The pandemic made designers Shivan Bhatiya and Narresh Kukreja introspect. The brains behind Shivan & Narresh, India’s first, decade-old luxury swimwear brand, they thought it was time they created something that would help minimise the pollution their products could cause. The idea made business sense as well, given the conversation among their target audience, millennials and post-millennials, on the need for more eco-conscious brands.
So they came up with a design solution, fashioning a swimwear line with fabrics manufactured from 90% recycled ocean-waste polyester. “We used hand-knitting looms. They are machines that have multiple needles, which make knots to form a knitted fabric from a yarn. It’s a mechanical motion, similar to the one done by a handloom,” explains Kukreja. The hand- feel is crisper and gives the swimsuits a better cut, he claims.
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It costs 20-30% more to manufacture swimwear this way compared to using the usual virgin polyester and nylon—but they have absorbed the costs for now. The higher cost has “not been reflected in the pricing for our consumers”, says the designer. Their prices start from ₹10,000.
The Indian swimwear market is small compared to the $18,000 million-plus (around ₹1.3 trillion) international market—but it’s growing. Strangely enough, the pandemic has ended up as a bit of a boon, with people heading to the Maldives and Goa between lockdowns as well as visiting farmhouses and going for staycations and weekend getaways. Recent surveys show travel is still very much on the to-do list, and designers report a consistent flow of orders for swimwear, with increasing demand for what are perceived as eco-friendly products.
The slow and steady rise of home-grown fashion brands is helping the segment. Industry estimates peg the Indian market at ₹150-200 crore, growing annually at 15-20%. Small wonder that in recent years swimwear brands have been looking at ways to stay relevant, whether in terms of design, silhouettes or fabric.
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Designer Esha Lal, founder of E.L Swimwear, has been trying to use environmentally friendly fabrics since she launched the brand in 2018. She sources fabrics—produced using methane gas-derived electricity and recycled water— from Carvico, Italy, for hardly any manufacturer in India produces special eco-friendly fabrics, given the limited demand and high investment costs.
She recently introduced seed-paper tags for swimwear. “Seed paper, apart from being biodegradable, is 100% wood-free and made up of waste cotton scraps, making it extremely environmentally friendly,” she adds.
Anjali Patel Mehta, too, has been attempting to follow eco-friendly practices with her label, Verandah, since 2015. Mehta recalls that a decade or so ago, the Indian fashion industry considered green practices “far from cool”. Focusing on a product’s footprint was confused with creating something artisanal, like a Khadi garment—an attitude that changed after consistent campaigning and research on how dirty the fashion industry was. “Adopting an eco-conscious approach was not seen as a savvy business decision. Sustainability was not on anyone’s radar.”
Mehta uses Econyl, a regenerated nylon made in Italy using synthetic waste such as fishing nets, post-consumer plastic waste and textile waste. Regenerated refers to a process that brings the material back to its original state.
Aakriti Grover too homed in on this fabric soon after she started her brand, Flirtatious, in 2013. “We made the switch very early on (to regenerated nylon),” says Grover. “The pieces are softer and have great elasticity.” This nylon can add at least ₹1,000 to the cost of each piece. Lal believes it is a small price to pay if it helps the planet. Prices at E.L Swimwear start at around ₹1,200. “If you choose materials carefully, with consideration, you can reduce costs yet make the product more accessible in terms of price,” says Lal.
When Shivan & Narresh launched their Wilding 20s collection in October to mark 10 years in the industry, most of their holiday apparel sold off the runway. Kukreja attributes it to revenge shopping: “This made us realise how strong a hold travel has on the minds of consumers, even in the current times.”
Happy with its performance in the past year, Verandah is heading to the Miami Swim Week in July, expecting global demand to pick up in 2022. “We are launching overseas in Miami as the US markets have picked up. It’s a good time to be a swimwear brand.”
Manish Mishra is a Delhi-based journalist.