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Thursday, Sep 19, 2019

Guest column by designer David Abraham: New laws for the fashion police

The first rule, according to David, is how sustainability must be your style statement

brunch Updated: Sep 07, 2019 22:35 IST
David Abraham
David Abraham
Hindustan Times
Today with all the chatter by fashion brands, the industry and the media, the conversation on sustainability is getting difficult to follow
Today with all the chatter by fashion brands, the industry and the media, the conversation on sustainability is getting difficult to follow(Credit)
         

Fashion and sustainability – there’s so much to talk about. But today with all the chatter by fashion brands, the industry and the media, the conversation is getting difficult to follow.

There is no doubt that we are in the midst of grave environmental distress. Any resident of smog-bound Delhi or water-deprived Chennai will attest to this. Pollution and environmental disasters are staring us in the face. The conversation about sustainability is unavoidable.

Studies show that the fashion and textile industry is the second largest polluter in the world after the oil industry. The production and distribution of crops, the spinning of fibres, weaving fabrics, dyeing – all require enormous amounts of water and chemicals, including pesticides for raw materials such as cotton.

There are essentially two co-dependent players involved in this discussion on sustainability, rather like the two sides of the same coin. On the one side is the producer of fashion and textiles. And on the other side is the consumer – all of us who buy the clothes that the industry keeps producing more and more of. We need to understand the dynamic between these two players if we are to effect any change at all.

The textile craftperson as a custodian of culture and tradition is integral to our cultural narrative
The textile craftperson as a custodian of culture and tradition is integral to our cultural narrative

The Indian eye

While the increasing consumption of fashion impacts us here in India, it is important to note that the highest consumption of fashion per capita, together with the highest environmental impact, does not lie in India. It lies in Western countries and other affluent economies. However, in order to feed the increasing demand for fashion, the multinational fashion industry produces most of its requirements in less developed countries like India. So, we and the other low-cost manufacturing economies face the environmental fallout of this enormous industry. Meanwhile, the international fashion consumer continues to buy more and more clothing, wearing it fewer times before discarding it.

So far, the global conversation around sustainability in fashion has been largely viewed through a Western lens. The West is good at lecturing us about the pollution in our environments. International seminars and action plans are chalked out in the capitals of the world. One such weighty conference was recently held in a pristine Scandinavian city a safe distance from the polluting factories of the developing world where, ironically, multinational Scandinavian fashion brands manufacture their products.

But we need to understand the issue from our own perspective to be aware of the role India can play to end this spiral of greed and destruction.

There are two sides of the discussion on sustainability: One side is fashion and textiles, and the other is the consumer
There are two sides of the discussion on sustainability: One side is fashion and textiles, and the other is the consumer

Small is smart

Unlike most Western countries who have outsourced their production needs, we are ourselves manufacturers of fashion. Our environment is therefore directly impacted both by our own consumption, as well as the production of clothing as export.

Using a lens of our own, the word ‘sustainability’ needs to be redefined. Normally associated with the effect of the large-scale garment industry, sustainability in the Indian context must include the preservation of the small-scale in the form of the Indian craftsperson. India has the largest number of handloom weavers and craftspersons in the world. To sustain a craftsperson in her traditional work environment is crucial. While the environmental footprint of a textile craftsperson is tiny, her importance as a custodian of culture and tradition is huge, integral to our cultural narrative.

Economies of scale mean that most clothing companies prefer mega manufacture. But while we strive for cleaner and more responsible manufacturing processes, we should also balance the impact of the individual maker against the enormous environmental footprint of the mega producer. Slow fashion from the craft and handloom sector should provide the responsible alternative to the rapaciousness of fast fashion.

Studies show that the fashion and textile industry is the second largest polluter in the world after the oil industry
Studies show that the fashion and textile industry is the second largest polluter in the world after the oil industry ( Photo imaging: Parth Garg )

Cupboard love

Now for the consumer. The Indian consumer is relatively new to the world of fashion-led consumption and the accompanying waste. We are still shaped by cultural attitudes that shun wastage. We remember the handing down of clothing from generation to generation,

the “rufoo-wallah” who darned torn shawls. We still have the “kabaadi-wallah” who is the original recycler. These are practices we must sustain and build on.

“Not to waste” is a choice every consumer must make.

According to one study in the USA, over 11 billion kilos of discarded clothing lands up in landfills annually, a lot of it barely worn. Besides the valuable resources of energy and water used to produce these clothes, much of it is composed of non-biodegradable fibres like polyester.

A major shift in consumption patterns is needed. We need to think about what we buy and remember that both sides of the coin are interdependant. We need well-made clothes that outlast trends, and we need to treat clothes as an investment to be used and enjoyed for a long time. We need to promote slow fashion, support the small craftsperson and research the production methods of the clothing we buy. We need to avoid clothing made from yarns that are not biodegradable. We need to remember that survival is going to require every one of us to make a difference.

Author bio: David Abraham is one of the most successful fashion designers of India and the co-owner of the fashion label Abraham & Thakore, popularly known for its choice of textiles and contemporary design.

From HT Brunch, September 8, 2019

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First Published: Sep 07, 2019 22:34 IST