"Buy less, choose less, make it last,” legendary designer and climate activist Vivienne Westwood once said. It was a mantra that defined the late designer’s collections. She spoke about quality and quantity. “Instead of buying six things, buy one thing that you really like. Don’t keep buying just for the sake of it,” was her belief. Westwood belonged to a generation which believed that clothes were made to last. Today, it seems we care more about quantity than quality when it comes to fashion. Just look at the number of collections luxury designers produce in a year, and the new pieces fast fashion brands drop every few days.
As Monica Shah, co-founder of Jade, a Mumbai-based label based on the principles of slow fashion, says, “The world has evolved at a dizzyingly fast pace; fashion even more so. We exist in a time where we’re constantly exposed to trends and all kinds of inspiration, and it has a far deeper influence on us than we give it credit for. As humans, we do want to fit in and belong. Trendy fashion is one of the easiest ways to do that. Longevity and slowness often take a backseat in such a rapidly evolving scenario.”
As a child growing up in London, my mother would always invest in clothes that were one age group up from what I needed and then hem them in. Not because I was tall (I am and always was petite) but because she knew the clothes she bought would be lost through growth spurts. When I came to Mumbai, my Indian clothes would be made by our trusted family tailor using fabrics bought from stores my mother knew offered only good quality cloth such as Churchgate’s Kaysons. It was all about longevity, especially when it came to high-ticket items like a coat and special occasionwear.
I have always considered the cost per wear of an outfit before I spend on it. Perhaps, I can thank my mother, who was an accountant, for this.
There is no question, however, that our relationship with fashion has changed. Between 2000 and 2015, consumption of fashion went up by 60%, with clothes being kept and used for half the time that they were the decade before. In 2020-21, the fashion industry saw a 21% rise in revenue. Clearly, we are buying more clothes despite all the talk of conscious consumption.
Is it the fault of creators or consumers that we have forgotten about quality? Whether it’s a Zara T-shirt or a cashmere sweater from an Italian luxury brand, garments are not being made to last the way they were a decade ago.
This prevents me from repeating clothes as much as I would like to, says Gursi Singh, creative director of Lovebirds. “A few decades ago, when fast fashion became commonplace, the novelty of being able to afford the latest trends was exciting. So consumers made their peace with the product lasting not more than a few wears because they knew a new collection was right around the corner,” he says.
For that reason, Lovebirds has positioned itself as a clothing, not a fashion label, using cotton and handwoven denims from Gujarat and linens from Bengal in their collections.
More than buyers or designers, it is social media that really changed the rules of fashion. “A sea of style and fashion bloggers promote a lifestyle of abundance. That, combined with the desire to dress trendy and the prices at fast fash- ion outlets encourages impulse buying among people,” Singh says.
Aria Parikh, merchandiser at multi-designer platform Ensemble, who has grown up in the world of fashion, wrote her thesis on ethical consumption and fashion production. Parikh believes fashion and mindfulness can live together. “Social media puts pressure on you to never repeat what you are wearing. I think that kind of a mindset has seeped into people today,” she says. “We should focus on buying well and wearing the same piece again and again. This does not have to come at a hefty price tag. Don’t just talk about why a ₹25,000 Jamdani dress is expensive. Talk how a ₹25,000 Jamdani dress is high quality.” By buying clothes that have repeat value, the industry will have to focus on quality.
It’s a conversation that India can lead, with its heritage of slow fashion. “Made in India” could stand for well made, well-crafted beautiful clothes, especially since the recent Dior show in Mumbai highlighted the country’s high-quality artisanal traditions. Singh says: “Sustainability by default has always been a part of the artisan culture in India; we are now reinventing it.” Lovebirds has joined joins other homegrown labels like Harago and D’Ascoli on the global platform on Matchesfashion.
There is a growing consumer base in India for products that focus on design, quality, durability and function, and it reflects in the growth of more brands rooted in slow fashion. These offer a range of garments at varying price points to meet the demands of different customers.
“I do think that a lot of people in my generation are taking steps in the right direction,” says Parikh, who is in her 20s. So perhaps fashion is coming full circle and once again quality will be at the forefront, ensuring we are own beautiful clothes we want to wear forever. More importantly, choosing to repeat outfits is the option that is kinder to the earth.
First check the quality of the fabric itself. Look at the way the fabric settles, drapes and moves around the body
You don’t want garments that easily rip at the seams. Tailoring and finish are signs of how well made a garment is
Colours and details, such as embellishments, tell you the story of a garment. If the print or embroidery is flimsy, it’s going to give away within the first few uses.
Another important factor is just how a clothing item makes you feel when you put it on. If you feel good in a piece you will want to wear it on repeat.
By Monica Shah, co-founder, Jade
Dress Sense is a monthly fashion column on the clothes that we wear every day.
Sujata Assomull is a journalist, author and mind- ful fashion advocate.