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Fashion goes full circle

India's first Circular Design Awards will showcase eight labels at the Lakm Fashion Week

A campaign image from I Was A Sari
A campaign image from I Was A Sari

Since it was founded in 2012, Doodlage has come to be associated with sustainable, upcycled clothing. Designer and co-founder Kriti Tula’s designs are a patchwork of elements, drawing from her diverse materials: discarded lyocell, recycled wool and cotton and factory waste to create her garments. In recent months, the label has launched a sari upcycling project (in collaboration with Delhi-based sustainable brand Peeli Dori), and raised finances for their operations through a crowdfunding campaign. Now the label’s next challenge is presenting its designs at the Lakmé Fashion Week (LFW) during the Circular Design Awards showcase. “The showcase is to create a short catwalk communicating various stages of production at Doodlage," says Tula. “How we work to manage fabric waste from large-scale units to taking steps to create a zero waste set up."

Doodlage is one of the more well-known labels among the eight labels shortlisted to compete for the Circular Design Challenge, a joint initiative of Reliance Industries’ R|Elan “Fashion For Earth", United Nations (India) and LFW. The award was launched in August, during the previous edition of LFW and applications started later in the year. Apart from Doodlage, the other nominees include the labels I Was A Sari, Saltpetre, IRO IRO, Bareek, Liffafa, Miesu by Seerat Virdi and Pozruh by Aiman Sadri. The nominees will be mentored by a panel and present their collection on 31 January, marked as Sustainable Fashion Day at LFW, and the winner will take home a cash prize of 20 lakh and have the opportunity to showcase at the LFW Winter/Festive 2019.

Publicized as India’s first circular design awards, the challenge comes in the midst of a growing discourse surrounding eco-conscious and ethical fashion. These brands, chosen from over 900 registrations from 30 cities across India, integrate principles of the circular design concept throughout their operation and business model, be it sourcing eco-friendly fabrics to packaging and even setting guidelines for recycling used garments.

Sustainable sourcing

Imagine a vacation shirt that makes beaches and oceans cleaner and plastic-free. Bareek, a menswear label helmed by Delhi-based Aman Singh, will showcase shirts made from recycled plastic collected from the beaches of Goa. To design the Goan Shirt™, Singh sought inspiration from the state’s distinctive architecture, especially the Basilica of Bom Jesus.

The repertoire of fabrics employed by the labels encompasses handlooms and new-age recyclable and biodegradable fabrics. The Ludhiana-based brand Miesu by Seerat Virdi includes the use of recycled polyester, discarded cottons and organic silks from factories and unused buttons and zippers. Virdi’s collection contemporizes traditional Phulkari by translating the craft on basics and streetwear-inspired designs.

Upcycling is a common theme for the nominees—Doodlage has based its business model on upcycling while I Was A Sari, a Mumbai-based social enterprise led by Purnima Pande and Stefano Funari, will incorporate used saris and vintage denim in its designs. Based in Jaipur, IRO IRO’s Bhaavya Arora will also showcase an upcycled collection inspired by the indigenous weaves of Rajasthan. Delhi-based Aiman Sabri, who runs Pozruh, incorporates discarded materials from factories and scrap dealers in clothes, and prefers eco-friendly dyeing and printing techniques to elevate her fabrics.

Waste-less production

Intrinsic to the circular design challenge is minimizing waste and ensuring humane working conditions for artisans. Arora credits her interest in conscious practices to her upbringing and education from the Indian Institute of Craft & Design (IICD), Jaipur. At IRO IRO, she emphasizes working with local weavers and sustaining the community. “The weavers often depend on government work and have little to do otherwise," she says. “I started with one weaver who taught me how to weave and now we have 26 weavers (across two villages)."

I Was A Sari has worked with underprivileged women from Mumbai since its inception and its upcycling approach makes optimum use of resources. Lifaffa, another label from the city, works with rag pickers to source plastic (for recycling into textiles) and immigrant Afghan women, offering a livelihood alternative for the women while also showcasing their crafts.

At the Mumbai-based Saltpetre, founder Pooja Monga is collaborating with faculty members at IIT-Kharagpur for a life cycle analysis, an assessment of the carbon footprint and environmental impact of her designs. “I believe that the maker can’t be the checker. And what you can’t measure, you can’t improve," Monga says. She also offers to take back used Saltpetre garments and recycle them.

Achieving zero waste operations is the ultimate challenge for these brands, and even discarded off-cuts are put to use in making tags, accessories and packaging. Arora facilitates the off-cuts (waste fabrics) from her production to be rewoven for future use. Kanika Ahuja, founder of Lifaffa, also fuses together leftover textiles to create ottomans, jewellery and also packaging. “Nothing is wasted," she says.

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