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For the festive season, designers are working with artisans to create clothes with a conscience

As gifting and dressing up for the festive season begins, consumers are increasingly looking at sustainable, environment friendly choices

As gifting and dressing up for the festive season begins, consumers are increasingly looking at sustainable, environment friendly choices

Conscious Gifting. Slow Living. Going Green — these buzzwords have crept into the festive gifting space, especially post-pandemic. Small businesses are gradually being picked over bigger e-commerce giants, whether it is sending an edible hamper, decorating homes, or even buying clothing for the occasion.

Slow fashion is slowly but quietly taking its seat at the table as consumers prefer handcrafted clothing, with natural dyes and fabric, where the artisan is at the forefront, and every garment tells a story. A group of small businesses with a soul, is making a case for handmade attire this festive season. 

Gurugram-based Khara Kapas, launched Rang, its festive range in jewel tones. It comprises flowy silhouettes in silk and silk cotton, with fluid lines and a range of options, from ghagra and sharara sets, jumpsuits and a variety of ensembles. Fabric is the most important vector at Khara Kapas. Birthed in 2015, its name is rooted in founder Shilpi Yadav’s love affair with pure cotton. Shilpi says her “festive collection does very well”, and her primary focus on everything local, goes a long way. “With my father in the Indian Army, I travelled a lot and saw cotton being used in so many ways. I was keen to bring this fabric back to the centre stage in fashion,” she adds.

Khara Kapas

Khara Kapas
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

With a factory in old Gurugram, close to her home, every part of the creative process has been carefully calibrated to have minimal impact on the local environment. “We use bio enzymes to wash our fabric to maintain the pH balance. We use scraps to make bags, and source upcycled paper for packaging. We are working to make all our packaging 100% plastic-free as well,” explains Shilpi, who is determined to reduce and reuse water, and repurpose bio-waste generated in process.  At Khara Kapas, mul sourced from South India, is used since, “it has the glamour of a georgette but is eco-friendly, ‘‘ she says.

Krithika Varadarajan, a Chennai-based teacher, says her first option for festivals, is to bring out saris from her wardrobe or fashion them into pavadais for her daughters. But when she does choose to shop, “I try to buy from conscious brands that I find on Instagram,” she says adding that she looks for brands that pay fair wages to workers. Social media has helped spread the message of slow fashion, with celebrities often choosing conscious brands for their events, and encouraging sartorial choices that offer fair wages and use traditional weaving and printing techniques. 

Dyes don’t lie

Rias Jaipur

Rias Jaipur
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Avishek Mandal and Arshia Bhargava, design graduates from the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Chennai, launched Rias Jaipur in 2017 keeping the artisan at the heart of their work. This brand works with traditional dabu and block print artisans from Rajasthan, and khadi weavers from a village near West Bengal. What started as a passion project after college, took a detour after the pandemic first hit in 2020. “ We concentrated on keeping our artisan families occupied by making naturally-dyed masks, with embroidered initials,” Avishek adds, “We used haldi, tea, indigo and syahi to make masks that were very well received.” Syahi is a  black ink which is used in bagru printing by the Chippa community in Rajasthan. Rias Jaipur recently launched Void, their new collection, which features dresses, maxis and separates, with pops of colour printed with hand carved wooden blocks on 100% handspun and handwoven organic cotton.

Upasana Auroville

Upasana Auroville
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

 Using natural dyes has been a conscious effort at Upasana Auroville, an apparel brand with a strong social conscience. For Uma Prajapathi, who helms the operation, fashion activism has been a way of life. “We have worked with 16 states  and craft clusters across the country. We were active with Project Creative Dignity in Puducherry, during the pandemic as well,” says Uma. Creative Dignity is a movement that has brought together diverse creative producers, practitioners, and professionals to energise the ecosystem for Indian artisans, during COVID-19 and to weather the  post-COVID-19 impact. Forced to downsize its workforce during the pandemic, the clothing brand used the pause to focus on workshops to educate interested individuals and groups on slow fashion, as well as practical silhouettes, which feel good on the skin,” she adds. 

“A growing percentage of consumers in India are changing their purchase preferences based on social responsibility, inclusiveness, and environmental impact,” says Sanya Suri, who co-founded The Pot Plant with Resham Karmchandani, in Delhi. The brand shuns labels and gender boxes. Its festive collection is a beautiful mosaic of bandhini and shibori techniques on silk and cotton, be it saris or separates.

Pot Plant

Pot Plant
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Sanya adds that there has been an accelerated focus on the emotional connection that consumers share with the brands and the story behind every product. “Eco-conscious fashion cannot be about that ‘out of the farm’ look. The consumer today is not looking to compromise on style but integrate that with conscious consumption and production, “ she says.

Festive cheer

At Mumbai-based Indigo Dreams, the brand has seen brisk business this year. “Customers started their festive purchases as early as Ganesh Chaturthi as this was the first full year of celebration after the pandemic, without any restrictions. We are seeing customers increasingly turning conscious and looking for versatile products that can be styled in multiple ways, multiple times instead of just one-time occasion wear,” states Kanimozhi Kannan who started the brand with Kannan Singaravelu. Both their families belong to weaving communities in Tamil Nadu.

Reviving Indian textiles and giving them modern silhouettes is what Indigo Dreams does best. Kanimozhi, who studied design at Somani Institute of Art and Fashion Technology, Mumbai, believes consumers want brands that bridge the divide between traditional textiles and a modern milieu. “Whether it is ikat, the 19th century telia rumal or the millennia-old jamdani — the favourites of erstwhile Indian royals — India has a rich handloom heritage and we love to preserve this handloom legacy by reimagining Handloom with a fusion of modern silhouettes that are acceptable to the younger generations,” says Kanimozhi.

Indigo Dreams

Indigo Dreams
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

 The brand works closely with weaving clusters from Bengal (Ratan Pally), Rajasthan (Jaipur), Gujarat (Kutch) and Telangana (Koyyalagudem). ”With pops of colour, flowy fabric and soft silhouettes, the dresses and jackets designed by the team have appealed to the  brand’s loyalists in India and abroad, through social media channels.  

In Karnataka, Dori, an apparel brand launched eight years ago with the purpose of making contemporary clothing with traditional textiles, has worked consistently with the local weavers to bring back the allure of textiles native to the region. “I visited villages around Bagalkot district and met with weavers of Ilkal. The initial years were all about how to bring a traditional textile and make it our own, for the urban woman. We work with the weaving community in Amingad, Sulebavi and Guledgudda in Bagalkot district for the handwoven Ilkal textile and the Charaka women’s weaving society in Heggodu for the natural-dyed handwoven cotton,” explains Nikhita Satish, founder and designer at Dori, who is now exploring the khana fabric and the different ways they can bring that to urban wardrobes while sustaining a weaving community.” 

For young professionals, like Seetha Gopalakrishnan, Senior Project Associate at Care Earth Trust, who are looking for outfits for different occasions, homegrown brands offer ample options, albeit at a higher price point. “For the last two Deepavalis I got clothing from  small, home-grown businesses mostly because the aesthetic really appealed to me. Many a time these are quite expensive. I understand why they are a bit expensive, so I pick only when I really like the piece and see myself or my daughter wearing it multiple times on multiple occasions.”

As brands move to maximise productivity, while maintaining fashion forward momentum in an artisan friendly ecosystem, “conscious fashion” is here to stay. Sanya sums it up, “With the augmented use of synthetic fabrics and hyper-fast fashion, it has become increasingly important to make conscious choices. Handcrafted textiles made by artisans are not just good for the planet but also make up the very fabric of our society. They are like archives of years and years of techniques and knowledge handed down over generations and it is of paramount importance to nurture and save these techniques.” 


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