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Vegan chic: Attire from natural fibres

Published Feb 22, 2015, 11:19 am IST
Updated Mar 29, 2019, 6:36 pm IST
Fabrics made from pineapple leaves, bamboo shoot, cork, seaweed, soya...

The moral compass in the world of style is pointing towards ethical chic. As this morally upgraded side of fashion increasingly shuns animal-derived fibres and promotes “guilt-free” fabrics, the concept of vegan clothing is haute-ing up like never before. Indian designers are experimenting to come up with new vegan fabrics, and among their recent innovative discoveries are — faux leather made from pineapple leaves, suede-like fabric made from sugarcane plant, soya knits, bamboo shoot fibre, banana fibre fabrics, oak tussar, corn silk, cork and seaweed fabrics...

In 2014, Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) hosted the first-ever Vegan Fashion awards and honoured designers who used vegan materials such as micro-suede, faux cashmere, faux leather, fake fur Many high-end labels and designers across the globe are now looking for alternatives that can replace the traditional animal-derived fibres and hides used in apparels and accessories.


Going vegan is the only way to curb fashion waste and counter the serious threat of global warming, believes designer Amy Billimoria, whose label Earth 21 promotes animal-free clothing tailored from eco-friendly fabric made of bamboo. Amy, who follows the principle of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” in her creations, says, “We have used bamboo shoot fibre to create interesting patterns and textures for not only casual styles but also blended it with viscose to create stunning fabrics that drape well and are perfect for the red carpet. There are many mills like Century who produce a lot of viscose rayon blends that are eco-friendly and use less water and electricity in their production. It’s mandatory now that as designers we must do all we can to promote this attitude in wearing hi-fashion.


Veteran designer Ritu Kumar points out that it is really important that Indian designers don’t ape vegan clothing in its European avatar but adapt it to our context. She says, “To start with, animal hides as garments do not necessarily apply to India as we do not use them to any important extent. On the other hand, in India there is a crying need to revive and emphasise the organic fabrics. The fibres that are grown in the fields contribute to the ecology by being highly organic and user-friendly, also they are low on consumption of power and water. India’s ethical fabrics that are mostly used by designers are the hand-spun, hand-woven fabrics created purely out of plants.”


She adds, “There is also a variety of silk known as the ahimsa silk where they do not kill the cocoon and the yarn is taken out of them without killing the silk moth — these yarns are hand-spun by women and then handloomed, which makes them totally ethical. I am in the process of developing the ahimsa silk repertoire in Jharkhand and Bhagalpur. Then there are the filament silks in Banares and the cotton khadis, which also are ethical fabrics from Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, that are being revived by some designers in a big way.”

The idea of vegan clothing has entered the Indian fashion scenario and is here to stay, says Mumbai-based designer Nikhil Thampi. He did an ad against the cruelty of exotic skins for Peta featuring Dipannita Sharma in a bodysuit that looked like animal skin but was made of organic material. The designer says, “Sometime back, while shooting in Kashmir, I discovered that in a small village the locals use sugarcane derivatives to make a fibre that looks like suede — it takes them a month to process it fully. I found it really interesting and was fascinated by the utility aspect of the raw material. Also, we did a collection using faux leather which was very well received by people who support cruelty-free fashion.”


Highlighting the latest design innovation techniques in India Bengaluru-based designer Deepika Govind says, “We have always worked on textile innovations and used corn fibre/silk, bamboo silk, banana fibre fabrics, soya knits, seaweed fibres, waste fabric to create recycled fabric. Instead of using real wool, we use wool replacements such as oak tussar, which has a woollen feel.”

Ethics is strongly colouring the palette of fashion too. Designer Chhaya Mehrotra, whose Spring-Summer 2015 collection ‘Bubbly Banarasi’ was all about natural dyes and cotton, says, “In my collection we used bright organic colours such as yellow, orange, red and brown from natural dyes made out of carrots, eucalyptus and natural flowers, which we developed in-house.”


Similarly, designer Bani Khurana says that she maintains strict standards while using animal hides in her collections. She says, “It is very important that the youth realises the importance of ethical fashion. Awareness needs to be created within the Indian fashion fraternity to create more sustainable solutions. We should abolish the use of animal hide and fur in every possible way. I personally stress on the usage of faux leather, organic cotton, jute, recycled materials while designing my clothes. For my summer collection I have used jute and organic cotton to take forward the idea of ethical fashion.


These days many Indian and international designers are using khadi, organic cotton and blends of rexine (imitation leather) and nylon to create items that will keep the animal-lovers happy.”

Vegan clothing is still not a very big trend in India but internationally this industry is growing in leaps and bounds, mentions designer Pawan Sachdeva. He says, “Fabrics such as honey-silk, acrylic, hemp, polyester, tensile are being used extensively in modern textile innovations. The vegan leather (known as pleather) is replacing real leather and blends of artificial fibres are used instead of cashmere and mohair. Instead of real leather I use PVC, which is man-made leather. I think one fabric that we need to pay attention to is hemp. Made from plant, this fabric can be blended with others and is easy to work with. Similar to linen, hemp is more durable and versatile, and not to mention natural.”