri (Eachaneri, Andhra Pradesh. Now based in Delhi)
“I grew up seeing sustainable practices at my nani’s house in Eachaneri village in Andhra Pradesh — making leaf plates, coco leaf shades, spraying cow dung water paste on the floor before painting muggu [rangoli]. And there was a massive forest which had mango trees, coconut trees and many more. All this has influenced me.”

Elen, co-founder, Faborg (Auroville, Puducherry)
“There are records of about 67 indigenous fibres that were used in India for fabric manufacturing but were lost during the industrial revolution. Calotropis was one of them. Manufacturing fabric from calotropis fibres started as Gowri’s expensive hobby, but it grew into a life-long passion in a very short period of time.”

Special thanks to Meenal Somvanshi and Nachiket Mohanta. 

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