India's premier luxury lifestyle women's magazine
Fashion
July 02, 2020

Natural Curiosity

Text by Shweta Navandar

A surge in interest around sustainable ready-to-wear has resulted in an exponentially growing number of fashion initiatives. Verve looks into four brands — Slow, RaasLeela Textile, The Pot Plant and Core — that have implemented some vital practices like upcycling patchwork, managing waste generation, producing gender-fluid clothing, using plant-based textiles, and illustrates the processes that each one follows

Slow

SCRAP VALUE

Purnima Jain, co-founder and creative director and Anamika Vanpariya, co-founder and design director

You hail from Surat, the textile capital of the country, and source sampling waste. How do you check for quality control?
Hailing from the ‘synthetic’ textile capital is a blessing in disguise. The abundance is overwhelming, yet constructive. We’re driven by aesthetics and on that account, so is the sourcing process. We’ve been approaching mills and factories…curating second-hand textiles like saris and bed sheets. We once received a bundle of surprisingly fancy textile offcuts in a one-of-a-kind swap shop setup. The idea is to welcome anything that’s exquisite and pleases the eye, barring what’s damaged beyond the scope of repair.

Can you give us an insight into your working relationship with your masterji, Rehmanji? How are the designs, ideas and sketches planned and exchanged?
Working with Rehmanji is a collaborative process. He lends his frugal approach to the making of our pieces, which, we believe is the best fit when it comes to upcycling. He has a great sense of humour and starts philosophising as soon as the radio stops playing!

Our production is planned in small batches by allocating the various sourced textiles to particular styles. We exchange drawings with Rehmanji and often oversee the pattern cutting processes as well. Since we’re dealing with textile waste, there is always some sort of deficiency or flaw that needs to be addressed with prudence and spontaneity.

Which garments have you created by upcycling patches, apart from T-shirts?
We recently curated some pre-loved and surplus post-production men’s shirts. We’ve used a mix of patches and beads to embellish the surface and give each one a distinctive feel. This project for sure feels like a Lego-building process. We accumulate the beads from old necklaces, rosaries, old garments….

What happens to the T-shirts that are not sold?
The patched tees are a recent addition to the collection and have been produced in a small batch. The ones we are left with are often kept as samples and can always be reworked sometime in the future. Also, the design is modular in its approach: the patches used for the tees are created separately and then sewn on, so it’s easier to rework them later.

How can one reuse textile patches at home?
Patches can be used to adorn a simple tote bag or pillow cover. They can also be framed for a wall decor piece. Be creative and view this as a game. Build what you want!

Raasleela Textile

NO EXCESS BAGGAGE

Hetal Shrivastav, founder and creative head

Collecting waste offcuts, yardage ends, samples and defected fabric sounds like a daunting exercise from a sorting and storage point of view. Are there any organisational tricks that you employ at the studio?
We use a very individualistic approach. We do not mass-produce, so we do not procure in mass either. And because our material is handmade, it is only available in small quantities from each source. Since we focus primarily on the optimal use of the material and secondarily on the design and look, we segregate the pieces based on size. To ensure a zero-waste studio, we also make use of fragment-sized fabrics. When we procure cutting waste (which is what’s left over after cutting garment patterns) we tend to end up with small pieces in random shapes. We use these in their original forms, which creates organic patterns. Larger fabric scraps are used for bigger patterns like the sleeves, collars, yokes, and the smallest are used for surface ornamentation. We often alter garment patterns to fit the available fabric size.

Talk us through the design process of the capsule collections.
We follow a solution-driven design process; every element is chosen for a reason. We have a fixed set of silhouette patterns of basic styles that are classic and comfortable, and that easily fit on various body sizes or combine with other styles. They are not designed according to trends, so they will never be out of fashion. We keep altering the looks by making minor changes to the length and fit. Our unique surface designs give each piece a new look. We do not design surfaces on paper. A designer and an artisan (sometimes a group of artisans) sit together with each product and the material scrap to decide which surfaces can be made using that particular material. And since each community artisan has a specific embroidery skill, the available skill set at any particular time also drives the design elements.

What challenges do you face when it comes to not following trends or seasons?
Not following trends is an advantage. We have an opportunity to create our own design sensibility and style rather than following somebody else’s. This makes our designs original, and our customers adore them.

But we do have limitations. For instance, we have only one colour of fabric — off-white, which is the original colour of cotton — as fresh running yardage to work with. And in following a zero-waste production process, we need to upcycle waste material, which is not on hand in a consistent design. All our products are completely hand-stitched, which also has technical limitations in itself.

Where do you procure the scraps? Are there any other brands you work with to reduce their waste too?
We completely upcycle all our fabric waste. We also procure fabric end pieces from retail stores, rejected fabrics from weavers, producer companies and textile traders. Kala Swaraj, Kutch Craft Studio, Blue Lotus, Greenobazaar are a few of our suppliers. We also work with individual brands like Ai Matsubara of Surabhi, Mala Sinha of Bodhi India and Nimai-Nitai to design and manufacture products from their fabric scrap.

The Pot Plant

BLURRING LINES

Sanya Suri and Resham Karmchandani, founders

As a gender-fluid clothing brand, do the conventional rules for sizing standards and silhouettes not apply? How do you plan for diverse bodies while coming up with new forms for the garments?
Besides being a gender-fluid label, we also make comfort clothing with silhouettes that are not very body hugging. The sizing works perfectly for all genders and normal gradation rules are followed. Our standard sizes and silhouettes can be worn by everyone. While designing, we use both female and male dummies and work around cuts, necklines and print placements that would work for as many people as possible. If there is any customisation required, we can do that for individual customers. Gender-fluid fashion also helps in reducing mass production, therefore we try to include as many ‘models’ as possible.

It’s heartening to hear that your philosophy of mindful manufacturing extends to accessories and packaging as well. How were these designed and developed?
Clothes are a luxury; every garment produced leads to a certain wastage. All of the cotton that we use is upcycled, and we wanted to go a step further and work towards becoming a zero-waste label, so we began developing accessories from the scrap fabric: packaging bags and upcycled hangers. But this was mainly for personal use, and we wanted these products to be available to everyone. That’s how we came up with the sleep masks and bow ties, and we now make soft toys and dog chew toys for our patrons as well.

How did the thought of starting a gender-fluid brand come about?
Both Sanya and I have grown up wearing beautiful hand-me-downs. I wear my dad’s clothes all the time. They are so roomy and comfortable. My grandmother would make her kurtas out of my granddad’s clothes. She liked the cuts and the pockets. The same goes for Sanya: she wore a lot of her brothers’ clothing. Eventually, it became about wearing and making whatever we liked to wear without any gendered labels attached to it.

Core

NATURE’S OFFERINGS

Sayesha Sachdev, co-founder and creative director

Talk us through some of the technicalities and R&D that go into working with alternative fibres.
What does your wash and care label say for different fabrics?
To work with the innovative fabrics that have recently become available to us but haven’t yet been widely used or tested, we first need to understand where these textiles originated. We thought it imperative to check on the farmers that grow the fibre crop, on whether they are growing it organically or if it is all greenwashing. Regarding the textile mills, we need to know how ethical their process is too. Are they doing enough to be mindful sustainably? How are the fabrics developed? Which chemicals are used and what is the correct break up of the textile’s composition? We also need to understand how the fabric moves and falls and how it drapes (natural fabrics don’t usually have any stretch to them at all). It’s an amalgamation of questions and there’s this constant back and forth of playing devil’s advocate to reach a decision. With the kind of garments we specialise in, the aesthetic of the brand and our target market usually leans more towards clothes that aren’t always anti-fit. For example aloe vera was an interesting journey. The fabric is naturally antibacterial, evaporates sweat, keeps your body temperature regulated and is completely biodegradable. Ideal for the Indian summer. Our first idea was to launch summer robes, but we quickly shifted to T-shirts because they were an easier sell.

A big part of putting out a product that claims to be sustainable is about understanding that care for the product should be a sustainable process as well. Dry cleaning works for garments that we wear only once in a blue moon; it is ridiculously damaging to our environment. So whenever we launch a new fabric, the thought process doesn’t end when we make the sale. Our research encourages us to make the post-purchase life of a product as conscious as possible too.

It’s refreshing to see fitted, tailored separates from a sustainable brand when airy and comfort-fit clothing seem to be what’s usually available in this market. What does performance and durability look like when designing form-fitting clothing with alternative textiles?
That’s kind of the direction we want to take with Core. The common misconception with sustainable clothing is that it’s anti-fit. We want to shift that mindset and show that in being truly sustainable and making an impact, our clothes need to be more functional, timeless and versatile. We choose to be the alternative to a less sustainable choice that you’re already making.

How do you make sure that the fabrics are 100 per cent biodegradable? How do you check for quality control?
The easiest way to answer that would be to say it’s because they are 100 per cent natural. But, to get technical and be more transparent, there should be zero polyesters or synthetics used in the formation of these textiles. Researchers have confirmed innumerable studies that explain how aloe vera fabric biodegrades; they investigated the developed biocomposites. We have a strict quality control policy, and almost everything is checked at least three or four times in our studio and at our store — from the fabric to the finished product. Weave defects are common, and we usually upcycle those fabrics to create cute accessories or gifts.

What are the other fabrics that you would like to introduce through your brand and why?
Rose petal fabric is something I’m thrilled about, but we’re going to do a bit more research till we put it out in the market and make any claims. Last year, in London, we launched garments made from orange fabric, and it was a game changer. A non-plant-based fabric that I’m excited about is Econyl. There’s a lot more on my radar; it all depends on how the next few months unfold.

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