Marie Kondo or not, we Indians can be big hoarders. As we emerge from lockdown, some fashion upcyclers to inspire and possibly help repurpose what we already have
Indians love recycling and repurposing, from plastic dabbas to grandmum’s cutlery. I remember my mum’s 1960s red plaid skirt and white top. One of the last outfits her parents bought her before they moved back to Kerala from London, it was handed down to an eight-year-old me and later used by both my cousins. I still have it — albeit with a few darns — ready for my niece.
But in the last decade or so, our love of fast fashion and chasing trends has meant that similar memories have lain forgotten in cupboards and box rooms. The lockdown, however, has changed everything, and social media conversations about the failing economy have shaken things up. Suddenly we are thinking twice about replacing something that’s damaged, and are googling darners and tailors (the good ones have disappeared). This is where designers and brands like Doodlage and LataSita are stepping in.
Thrift your buy
- Bodements: Divya Saini, who launched the vintage clothing label a couple of years ago, stocks upcycled clothing hand-picked from around the world.
- In-house upcycling projects include turning actor Swara Bhaskar’s grandmother’s sari into a pant suit. From ₹2,000, on bodements.com
- Twice Treasured: Begun by three friends a month ago, this Chennai-based startup sells pre-loved baby products.
- With a focus on sustainability, find everything from cribs to car seats here. From ₹500 onwards, @shoptwicetreasured
- The Local Vintage: Stylist Sujala Newar’s vintage clothing store on Instagram showcases pieces hand-picked by her.
- Think velvet coats from the 70s and high-waisted shorts from the 80s. @shopthelocalvintage
- Refash: This platform boasts upcycled fashion and accessories made from post-industrial, pre-consumer and post-consumer waste. refash.in
These professional upcyclers are helping us realise our need to save, to stretch what we own, and yet be ‘with it’. “Our resources are few and the pandemic has really highlighted that,” says Meghna Nayak, of LataSita. “[Coming out of lockdown] I really want people to think twice, thrice about where they want to put their money.” This list will get you started if you want to ‘wear your nostalgia’ and go zero waste.
Meghna Nayak, LataSita
LataSita | Dresses made from puja pandals
For a person in fashion, Kolkata-based Nayak hates fashion. The industry’s “negative environmental impact and sweatshop culture” to be precise. So eight years ago, instead of writing about it, the former journalist decided to do something about it, with her closed loop brand. “I didn’t have much money to make samples out of… and then my mum opened up her wardrobe,” she recalls. Today, she creates her rich tapestry of designs from saris and fabrics tucked away in wardrobes across the country. “Since I’m literally working with waste, I get my materials from weird and wonderful places. One of my most fun projects is an ongoing collection that I’m making out of 900 saris that once made up a Durga Puja pandal,” she says.
While her bespoke pieces are made from fabric sent through her ‘Send Us Your Saree’ campaign, her prêt line uses a huge variety of materials, including jeans, tablecloths and curtains. One of her fondest memories: a beautiful silk sari with stains running down it. “The woman’s mother, who loved desserts, had Parkinson’s disease and the stains were caused by her shaky hands as she ate the sweets that she loved. The piece I created for her had them incorporated in a hidden underskirt so she could connect with her mother every time she looked at that,” says Nayak, 34. Though lockdown has paused production — Cyclone Amphan added to her woes as her tailors lost their homes (she is currently helping them rebuild) — her March collection has been flying off her digital shelves. Up next is a collaboration with Indian-American singer Zoya and a new website. Priced between ₹3,000 and ₹25,000. Details: latasita.in
Aiswarya Kutty and Madhulika Umapathy, Pomogrenade
Aiswarya Kutty and Madhulika Umapathy
Pomogrenade | Reversible jacket dress
In 2016, the two friends began the Bengaluru-based brand with a (still popular) line of 50 kimonos. Using locally-produced fabric and textile waste, their functional clothing underlines their message of ethical fashion. And lockdown has been a great time to push this idea. “We’ve seen an increase in inquiries of late and a lot of engagement on social media,” says Kutty, 30, adding, “People are a lot more conscious. What should have organically taken three years has now happened in a few months because of Covid-19.”
While their adaptable designs — such as a reversible dress with a ‘U’ and ‘V’ neck than can also turn into a jacket — are their signature, they believe their USP is their pricing. “We are one of the most affordable slow fashion brands out there. We want to help the majority of the country make the transition from fast fashion,” says Umapathy, 34. Their new ‘Zoomtastic’ line of shorts are a hit, and the duo is now expanding their upcycled line. “We’ve tied up with several handloom houses to use their dead stock,” says Kutty, adding that a new collection of dresses (expected to launch in a couple of weeks) are being made from surplus handwoven cotton fabric. Also expect a menswear line of free-size shirts and a range of accessories, including scarves, belts and bags. Priced between ₹599 and ₹3,500, on pomogrenade.com
Patch Over Patch
Patch Over Patch | Panelled kaftan dresses
“Upcycling is a big playground. You get all kinds of textures, colours and fabrics to play with,” says Parikh, 26, an accessory design graduate from NIFT Himachal, who launched her Surat-based brand 18 months ago. With a playful mix of shift dresses, kimono jackets and cotton blazers, her bywords are sustainable and minimal carbon footprint. “As a designer who explores texture and form, my designs work with both linear and curve geometry,” she says.
Surface exploration is a passion — one of the most challenging was a design where she layered and quilted 25 different pieces of fabric. Working exclusively with post production waste, which she sources from wholesale markets and local shops in Surat and Ahmedabad, she also upcycles waste from her own production line. While lockdown affected sales at the Paperboat Collective (Goa) and Go Native (Bengaluru), where she retails, orders on Instagram have increased. “Currently we are collaborating with Athlos [the athletic wear brand] to use their bamboo jersey fabric dead stock,” she says. Also expect a line of tops and kaftan dresses with their in-house panelling technique. ₹1,500 to ₹6,000, @patchoverpatch_upcycle
Lovebirds x Smoke Lab, Varun and Sanya Jain
Lovebirds x Smoke Lab
Smoke Wear | Suede rompers
This clothing line — an extension of Delhi-based umbrella entity, Smoke Lab — embraces diversity or, as creative director Sanya V Jain puts it, it is “hypermodern and gender-neutral, embodying freedom, functionality and living responsibly”. The collab with Delhi contemporary wear label Lovebirds, by Amrita Khanna and Gursi Singh, was inevitable. “We are in a world that has limited resources and this is a reality we wanted to negotiate, experiment and be creative with. We’ve used only upcycled materials [including handwoven denim and handloom fabric] that was available in the studio, and reimagined as luxe and timeless pieces,” says Jain, adding that demand has increased during lockdown, with customers opting for “non-cluttered, easy-to-wear basics”. Expect everything from dungarees and suede rompers to blouson coats. ₹10,000 onwards, on smokewear.in.
Kriti Tula – Doodlage
Doodlage | Home decor
“Garments are not as disposable as we’ve been made to believe. A well-made piece can easily last 20-30 years and has the potential to be worn more than 100 wears,” says Tula, the designer behind the zero-waste fashion brand. With the average life of a garment now being estimated to be five to seven wears, this culture is extremely harmful for the environment and the people working to make our clothes. During lockdown, Tula has taken the time to organise the brand, plan ahead and try new things.
Besides new customers, she has also got a chance to connect with other green initiatives to help them make smaller changes, like investing in upcycled or recycled uniforms and plastic free packaging. “We’re also collaborating and co-creating short collections with like-minded people. We will be launching five new collaborated collections by October,” she says. The first one, Indigo Chronicles by Doodlage x Iro Iro, is already live on the website. “We are upcycling tonnes of scrap by weaving it back to create soft furnishing products through this collection.” Another initiative the label undertook was the launch of a gift card to support their artisans. “This allowed us to sail through this time with 100% proceeds dedicated to ensure zero pay cuts for our artisans and business as usual for our vendors,” she says. Priced between ₹600 and ₹5,200, on doodlage.in.
pero denim jackets
Pero | Layered and embroidered jackets
Pero’s upcycling initiative began with one of Arora’s much-worn denim jackets. Now at least two decades old, it has been repaired and embellished with tassels and badges from her travels. “Later, when we started adding details and layers to our designs [to avoid plagiarization], we realised they were becoming heirloom pieces. It is the need of the hour now — everyone is talking about buying less and valuing what you have in your wardrobe, finding various ways of wearing it, and passing it on,” she says. With 2020 marking 10 years of pero, they’ve launched a 50-jacket capsule with Ogaan. Over the lockdown, they have been working on these orders. “We have a huge inventory of textiles since we make our own fabrics and thought it was a good time to relaunch those with special pieces in a limited-edition collection,” says Arora. They do invite people to write in with upcycling requests, but they only take on the job if it fits one criteria: “The story should appeal to us.” From ₹25,000 onwards, on pero.co.in.
Adhiraj Singh and Shradha Kochhar, Lota
Adhiraj Singh and Shradha Kochhar
Lota | Knitwear from T-shirts
The duo is known for working with pre- and post-consumer waste, sourced from factories in Delhi/NCR. Currently working on a capsule line of zero-waste knitwear (to be launched next month), the line (₹6,500-₹8,000) comprises handknit sweaters and vests. “The yarn is created by shredding and re-spinning discarded clothing such as T-shirts, tops and shirts. Pieces are knit to shape without generating any textile waste in the process,” says Kochhar, adding that the collection takes inspiration from the vivid South Asian street style of the ’60s. “We’ve always had a history of consuming very differently from the West. There is a culture of repurposing, re-wear and repair in every household, and more people are taking up these practices now during lockdown. So the future is very hopeful,” she says. Details: shoplota.com
Revastra | Kaftan dresses with origami
Started by the former journalist as a ‘Slow & Spiritual Fashion Research Lab’, the platform encourages people to empty out their wardrobes and re-purpose their old saris. “Usually, when people cut up saris to make new clothing, they do it ruthlessly. So I began studying the fabric more, understanding its history and stories [such as why a particular border is used], and exploring its sacred geometry, before making my designs,” says Bhavana, who initially began upcycling her mum’s saris for herself — as kaftans and skirts. Today, she collaborates with Kamalini, a Delhi-based NGO that provides vocational training to underprivileged women, to make her garments. “I take very few orders [she takes up to a month to work on one]. And I try to be innovative, like making origami out of the sari’s fall fabric, thus highlighting what was once hidden,” she says, sharing that one of the makeovers she did was with an heirloom Phulkari sari that her clients grandmother had made herself, which Bhavana crafted into a jacket. In talks now to scale the brand, she also conducts workshops on upcycling, and is working on DIY books on how to re-purpose saris. ₹8,000 onwards (₹1,000 per hour for consultations), on revastra.com.
Rini Mehta Saxena and Rohan Mehta, Pitara
Rini Mehta Saxena and Rohan Mehta
Pitara | Kalamkari bags
After a line of bespoke bags made from jute, leather and fabric were a hit, in mid-2018 the Jaipur brand kickstarted their collection of upcycled products. Old clothes, saris and bedsheets went into creating 25 sling and hand bags that sold out in a week’s time. “Seeing how people were keen to use such products, we decided to craft an entire line of bags, table and door mats, beanbags and coasters,” says Mehta, who sources block printed, kalamkari, ikat and other handwoven fabrics from local markets. “The trend [to upcycle] is picking up due to the drastic change in environmental conditions,” he adds, sharing that they are working on creating embellishments (panels, tassels) in crochet and embroidery. The duo is also encouraging people to send in fabrics for upcycling. From ₹300 onwards, on pitaraunboxcreativity.com.
Riti Jain Dhar and Maanya Dhar of Imarim
Riti Jain Dhar and Maanya Dhar
Imarim | Winter flower kettles
Kabari and banjara markets (and friends and family) are the primary sources of waste material for this Gurugram-based upcycled decor brand. “Indians are good with ‘jugaad’. We turn people’s waste into works of art; it is a win-win situation,” says Riti. While they are known for their hand-painted, upcycled products such as cushion covers and tables, the brand’s commissioned pieces caught our eye. “We have transformed chairs, cabinets and even front doors with our vibrant artwork,” she says, adding that their kettle series was a hit. “It featured a variety of winter flowers. Each piece is one-of-a-kind.” From ₹7,000 onwards, on imarim.in.
Ishrat Sahgal, Mishcat
Mishcat | Carpet mimicking woodpecker markings
When this Rhode Island School of Design graduate moved back to Delhi to start her own interior design and architecture practice, she wanted a parallel passion project. “Carpets just made sense,” says Sahgal, who felt the floor covering industry hadn’t had much innovation in years. “I thought it could use a shake up.” Her choice of silk sari waste was one such surprise. “In the sari weaving industry, a lot of silk is wasted. A sari is usually five to six metres, and there is always a meter or a half left over, which we buy,” she says.
Sourcing from across South India, the silk is handknotted into vivid carpets by artisans in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, finished in Agra, and retailed in their studios in Delhi and London. While production has been difficult to manage during lockdown — “I’ve been joking that while people have baby cams, I have weaver cams [on WhatsApp]” — June and July have been great for sales. Currently working on a collab with a Swedish designer, look out for new patterns every other month. A favourite: the Forest carpet, which replicates the patterns a woodpecker makes on a tree trunk. From ₹38,000 onwards, on mishcatco.com
Swapna Mehta, Jhumka necklace
A serendipitous meeting at a bazaar — with a woman selling her old jewellery to buy newer designs — helped Hyderabad-based Mehta discover her passion. Today, she “finds joy in looking for bits and pieces from heritage keepers of the past, and handcrafting them into wild, unusual designs”. Recently, a single jhumka, a few pieces of an old necklace, some naths and nakshi jadas went into creating a beautiful neckpiece. “My philosophy is mixing genres: South Indian with tribal, Mughal with Art Deco, thereby presenting tradition with a modern edge,” says Mehta, who sources from Kutch, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.
With a new collection ready, that is “full of colour and inspirations from Persian gardens”, she hopes the pandemic meaningfully shifts consumer behaviour towards luxury goods. “The enquiries we are getting now are from more real collectors and people genuinely interested in responsible fashion, rather than aspirational buyers,” she says. From ₹3 lakh onwards, @swapna_mehta on Instagram
Saris to Skirts
Chennai-based designer Sanah Sharma’s Made From Nothing line features dresses and tops crafted using leftover textile scraps and pre-loved saris. Known for her work with upcycling textiles, Sharma is now welcoming people who have saris – used or unused – to reach out to the brand and get them converted into unique garments. Details: sanahsharma.com