Javier Aparici, a Spanish designer, presented Sohuman, a sustainable fashion brand and accessories brand, at London Fashion Week earlier in the year. This brand is a favorite among Beyonce and Rita Ora. British menswear designer Bethany Williams and Ireland’s Richard Malone were also part of the showcase. While Williams’ materials included abandoned festival tents for garments and book waste for bags, Malone’s creations featured fragments of materials including scrap leather.
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Similarly, in March, FDCI x Lakmé Fashion Week brought Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) to showcase a khadi presentation featuring ensembles by designers Mossi Traoré, Abhishek Gupta Benares, Anavila, Anju Modi, Charu Parashar and Rina Dhaka. Adidas Originals, too, previewed one of its most progressive and sustainable footwear collections created with Parley for the Oceans and new-age designer labels—Antar Agni by Ujjawal Dubey and Khanijo by Gaurav Khanijo.
These examples show how sustainability and upcycling have become fashion industry buzzwords. This is especially true when eco-friendly and vibrant couture lines are dominating runway scenes. From fibre talk to fashion show, phrases like ecoconscious, sustainable, ethical and ethical have gained momentum due to the growing collective consciousness among brands and individuals.
“The sustainable fashion movement has gained impetus, and customers expect key players in the industry to become socially and environmentally responsible. Given the amplified conversation around sustainability, innovation in fabrics and raw materials for the fashion industry have seen an influx in the use of organic cotton, linen, hemp, bamboo linen and several other sustainable fabrics by high-street brands and designers,”Saurabh Shrivastava, director, Amazon Fashion India, is head. It houses collections from local brands. They prominently feature hand-stitched apparel and weaves by Karigars across India. It also features products from popular brands such as FabIndia, Soul Space, and Inner Sense.
The runway has evolved into a perfect combination of effortless style, innovative sustainability, and showcasing ecofriendly and sustainable avatars reimagined to make a better tomorrow. For instance, French-Belgian fashion designer Nicolas Ghesquière, who has been the creative director of the house of Louis Vuitton, presented the Louis Vuitton Women’s Spring-Summer 2022 Collection fashion show in Paris with a selection of bags. For over 15 years, Louis Vuitton’s sustainability development policy ensured targets on the conservation of natural resources, climate control, and the positive impact of the Maison on society. Today, 97% percent of Louis Vuitton’s shows and event sets can be reused or repurposed, and this second life is expected to begin from their conception. 20 tonnes of materials, including chairs and chandeliers, were rented for the Spring-Summer 2022 event. All wooden elements were made from Forest Stewardship Council certified wood.
Austrian textile giant Lenzing Group has partnered with several Indian designers to develop products and innovations which meet the Indian aesthetics while offering superior environmental benefits, which is Lenzing’s forte. Fashion designers such as Satya Paul and Ritu Kumar, along with other Indian designers, have collaborated with Lenzing Group to launch their collections at Lakme Fashion Week. They also used Tencel and Lenzing Ecovero fibres to create different collections. “The designers have made good use of features present in our fibres like colour vibrancy, better drape and comfort to experiment with silhouettes, shades, and fits for the local audience. The continuity of the collaborations reflects well on the acceptance of eco-friendly fibres in India,”S Jayaraman, senior director commercial, (AMEA, NEA), Lenzing AG.
So what textiles and fibres have been emerging behind the scenes that are now on the runway? Jayaraman believes it is important to understand why new fibre trends are emerging. “There is a requirement of alternative options to synthetic fibres or big-on-resource cotton fibres and the sustainability push in global markets by consumers, industry bodies and governments have catalysed this need. Introducing new products altogether with better and different product features will break the aesthetic monotony which comes from using traditional fibres,”He adds.
According to the American Express Trendex Report, Indians want the planet to be better off by spending more on sustainable products and supporting local businesses. Indians are most interested in purchasing sustainable products, with 97% wanting to spend money on products that have a positive impact upon local businesses and communities. This is the highest number of countries surveyed.
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Manoj Adlakha is the SVP and CEO of American Express Banking Corp India. “Indian customers are making conscious decisions and shifting their buying patterns by prioritising spending on sustainable products thereby contributing to local businesses and leaving a positive impact on the planet. Ever since the pandemic hit the world creating an irreversible impact, people are becoming mindful about the purchases they make and the impact that will create for generations to come.”
Besides fabrics and fibres, the supply chain innovations are given much importance and there’s a visible push for responsible consumption and manufacturing where retailers and manufacturers are incorporating ambitious sustainability targets. Fabrics are the largest component of any outfit, and it is crucial to choose eco-friendly fibers. Recycled fibers reduce the carbon footprint of products as a key component of the textile is being re-used. It is quite remarkable how much resources are saved that could have been used to grow additional raw materials.
“Cellulosic fibres like Tencel, which has its wood coming from sustainable forestry, play a vital role in reducing environmental impact through their advanced manufacturing process. These fibres are certified biodegradable at the end of their lifecycle, making it better for the planet. Effective supply chain innovations help to ensure quality and authenticity of these product innovations. Tools like blockchain, which enable transparency, are key to offering the right products,” says Jayaraman.
ReshaMandi is one of these marketplaces digitizing the natural fiber supply chain. It has helped farmers, weavers, as well as reelers, by sourcing sustainable fabrics, and providing them with market exposure. Designers and fabric connoisseurs are impressed by their unique line made from silk fabrics, banana fabrics, silk fabrics, and natural fibres such as cotton, vise, hemp, and vise.
“Besides providing ReshaWeaves with finished goods to retailers and consumers, the farmers are willing to give technology a chance. When we work with them to improve their crop yield and in early disease detection and prevention, and provide easy access to market linkages and assured payments, we are able to create long-term partnerships with all stakeholders of the standardisation of the supply chain,”ReshaMandi’s founder and CEO Mayank Tiwari explains. It is a marketplace that digitizes the natural fiber supply chain.
Fashion brands, runways and streets are now awash in sustainability. Designers are becoming increasingly aware of how fast fashion can be harmful to the environment at fashion shows in New York and Milan, London, Paris, Paris, and India. Slowly, they are moving away from repulsion towards imitations, borrowed references, and the use of certain colors to make sustainability a standard.
Some eco-friendly warriors insist on raising awareness about climate change. Protesters of Extinction Rebellion again stripped naked to protest fast fashion within the UK. Abbreviated as XR, the group took to the windows of an H&M store in 2020 to demonstrate against the environmental harms of fast fashion by gluing hands to the shop’s window in early September.
Extinction Rebellion is an international environmental movement that uses nonviolent civil defiance to force government action to avoid tipping points, biodiversity loss, and the danger of social and ecological collapsing.
In fact, English fashion designer Stella McCartney introduced the world’s first clothes made with Mylo mushroom leather, a sustainable leather alternative made from mycelium, the infinitely renewable underground root system of mushrooms. Bolt Threads in California developed Mylo, which is bio-based and unlike other synthetic leathers.
Luxury fashion house Hermès, too, introduced in March 2021, a bag made from fine mycelium (the network of threads forming the vegetative part of the organism that produces mushrooms). Mycelium can grow best in a lab with water, mulch, and air. It is also designed to have minimal environmental impact. It takes only days to raise cattle.
Is alternativeism worth it?
There is a lot of progress in the adoption of alternative materials such as vegan silk and mushroom-based garments when factors like being green, consuming less, and using resources optimally are at the forefront. But how do we really know what the actual process is?
Handcrafted products don’t use fossil fuel, but that does not mean all practices are green. The Northeast is home to indigenous milkweed fibres, but it can be difficult to grow and harvest. “Every Indian state is known for different fibres—silk, cotton, hemp, banana, pineapple and milkweed. Some people are reviving old fibres like lotus and bamboo, as these are stronger and softer than the contemporary fibres. But we also need to see the process of production. Does it cause pollution? What is the energy required to convert into fibre? We cannot look at all this in isolation,”Archana Shah is the author of Crafting a Future. Stories of Indian Textiles & Sustainable Practices. She explains how handcrafted products are inherently eco-friendly, yet still employ more people and is not an organized sector.
Organic labels offer a range of fibre or fabric varieties made from vegetable cashmere or hemp, including soybean processed cotton. “Organic cotton, being India’s best product, is grown without harmful chemicals, often uses less water, and doesn’t destroy ecosystems. It is known to improve soil quality,”Shoonyam founder Sushant Koul uses organic cotton and linen. Organic cotton and linen are less water-intensive and do not harm the ecosystem, but they can help improve the soil quality.
“Recycled, cellulose fabrics are a great way to move forward as fashion is already one of the most polluting industries in the world. There is a need to slow down and rethink the way we are approaching consumers,” adds Koul.
Raghavendra Rathore is a designer who believes fibre innovations are baby step to carbon-zero footprints. He also believes that reducing fast fashion consumption is the best way to achieve this. “Brands have a tendency to act only when there is consumer pressure. The government, too, needs to tax wasteful production of poly and synthetic fabrics,”Rathore, the creative director and founder Raghavendra Rathore Jodhpur who revolutionized the traditional bandhgala, says: His company uses nearly 100% natural wool from sustainable sheep farms, making it highly ecological.
Chiffon can be used as an all-season wear in addition to cotton. It is also easily recyclable. “Recycled fabric is good for the environment as these are easily degradable, especially handwoven chiffon and Banarasi fabrics,”Raghuram Kuchibhatla is the founder and CEO at Yes!poho. This online platform allows artisans and weavers to connect directly with customers, allowing them sell handloom sarees through their own website.
Despite being biodegradable, fashion continues to innovate. Apple leather, made from crushed apples and then dried to a fine powder before being mixed with a resin, has been added to the vegan category. Portugal-based Dooeys’ shoes are made from 100% vegan plant-based materials (including apple leather). Similarly, Shop Veerah, a New York-designed shoe label uses apple leather and so does Allégorie, a brand for wallets, card holders and bags.
Bemberg, the cupro-fibre from Asahi Kasei Corporation and made from cotton linter, is a sustainable, recycled cellulose fibre produced in Japan. It has in the past collaborated with designer Payal Pratap for her environmentally-friendly and biodegradable material collection. Elan GreenGold. This is one of the most environmentally-friendly fabrics made from 100% postconsumer PET bottles. He employed efficient and certified manufacturing processes for his shows.|Elan GreenGold, one of the greenest fabrics made from 100% post-consumer used PET bottles deploying efficient and certified manufacturing practices for his shows.
Indian denim manufacturers are still focusing on sustainability while adhering with global brand standards and benchmarks. The Indian denim market is the second largest in terms capacity. A majority of Indian mills today have a vision of being export-centric and focusing on their resources and energies to tap the potential of the global market.
For eco-conscious consumers, denim is being transformed into a versatile and luxurious garment collection. Raymond UCO is a 50-50 joint venture between Raymond Textiles and Belgian denim major UCO NV. It reinvents its high-quality denim fabrics by using recycled polyester from the ocean-bound plastics as well as Blu 2.0, a unique indigo dyeing process. The process involves the recycling of ocean-bound polymers into fibres and blending it with cotton to weave sustainable jeans. This reduces freshwater consumption and effluent loads by approximately 85% using the BLU2.0 process. Eco-friendly dyes like natural dyes are used to reduce dependence on synthetic chemicals. This responsible denim offers ultimate comfort, breathability and moisture management while also being environment-friendly.
“These are small steps in the right direction towards creating responsible denim fabrics to reduce the gap between fashion and sustainability. These fabrics can be crafted into luxurious, versatile garment collections for eco-conscious consumers,”Sudhir Deorukhkar is the head of marketing at Raymond UCO.