Anurag is a co-founder at DaMENSCH and his aim is to redefine men’s essential wear in India by bringing innovation in apparel sector. He leads the brand expansion charter through the levers of channel, geography and portfolio that he helms. Anurag started his professional journey following his engineering at IIT Delhi by joining the E-commerce bandwagon at Snapdeal. He then joined Nykaa as part of the founding team to lead the company to a unicorn status during his 4 yr stint across product management and expansion roles.
As the world braces for the severe consequences of growing climate change, a steady shift from fast fashion to sustainable fashion is now underway. Subject to both push and pull elements, elaboration is required for a holistic understanding of what sustainable fashion is all about.
While a plethora of players have boarded the sustainability brand wagon, merely flashing the eco-friendly or sustainable label may not necessarily work. Instead, sustainability needs to be embraced across the entire life cycle of a garment – from sourcing, designing and manufacturing to reusing and recycling rather than disposal.
In essence, sustainable fashion requires minimizing excessive consumption, prolonging the use of apparel, hiring local crafts persons and then recompensing or giving back to nature. Brands must also place significant emphasis on innovative means for the recycling, reusing and reimagining of garments.
The main motive of fashion brands aspiring to go green is to leave a negligible carbon footprint. But such brands are presently targeted at customers possessing purchasing power and consciousness about environmental concerns since sustainable fashion comes at a certain cost, unlike fast fashion.
Nevertheless, there is a gradual but ongoing transformation in the minds of Indian consumers towards slow or sustainable fashion. Reflecting this trend, some global big brands maintain separate sections for fast fashion and organic, sustainable apparel. Fashion analysts agree that while outlets in developed economies sell sustainable, repurposed clothing, these values are slowly starting to take shape in India.
As of now, however, the high price points act as a barrier for many customers. Since slow fashion centres on quality and durability, higher prices are inevitable at this juncture when volumes are low. Once greater awareness spreads among consumers about the benefits of slow fashion, volumes are bound to pick up in the days ahead.
Of course, none of this will happen speedily since customers have been programmed to follow fashion trends and keep changing garments and styles periodically. But hope hovers on the horizon with the pandemic already having triggered an attitudinal change in the behaviour of consumers. Given the current circumstantial constraints, people are beginning to appreciate the benefits of slow fashion with long lifelines compared to the short shelf lives of fast fashion clothing.
One of the biggest benefits of slow fashion is the reduction in wastage and pollution. For instance, the yearly universal production of 400 billion square metres of textiles results in 60 billion square metres of cutting room floor waste. The impact of fast fashion is equally harmful – one truck-full of textiles is burnt or landfilled every second somewhere across the world, as per the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. These drawbacks are increasing the clamour for fashion to transition to the circular economy.
Reviving Dying Traditions
Apart from countering global warming’s impact and safeguarding the planet, slow fashion has another compelling benefit – it can help revive lost legacies and dying traditions of making garments. In turn, this could benefit thousands of weavers and artisans left jobless due to COVID-induced lockdowns. Fortunately, many new-age fashion designers are using indigenous materials such as beeswax and coconut accessories, among other natural materials, to propel domestic designs to the next level of innovation and craftsmanship.
Although fast fashion may seem more appealing and novel, it is far from healthy both for the human body and the environment while accelerating the rise in temperatures across geographies. On the other hand, the circular fashion economy offers triple benefits. First, the same garments can be worn and used more often. Second, these clothing are created from renewable and safer materials, thereby eliminating the use of nonrenewable ones. Third, refashioning and reinventing old clothing while recovering fibres and textiles.
Unlike the West, which lacks a millennia-long heritage of textiles, designs and motifs, India is well placed to leverage these elements to its advantage. Paradoxically, while the world believes India is a latecomer in the movement towards slow fashion, our ancestors always adhered to sustainable living in one way or the other. But the nation lost its way after British rule and the industrial revolution. Therefore, where India is concerned, it is more a question of restoring our ancient traditions that revolved around sustainability in clothing.
Furthermore, overproduction does not benefit the nation since it ends in excessive consumption of resources such as water and electricity while leading to higher pollution levels from product waste and chemicals, including synthetic dyes.
Though most garments cannot be 100% sustainable, simplification can help in minimizing their carbon trail. Consider clothes designed from biodegradable natural fabrics. These can be worn across seasons, ages, countries and continents. What’s more, fashion designers could boost their green quotient by using renewable energy as well as water harvesting and waste management systems. Using pure textiles, chemical-free dyes and upcycling are other means of giving a fillip to sustainability. Likewise, classic white garments are more sustainable than those in varied colours and prints.
Meanwhile, proponents of sustainable fashion labels should communicate to consumers why these products typically come with higher price tags. This can be especially true when compared to fast-fashion brands. But consumers can be informed that slow fashion is made by hand, which is a more intricate and time-consuming craft compared to machine-made items. Many sustainable products are also made without electricity.
Therefore, when consumers buy these items they help improve the lives of financially challenged craftsmen and women while facilitating the revival of their dying art. Seen in this light, it is clear that comparisons between fast and slow fashion brands can be unfair to the latter. Once sales improve and economies of scale kick in, the cost of each item can go down progressively.
Today, some slow fashion companies harbour long-term sustainability plans of transitioning towards their objective of becoming 100% eco-friendly entities by 2030 in sync with the nation’s sustainability development goals. If the entire industry embraces sustainability goals, the people and the planet will be the biggest beneficiaries.