When you spot a new creation on the runway, there’s a lot you take in. An inventive use of local fabric here, intricate embroidery there. But often, you overlook the process that led to the finished product. For Delhi-based designer Kriti Tula, it’s this process that is most interesting. When other designers are busy sketching out their designs, Tula is visiting the factories of export houses, picking up sample strips, reject fabric, stray buttons and leftover thread, all production waste, to put together her next collection. “It’s almost like a puzzle, you sit with each piece and decide what you want to do with it,” she says.
Tula is one among a growing tribe of Indian designers who have turned to upcycling – a movement that involves creating something new and of better value, from existing pieces of clothing or production waste. A stint with an export house a few years ago exposed Tula to godowns full of reject fabric – pieces had been discarded for misprints, colour variations and stitches gone awry. “It was immense waste,” she recalls. “I realised there’s so much available within our systems to work with.” Her three-year-old label, Doodlage, refashions patches of discarded fabric into shirts, jumpsuits, dresses, kurtis and more. “Doodles are unique, you don’t repeat them,” she says of her brand name. “Similarly every upcycled piece is unique.”
Mix and match
The upcycle movement is very different from recycling – the latter refers to repurposing a product by breaking it down. Upcycling is also fairly new in India – internationally, brands like Sword & Plough, Looptworks, Reformation and Urban Renewal (a line by Urban Outfitters) have found possibilities in discarded fabrics. “There are brands that source damaged saris from India and Bangladesh, sterilise and work on them, and sell them as upcycled pieces,” says Bina Rao, designer, and adviser to the Ministry of Textiles.
Upcycling aligns itself with the slow fashion movement, in which designers eschew mass production and make eco-conscious, ethical choices. The movement has gained momentum in the past few years, with fashion weeks in the country dedicating an entire day to sustainable practices.
Designer Karishma Shahani, who started [Ka][Sha] four years ago, was introduced to upcycling as a fashion student in London, and knew that she wanted to make the practice her mainstay. She’s done an entire collection from old banarasi borders, used vegetable sacks to create jackets and made flowers from waste fabrics to use as applique on her designs. “Last season, I showcased a denim jacket that was made out of five pairs of jeans,” she says. “I have a zero-waste policy, so everything that is left out finds its way into my next collection.”
In with the old
Upcycling isn’t just about seeing possibilities in the discarded, but also the disregarded. Often, you own a vintage garment that you refuse to part with, or a hand-me-down that signifies a deep emotional connect. Designers are picking up on these nostalgic sentiments too. Aneeth Arora of Péro started an upcycle offshoot of her label two years ago, and the inspiration came from home. “I had an old Ralph Lauren jacket that I’d reinvented by sewing on badges, pins and where the buttons had torn off, I’d added fabric. Photographer Dayanita Singh saw me in it and asked if I could do something with her old jacket.”
Soon, Arora started procuring old denim jackets – at a vintage fair in Florence, she chanced upon some old Levi’s and jackets worn by men in the services – and enhancing them with embroidery, beadwork, buttons, applique and patchwork. “Each piece takes time, so I barely manage about 12 in a year,” she says. Designer Paromita Banerjee cites the sujni-kantha technique – the quilting involves layers of hand-stitched, recycled saris. “It’s a prime example of an upcycled piece. The philosophy is rooted in Indian mentality,” she says.
As more designers focus on minimising waste, and creating new memories from old, upcycling is poised to go bigger, especially in a fabric-rich country like India. “Polyester, velvet, crepe and other synthetic blends are not bio-degradable. In such cases, upcycling just makes perfect sense,” says Rao.
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From HT Brunch, June 12, 2016
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