Designers advocate need for sustainability at HTLS 2019
The three designers agreed on the strong need for sustainable fashion, a practice fast gaining ground in the $2.5 trillion global fashion industry that espouses use of environment-friendly and upcycled material.Updated: Dec 07, 2019 23:44 IST
How should fashion in the 21st century look? How can sustainability and art balance each other in one of the world’s biggest industries? And, what is the role of activism in haute couture?
These were some of the questions that a panel on ‘Fashion and Luxury — The Road Ahead’ comprising Nepali-American designer Prabal Gurung, Greek designer Mary Katrantzou, and India’s very own couturier Manish Malhotra explored on the second day of the 17th Hindustan Times Leadership Summit on Saturday.
The three designers agreed on the strong need for sustainable fashion, a practice fast gaining ground in the $2.5 trillion global fashion industry that espouses use of environment-friendly and upcycled material and centres social realities such as climate crisis, inclusivity, body positivity and fair wages.
“We think of fashion as just clothes and what is on the runway but it is a lot bigger than that. It is a visual challenger to the status quo,” said Gurung, who is based in New York and shot to international fame after designing clothes for Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey and Kate Middleton.
Malhotra, who is known for several iconic Bollywood looks, agreed. He pointed out that the conversation around sustainability needed to be expanded, especially among young people, who are very conscious of both fashion and the choices available to them.
But he cautioned against the possibility of sustainability becoming an empty buzz word, or a hashtag.
“We must speak about sustainability. It is a must and if we have to be a part of the process, we have to use our platforms to spread awareness. As designers, we must look at wastage and how to solve that issue. We need sustainability, but we also need art. Each one of us has to be conscious about these things for a better tomorrow,” he said.
Katrantzou, who is fresh off a fashion coup by hosting a charity fashion show at the iconic Greek Temple of Poseidon, said the industry needed to come together to think of a future.
“The brand values which you nurture as a company are of paramount importance. You create beauty and harmony and people are drawn to you for so many reasons — your warmth, the colours you use. What you buy is much more than the beauty it holds,” she said.
Gurung, who worked with Indian designer Manish Arora before moving to New York in 1999, said that the biggest issues plaguing the industry was apathy and the lack of desire to speak up against injustice.
“One thing fashion can really do is accelerate the conversation and amplify volume…be it women’s issues or climate change, fashion is the perfect platform to carry these conversations. Everyone is interested in fashion right now. Empathy will lead to a better tomorrow,” he said.
Gurung, who has been called the most feminist man in fashion, also held forth on his politics and conviction, and hailed American journalist Gloria Steinem as his biggest hero. “I wanted to create a luxury brand with a soul. I never set out to be a feminist. I’m in business because of women and I’m supported by them. When their rights are attacked, it’s impossible for me to keep quiet.”
He recalled that when he launched his eponymous label in the middle of the global recession in 2009, there were some deep-set ideas of fashion, which dictated that a woman cannot be intelligent if she liked fashion. “Fashion is a thinking man’s sex symbol…there is nothing more unnerving to patriarchy than a woman in full feminine glory,” he said.
Gurung said he believed his job as a designer was to provide options and see women in positions of power.
“We can’t pick and choose causes any longer. It is the most exciting time to be alive….the climate crisis is the biggest crisis that is threatening the world. You see now that power lies in courage, not in experience and age.”
Malhotra, who is currently working on director Karan Johar’s magnum opus Takht, said he was enjoying the process of creating garments and despite the stress, he does not like breaks and hates Sundays.
“At this stage of my career, it really pushes me in my mainstream work to experiment and create something that I have not done before. Use the outfits that you have, the traditional patterns, the beautiful sarees that you have inherited and wear them, as that also is a form of sustainability,” he said.
Encouraging people to recontextualise their existing closet, the couturier recalled an incident when he asked a client at his store to reuse one of her old saris instead of buying something new. Emphasising the importance of creating employment for the craftsman, he spoke about the Mijwan initiative that has grown from employing 40 women to 450 women at present. “They are employed and there is a sense of empowerment,” he said.
Katrantzou spoke about being a woman designer in a very competitive industry. “As a woman entrepreneur, you have to be bold in your choices and have a unique voice...”