Less: The new luxury

Kondo may have sparked the revolution but she has cleverly tapped into a trend that has been building for quite some time.

Have you KonMari-ed your life already? If yes, you’d be right on trend with Indians and people across the globe who are gravitating towards a leaner, greener way of life that is better for the environment and their own wellbeing.

Does it spark joy?
For anyone (and isn’t that almost everyone?) who has watched the beatific Marie Kondo ask this question as she holds someone’s beloved old stuffed toy to her cheeks, it’s one we often involuntarily ask ourselves. While her books were a hit, the show Tidying Up With Marie Kondo has been wowing viewers on Netflix has certainly sparked joy for people across the globe. Who would have thought cleaning up would be the new cool!

Her trademarked KonMari method has had many a hoarder examine our home only to discover that what seemed to be our comfort zone is actually a towering temple to wasteful excess. The technique, it seems, is to tidy up by category, starting with clothes, then books and papers, miscellaneous stuff, and, at the very end, sentimental items. She encourages us to keep only those that speak to our hearts, and discard anything that does not ‘spark joy’ in us.

Kondo may have sparked the revolution but she has cleverly tapped into a trend that has been building for quite some time. Many of us have felt the need to move away from irksome and irrational greed. Yet another drool-worthy gadget, yet another designer dress, yet another Michelin-starred meal… while we may still indulge in these some of the time, we are becoming very choosy about it even if we have money to spare some. There’s a certain intentionality to things and it’s marked by the clarity and purpose of using only the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it. It’s minimalism of sorts, about being discriminating in what we choose and then celebrating it.

HH&M conscious exclusiveHH&M conscious exclusive

Reduce, reuse, recycle!
Kolkata-based Karuna Ezara Parikh would agree whole-heartedly. The 34-year-old model, TV show anchor and writer calls herself an ‘Earth advocate’ and has been associated with the sustainable fashion industry for a while now. The Burlap People, a brand she co-owns, promotes sustainable lifestyle with its handcrafted eco-friendly luggage. So it wasn’t a big leap of imagination for her to sign up for Extinction Rebellion’s XR Fashion Boycott, an initiative where people boycott the buying of new clothes for an entire year! “I’ve been trying to live a greener and as close to zero-waste lifestyle as possible over the last few years. The world is facing a climate emergency and the fashion industry is one of the most polluting ones. Even the brands that say they are using sustainable fabrics, for example, even those using ‘pure cotton’… you should know that cotton is one of the least water-efficient plants to cultivate!”

With water becoming so scarce, it’s a criminal waste to use it on yet another item of clothing that will eventually be discarded because it’s not fashionable anymore. “As we are faced by the onslaught of fast fashion, it just became important for me to make that statement that we need less stuff. Maybe we don’t need to have a whole new wardrobe every season,” she smiles. Karuna clarifies that she doesn’t quite agree with Marie Kondo’s methods. “Yes, it’s good to have less in the long run, but to indiscriminately get rid of things just adds to the cycle of generating waste. I believe that it’s very important to be able to find uses for our things and be happy with what we have. If you just get rid of your clothes, they’ll merely land up in a landfill and that defeats the purpose,” she asserts.

Karuna Ezara ParikhhhKaruna Ezara Parikh

The discussions at a recent United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change featured statistics that reflect the same sentiment. They said that the fashion industry produces 20 percent of all waste water, and that 85 percent of textiles end up in landfills. This is why international fashion retailers like the Swedish H&M are now coming up with ways to lead the change toward circular and renewable fashion. Which translates to collections that are more timeless and less seasonal in nature and some, like their Conscious Exclusive line, which even has clothes made from food waste from fruit and even algae. While this may be only a step in the right direction of their aim to be wholly climate positive by 2040, it still serves to grab the attention of today’s ‘woke’ generation and get people talking about the need for change and ways to achieve it.

Karuna lauds circular fashion that involves recycling but she rues the fact that, we aren’t really thinking of reusing. “India doesn’t have a second-hand market today. There should be no shame in using second-hand goods,” she says. Pia D’Souza, a 48-year-old senior journalist from Mumbai, has eradicated the daily morning dilemma of ‘what to wear’ altogether. “You have somehow collected clothes on a whim or a sale. Instead of rummaging in the wardrobe every day, I decided I would much rather give them to others who would use them well.” Now, Pia’s pared it down to 10 items each of bottoms, work-worthy blouses, casual ones for Sundays, dresses and capes or jackets that help to pull a whole look together along with a bit of jewellery. Not quite as radical as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and the simplistic sameness of his trademark grey tees, but still quite a quantum shift in thinking.

Pia D'Souza's wardrobePia D’Souza’s wardrobe

But, what about the fashion no-no of being seen in the same outfit too often? “Yes, there is that instinctive apprehension. But, as I’m not a fashion influencer, I remind myself it doesn’t matter,” says Pia. On the other hand, Karuna is a social media influencer. “It’s a tough balancing act. A lot of my income is generated by the promotion of new clothes or new looks,” she confides. But fashion excess gets to her. “I found a picture that had a dress with a mock label that read ‘I probably won’t wear this again because it’s on the ‘gram’,” she rues. But the good part is, she has also begun to observe the renaissance of minimalism. Julia Mooney, an art teacher in the US, successfully completed a One Outfit 100 Days Challenge wearing the same grey hemp dress on week days for the entire period. “And US-based advertising creative director Sheena Matheiken started something called the Uniform Project, where she wore the same little black dress every day for a year, but styled it differently every single day and even raised money for the Akanksha Foundation here!” Karuna admires.

Simple living, high thinking
While saving the planet is a lofty ideal, it’s also important to save ourselves. And that’s where clean eating comes in. The most cutting edge of restaurants are offering not only healthy alternatives but a deeper sense of ‘you are what you eat’ than ever before. Organic, sustainable, locally sourced ingredients have become the mantra for modern-day chefs and restaurateurs. Vanika Choudhary is the owner of the Sequel Bistro in Mumbai that is all about additive-free, wholesome eating. “We have got to address the question how our food is grown, what soil it’s grown in, what pesticides go into it, how it’s transported… Organic food does come at a price but all of us can make a start somewhere,” the 35-year-old gets a bit emotional.

Gwyneth PaltrowGwyneth Paltrow

Vanika, who grew up on a diet of fresh, seasonal fruits, vegetables and nuts in Srinagar and Jammu has noticed that people are gradually switching to organic diets. “There is a very niche class of affluent consumers in big cities. The few meals they eat at home, they make it a point to eat organic. The more awareness there is, the more there will be demand for organic produce, which in turn will lead to a cost-effective supply chain. This will eventually lead to healthy eating becoming affordable,” she reasons.

And even if we aren’t going organic in a hurry, we certainly are rejecting the razzle dazzle. Chef Marut Sikka, who spent many months on research before setting up Delhi Club House in the capital’s RK Puram, observes that diners are bored of the drama and want simple, comfort food. “The problem is that people were trying too hard to reinvent the wheel. Everything had become too trend-oriented and gimmicky. There’s a return to the basics in the food industry now and it’s refreshing,” he smiles. Soul food with a purpose is more than just an Ishaara, for the so-named latest brainchild of ace restaurateur Riyaaz Amlani in collaboration with Prashant Issar and Anuj Shah of Stratix Hospitality. The food is wholesome and tasty by itself so they don’t need gimmicks to sell it. But what diners really appreciate is that they get to rewardingly engage with staff who have speech and hearing impairments. In fact, the entire menu is designed in a way that encourages communication that transcends mere transaction.

Jeremy CabralJeremy Cabral

This hankering after the wholesome, the old-school, the hand-crafted, the feel-good and the unique, stretches to everything from our passion for batch-brewed craft beer, supermarkets offering fresh, organic, hyperlocal food, and brands that celebrate anything that offers an ‘authentic’ experience of something. Acclaimed architect Ashiesh Shah, who infuses thoughtfulness into all his work, and is a regular at Vanika’s Sequel branch in Bandra, Mumbai, is the posterchild of this penchant. “I like anything with a philosophy,” admits the man, who has recently done a major renovation to the restaurant with elements like hand-crafted Chennapatna beads, polished lingams as support for the seating, and cladding tiles that exhibited the Japanese ideology of wabi-sabi that appreciates the beauty in imperfection. “Indians are culturally very rich with what we do with our own hands. We’ve had enough of machine-manufactured, overtly consumed fast design. India is a major voice when it comes to manufacturing for design, be it fashion or in our homes,” the 38-year-old design philosopher explains the shift.

Collaborative creativity
This isn’t just an Indian phenomenon, of course. The world over, people are waking up to the fact that we live in a global village and that everything we do has a butterfly effect on the lives of others. Everything has to be done thoughtfully, be it choosing a life partner or opting for a ‘conscious uncoupling’ as actress Gwyneth Paltrow made fashionable after her split with band Coldplay’s Chris Martin some years ago.

When even break-ups are so intense, it’s not surprising that in this increasingly collaborative, inclusive world, established brands are changing their focus to be more introspective and minimalistic too. Jeremy Cabral, one of India’s first male fashion bloggers and the man behind Fashion Most Wanted, points out that, along with other similar labels, Balmain has changed its logo and philosophy for the first time in seven decades. The French luxury fashion brand’s creative director Olivier Rousting hired the Adulte Adulte design studio in Paris to alter the brand logo to something cleaner. “The new logo weaves together letter B and P as one single letter, which is a reference to Paris and Balmain’s eponymous founder, Pierre Balmain. The change in logo is a lot more than a simple adjustment in the letters. The innovation embodies a brand-new phase for Balmain that seeks to reach a global audience,” explains Jeremy. He believes that Balmain did not break down its rules and traditions simply for the sake of doing it but because times are changing. The logo and ensuing advertising campaign portray a philosophy of inclusivity, diversity, and authenticity, which also happen to be the watchwords of today’s thoughtful times.

The journey within
Cleanism is touching many aspects of our lives, from how we eat, what we wear, how we perceive value, how we manage our finances and even how we travel! Generation Z has seen this trend take root in its growing up years and imbibes it wholly. The 23-year-old film actor Ishaan Khatter, seeks fulfilling simplicity, while taking vacations. “I had finished working on Beyond the Clouds so I had a pie from my first earnings.” But the cash in the wallet did not mean that Khattar headed out to obvious suspects like Amsterdam or Paris, but rather a train journey to Bhutan! “We really roughed it out and it became the most exciting, spontaneous trip ever, where we were physically exhausted by the time we arrived at our final destination in Thimphu. We drove around Bhutan and spent 11 days there. We did the hike up to Tiger’s Nest too. I got there in 1.5 hours, and literally scrambled up like an animal! I had a beautiful spiritual experience at Taktsang. We even spent a night in a tent,” he narrates.

Khattar’s account sums up the difference between a traveller and a tourist. It isn’t enough to merely post a pretty picture of that glorious sunset now. One also has to soul search and come up with a pithy and profound phrase to go with it! Though we have all gone digital and seemingly distanced from one other in the age of personal gadgets and streaming programming, the individualism is actually helping us delve deeper, speak our minds more and engage with others at a more organic level.

‘Each possession you possess / Helps your spirits to soar.

That’s what’s soothing about excess / Never settle for something less.
Something’s better than nothing, yes!
But nothing’s better than more, more, more…’

Almost 30 years ago, Madonna sang these lyrics by Stephen Sondheim in a song aptly titled - More. It’s taken three decades but finally, the world is waking up to the fact that more isn’t really better. That actually, less can really be

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