Every year, a new crop of designers gain recognition at our fashion weeks. And with each passing year, their eco-conscious stories get stronger. But are they getting it right? Until now, it has been a murky playing field, and with no numbers to indicate consumer awareness, it is tough to gauge if your favourite brand is greenwashing, or if it is adopting sustainable practices. But change is in the offing with The Voice of Fashion’s (TVF) India Sustainability Report. “It is India’s first consumer and manufacturer study on sustainability in fashion and retail,” says TVF editor Shefalee Vasudev, explaining that the report is aimed at understanding where the country’s fashion industry stands in the global sustainability movement.
Released at Lakme Fashion Week’s UN Circular Design Challenge last week, it delves into the Indian consumer’s psyche. From awareness on recycling, vintage, rented and pre-loved fashion to the willingness to change or minimise consumption, the two-part survey analyses trends from four respondent groups comprising 937 adults across New Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata and Ahmedabad. For the second part of the study, CEOs and/or sustainability officers from 17 top Indian fashion and retail brands were interviewed.
Explaining the rationale behind picking the 17, Vasudev says, “We opted for brands that dominated the retail scenario [Aditya Birla Fashion Retail Limited, Lifestyle, Levi’s]; those part of SU.RE, a charter signed by 16 retail captains with IMG Reliance last year; and labels that promise sustainability as a part of their brand DNA [Rahul Mishra, péro], among other factors.”
Amidst the many findings, it is interesting to note how 82% of those surveyed were not aware that the fashion industry is among the top three contributors to pollution. “Conversion is a slow process and will take a long time to be visible. But its time has come,” says Vasudev, adding, “From Incredible India to bridal couture, and fashion week communication to retail posters, sustainability in different forms, in all languages, must be spoken about.”
But the willingness quotient is high: 49% of respondents are open to adopting sustainable practices, especially where the fabric is sourced from coffee beans, bananas, or wood pulp. Vasudev says this could well be because these ingredients have a quick recall. “The study has also revealed how 23% do not want to use recycled garments [due to fear of skin allergies, etc].”
The study can also create new opportunities. For instance, the fact that 4% choose to make mops or bags from old clothes could translate into an idea for a small-scale green enterprise. Vasudev agrees, and suggests fashion designers can also create a collective that sells table, home, kitchen and bed linen from fabric and material leftovers. “It can be branded as ‘designer upcycled’ and sold. With the emphasis on designer weddings, stylists can craft tents or enclosures with leftover fabric [brocade, silks] collected from brands.”
Discarded buttons, zips, hooks and tassels can be crafted into hair accessories or jewellery, and “denim manufacturing companies can explore ideas like forming a sustainable jeans coalition of India — which can look into technological innovations: jeans that don’t need to be washed for a month, distribution of jeans from discarded material to rickshaw pullers and shelter camps, and denim pants or uniforms for government schools,” she concludes.