The silent battle of sustainable fashion against fast fashion by Mumbai clothing labels

17 February,2023 09:34 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Ainie Rizvi

In a world of instant gratification, many turn to the likes of synthetic polyester, acrylic, nylon and viscose to name a few as the cheaper alternatives but these come at the cost of the environment’s health

Sustainable clothing is busting the false demand for fresh looks created by fast fashion. Photo Courtesy: iStock

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Eco-conscious fashion is on the rise. With the rising impact of textile production over climate, industry experts from Mumbai are coming up with sustainable fashion brands to negate the hazards of fast fashion.

Fast fashion brands like Zara and HnM have democratized access to runway clothing and celebrity styles for today's youth. High street labels are releasing fast fashion clothing at affordable rates that are easily dispensable. With intense turnaround time, consumers are being overfed with the latest clothing ranges or the next big trend evolving at the fashion week.

To counter this menace, sustainable fashion brands are emerging in Mumbai with a mission to serve the environment and create awareness of eco-conscious clothing. Madhumita Nath, designer and founder EK katha, a sustainable fashion brand in Mumbai shares, "Gen Z is conscious of the impact of fast fashion and is actively trying to change their ways of consumption. The simmering awareness is turning into a movement that needs to flare up for fast fashion consumption to slow down."

Raising awareness around sustainable clothing
Alongside making sustainable clothing available to people, brands are also ensuring that people are aware of its existence and benefits. Paying closer attention to brands who offer better quality fabric, are diligent in their craftsmanship, and have the means to craft garments that are made for the long haul is the key.

"We've observed sustainable fashion gradually making its way into the public consciousness and people have started to note its value. This no longer is a niche market, or a fad rather sustainable fashion is being made available with a conscience and a sense of purpose" shares Kaveri Lalchand, founder of an eco-conscious label Kaveri.

Madhumita adds that if it is cheap or affordable and is called sustainable then it is fishy and needs to be reviewed thoroughly. Affordable and sustainable or made by artisans cannot go hand in hand. Customers need to dig deeper and find out where and how it's being manufactured before making the purchase.

Synthetic vs. natural fibers
Cotton, linen, silk, hemp, and bamboo are biodegradable natural materials and win over nylon and polyester clothing any day. Not only do they feel breezy and light on the skin but also absorb sweat and keep infections at bay. Unlike cotton, polyester doesn't absorb sweat and causes the skin to itch. Another downside of synthetic clothing is that once discarded, they do not break down easily in soil and continue to harm the environment.

There are other vegan materials derived from cork, pineapple, banana, fish scales, etc that are used to manufacture sustainable clothing. These new innovations are brilliant and made in small quantities. Hence, they are priced based on their exclusive nature. Cotton if not produced in a regenerative manner is equally harmful. Blending it with polyester makes the recycling process tougher. In the premise of sustainable fibers, recycled materials are also being used to create clothing and accessories.

Sustainable fashion wardrobe for men
Men needn't be weary when it comes to repurposing garments and accessories in their wardrobes. Instead, make them last longer and not let them overflow with more new purchases. Be bold and adventurous with what you already have and pair them with one another that defines your personal style. Create something new out of the existing pieces you already own that will help to reshape their image while saving money and resources along the way.

Also Read: How pastels are redefining the traditional narrative for Indian brides

Sustainable fashion wardrobe for women
Kaveri: Unlike men, most women may have a larger versatile range of clothing that can still be reimagined in many ways just with the pieces they already own. If you do wish to shop, pay closer attention to brands that offer better quality fabric, are diligent in their craftsmanship, and have the means to craft garments that are made for the long haul.

Tip by Madhumita: Use heirloom fabrics and versatile classic pieces to define your style. Jackets and scarves can be added to your ensemble to amplify the look along with throwing in quirky accessories.

Kaveri highlights that in a world of instant gratification, many turn to the likes of synthetic polyester, acrylic, nylon and viscose to name a few as the cheaper alternatives but these come at the cost of the environment's health- for being non-biodegradable, renowned for their toxic microfibers and being one of the primary sources of oceanic pollution. Both men and women need to understand the harms of buying synthetic clothing and adopt the practice of buying natural fibers to preserve the environment.

Repurposing older garments from the wardrobe
Kaveri: The beauty of fabrics and fashion is the ability to transform a piece of clothing into either a whole new piece or an item with some utility around the house. For instance, an old pair of jeans can be made into a smart pair of shorts, distressing them with chalk or sandpaper to create a whole new version for an existing pair or creating a whole new item from the fabric into a bag, bookmarks, coasters, pillows, the possibilities are endless.

Madhumita: Let those creative juices flow for turning drab into interesting. You can turn 2 pairs of jeans into a skirt. You can turn them into bags or jackets as well. What you get is a one-of-a-kind upcycled marvel.

Sometimes a worn-out torn spot could be a great creative canvas for a pop of colourful patchwork or some interesting hand embroidery. It all depends on how creative you can get. I remember turning my mom's torn silk saree into a crochet bag.

How fast fashion is basically ‘trashion'
Industrial production over slow craft production impacts cultural entrepreneurship. Indigenous artisans all over India are facing a threat from the mechanization of the textile industry. Clothing that was produced exquisitely with fine craft is getting replaced rapidly with machine-made products. Consequently, consumers are feeding their never-ending appetite with fast fashion, giving a huge blow to Indian craftsmanship.

Workers are subjected to low wages, long work hours, and inhuman working conditions. In a recent revelation, garment workers in Karnataka, a major clothing production hub in India, revealed that their children are going hungry as factories refuse to pay the legal minimum wage. "In fact, 85% of Indian textile workers have income below the minimum wage. Most of these employees work over 60 hours a week and do not receive overtime pay", reported sizer, a fashion b2b website.

Cheaply made clothes are sold at affordable prices which appeal to everybody. This has led to mindless consumption where people keep adding garments that they don't necessarily need. As a result, consumers have begun to own a huge quantity of clothes with inferior quality, often dispensable and rarely valuable.

Mindless consumption of clothing has led to massive piles of waste in India which amount to almost 1 million tons of textile garbage each year. This results in landfills piling up with non-biodegradable poly-based clothing. More than 60% of the material is polyester and the rest is cotton which is also not farmed ethically thereby polluting the water, soil and air with carcinogenic fertilizers and pesticides.

NGOs that recycle your discarded clothing
Some of the notable organisations that practice the use and re-use of discarded clothing include Goonj, Anandwan Ashram, Smile Foundation, Habitat for Humanity, Nanhi Kali Operation, Smile India.

The ripple effect of the creation of these NGOs has made a profound impact on those who aren't fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to create a sustained living for themselves. From providing food, shelter, and education, these organisations have extended their hand in offering clothes made from recycled materials- many have made a name for themselves over the years and their existence has dotted across several parts of the city and the nation.

Also Read: Here is a list of NGOs accepting your leftovers to recycle them for good

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