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  Age on Sunday   14 May 2017  Giving back, in style

Giving back, in style

Published : May 14, 2017, 12:38 am IST
Updated : May 14, 2017, 12:38 am IST

The new-age Indian shoppers are looking for ways to contribute to larger good.

Anita Dongre, fashion designer
 Anita Dongre, fashion designer

It was during the late 18th century that a French milliner and dress maker Rose Bertin started to design clothes for the then Queen of France, Marie Antoinette. Her designs gave way to some of the most extravagant dresses that reportedly occupied thrice the space that a man’s outfit did, and were meant to convey that female figures in the society had not just passive but an imposing presence. Not only did Bertin create ostentatious clothes, but helped the Queen create a revolution through fashion, while marking the beginnings of haute couture. History books show that this was perhaps one of the earliest attempts to give a reason to fashion and use it as a reflection of personal beliefs — in Queen Antoinette’s case, to help her connect to her people and express herself through her clothes.

Ever since then, fashion has travelled a great distance to get to the present day, where it now  stands as an ideology and contributes to a larger cause — be it supporting dying artisan communities or donning eco-friendly, upcycled clothes and accessories as a political statement that display one’s commitment to environment.


Keshsa and Shivani, co-founders of ArtureKeshsa and Shivani, co-founders of Arture

A majority of Indians are letting their sartorial choices reflect a larger purpose, giving way to mushrooming of firms across the country that are standing strong for reasons more than just business.

Focus back to artisans
Similar thoughts lead renowned Indian designer Anita Dongre, a couple of years ago to create her label, Grassroot, which aims to carry forth the heirloom traditions from the hinterlands of the country, that are getting lost in our mechanised world, through sustainable fashion. “Being a vegan, I was looking for environment-friendly ways to make my designs. At Grassroot, we’re using only organic cotton and vegetable colours. The whole aim is to take the focus back to villages, in a sustainable way,” Anita shares about the label.


Kriti Tula, co-founder, DoodlageKriti Tula, co-founder, Doodlage

Our countrymen most often realise the significance of valuing our roots, only after the concepts spread across to the world over, says actress Rakul Preet Singh. “Be it yoga, ayurveda and handlooms, we’re giving them their due credit after very long. But, it is definitely exciting to see many people standing up for the artisans; many actresses have also been actively promoting fashion for a cause. Although, I believe the availability of the artisan-made products is still very less, the issue is surely garnering attention,” Rakul elaborates.

Gush shoe displayGush shoe display

Reviving dying art forms
Chennai-based Abhinaya Rangarajan, a 24-year-old entrepreneur was visiting few smaller towns across the south of India when she chanced upon traditional puppet makers from Dharmavaram, Andhra Pradesh, who were gradually losing their livelihood owing to the lacking demand in the current times. She decided to start The Artist Project two years ago, which would give home to artisans and dying arts. Along with the products like hand-woven mats from Cholamandalam Artists’ Village, traditional bells from Nirona village, Kutch, Gujarat and so on, Abhinaya sends across a hand-written note from the artisan with each product bought. “People today are becoming aware that in order to support a cause, they don’t have to go out of the way to do it, but can make a considerable difference through their lifestyle choices as well. With each of our products being one-of-a-kind, customers also prefer handmade goods. The number of people who want to shop as a way of supporting artisanal communities is steadily growing,” Abhinaya believes. A majority of firms in the country that are working towards providing the world with fashion for a reason often don’t have any advertising mechanisms in place, but the conversations that happen among people who buy these products become active advocates for the cause. “X: Love your attire! Y: Oh thank you, it is an upcycled tunic made by artisans from Rajasthan”— that is all it takes to start a fashion revolution.


The White Rainbow Project, founder Linda Mandrayar with a widow who makes paper bead jewelleryThe White Rainbow Project, founder Linda Mandrayar with a widow who makes paper bead jewelleryA vegan shoe from the Gush shoe collectionA vegan shoe from the Gush shoe collection

Wooing millennials
But, functionality and the right design also come in as key aspects when it comes to wooing consumers to buy traditional products that keep artisans in business, says Bengaluru-based Karthik Vaidyanathan, creative designer and founder of Varnam, a firm that’s working towards reviving the traditional handicraft from Channapatna, a village in Karnataka. Karthik has cleverly incorporated the wooden craft into cloth hangers, napkin rings, contemporary jewellery, and home accents as against to selling the handicraft in its traditional form of toys. “The craft needs to be kept relevant to the modern times, as the reason that they die is because the need for them expires. As long as the products look attractive and are still in use, people don’t seem to mind shopping,” says Karthik.


Jumbo pen stand from VarnamJumbo pen stand from VarnamArtifact by The Artist ProjectArtifact by The Artist Project

Aiming at empowering widows in Uttar Pradesh’s Vrindavan, known as the city of widows, a US-based initiative named The White Rainbow Project has been working in India for the past few years. This initiative has been selling upcyled clothing, jewellery and other accessories handmade by widows, to the world across.

A model wearing a collection from the brand ‘No Nasties’A model wearing a collection from the brand ‘No Nasties’Vrindavan women —The White Rainbow ProjectVrindavan women —The White Rainbow Project

While many in the West don’t mind buying a product for the sake of supporting someone’s livelihood, Indians don’t believe in philanthropic buying, says Asha James, who works with the project. “I don’t think Indians would pick up a scarf made by widows just to support them, a large section still buys only if the pricing, and the product pleases them. But the support is growing.”  


A model wearing a wholly organic line of clothes from ‘No Nasties’, that was started by Apurva Kothari, a Mumbai-based businessmanA model wearing a wholly organic line of clothes from ‘No Nasties’, that was started by Apurva Kothari, a Mumbai-based businessman

Resisting fast fashion
The global garment industry, one of the world’s largest sectors, thrives on buy-and-throw-away fashion, commonly known as fast fashion, and hence involves a massive deal of resource wastage. Taking this challenge head-on, many groups in India have been actively working on turning the existing unwanted into fashion masterpieces. One such firm that has been bringing some of the quirkiest designs through garment waste is Delhi-based fashion brand Doodlage. Its co-founder Kriti Tula says, “Having seen fashion industry closely, I have realised that a lot of fabric goes into the landfills just over the reason that it has unnoticeable misprints. We choose the cotton and linen fabrics that are unwanted for larger industries and create our designs with them using printing and embroidery.”



Time for conscious buying habits
Many young businessmen and women are placing environment above the rest by structuring their lifestyle product startups solely around up-cycling garbage. Chennai’s first up-cycled store Goli Soda is all about bringing out innovation in something considered as worthless as used-tetrapaks, old fabrics into remarkably creative goods. “It’s been three years since we started and the fact that we’re still around shows that people are turning more conscious of what they buy,” feels the founder Sruti Hari, who is also a filmmaker and model.


As appealing as applying these ideas to make environment-friendly, sustainable wooden furniture sounds, it may seem implausible. Bengaluru-based Pradeep Nair, the founder of Ubyld, a sustainable home furnishing store, found a way to address that aspect too! Using pine wood that is used as packaging material for motor companies, Pradeep is turning it into chemical-free furnishings and DIY home accents. Emma Watson speaking her environment-friendly thoughts through a Calvin Klein dress designed from recycled plastic bottles is only a representation of the ideas of many designers like these on a global platform. It proved that one can spark fire to conversations on addressing societal concerns through a simple fashion choice.


Abhinaya Rangarajan, founder, The Artist ProjectAbhinaya Rangarajan, founder, The Artist Project

Buying what you believe in
Distraught after listening to multitudes of stories on farmer suicides, Apurva Kothari, a Mumbai-based entrepreneur decided to start working with the farmers through fair trade practices in producing a wholly-organic line of clothes through his brand ‘No Nasties’. “It’s still an uphill task to have people buying products solely for the reason the brand is working towards societal change, the product also needs to stand out,” shares Apurva.

With Indians voting in huge numbers for leather-free products, companies are finding ways to see that fashion doesn’t come at the price of a life. They are employing the strategy of giving the products irresistible looks to win the buyers over, helping them make the green switch effortlessly. Chennai’s brand Arture is using cork that’s considered highly sustainable to make their bags, while Gush shoes and accessories from Mumbai are catching the country’s shoppers’ attention through charming designs that use only vegan leather and hand-woven cotton.


After all, these changing fashion habits only depict one’s life choices and ideologies, opines one of the country’s most renowned fashion reviewers and social media influencer, Masoom Minawala.

“While people are becoming more aware that they can contribute their bit to the society through the things they buy, people taking part in it is majorly a reflective of the kind of beliefs one holds,” says Masoom.

The world ahead is gradually giving way to revolutionised shopping needs and ways, and the hope is only getting stronger that lifestyle sector continues to widen space for expression, and mirrors the facets of the society that need to be acted upon.


Tags: fashion designer, queen of france