The fashion industry is among the most environmentally damaging. Every year, millions of tonnes of clothing end up in the bin. But some designers have been working to ensure that the damage is minimised. There is a growing band of visionaries — young designers — who turn this waste into brilliant fashion by finding ingenious ways to give discarded items a second life.
“Trashion is a fashion philosophy that combines environmentalism with innovation,” says designer Kunal Rawal. “Our consumers and the industry are shifting focus to sustainability, conscious consumption, and most of all, hand-made, local, and one-of-a-kind of pieces. We have incorporated a zero-waste pattern cutting process to minimise wastage and we use the surplus bits for patchwork,” he explains.
Some labels are upcycling their garments with patchwork. Dutch fashion house Viktor & Rolf has used fabrics leftover from past seasons to create haute-couture garments. They have also turned the sample swatches sent to them by suppliers over the years to good use as patchwork components.
Re-design and re-use
Fashion as we know it is changing. Consumers are becoming more aware of the negative implications of the industry and brands are facing increasing scrutiny over their environmental impact. “There is a lot of awareness about the need to upcycle and reuse. As industries improve and science takes over, recyclable clothes will become mainstream,” feels designer Pallavi Singhee, founder of Verb. Designer Jayati Goenka is of the opinion that, for the trashion trend to really make an impact, the wider fashion market needs to participate in the initiative. “The textiles we wear are made from precious natural resources which makes a massive environmental impact. The majority of our clothes are made of plastic-based materials, which shed microfibres into waterways and endanger human health and the ecosystems,” Jayati notes.
“We have been working on up-cycling the rejects and the leftovers by repairing the flaws in the garments or fabrics and enhancing them with various traditional handwork techniques like Japanese sashiko and Bagru block-printing. The aim is to re-define and re-design,” Jayati adds.
The biggest designing challenge is to make a product “lust-worthy”, says Pallavi. “This is a combination of how the product makes you feel and what you have to shell out to own it. While trashion comes with the benefit of making the consumer feel like he/she is contributing positively, it also needs to be affordable and practical.”
Like high fashion, trashion has its own trends. Kunal, who has been in the industry for 13 years and has a consistent celebrity following, feels recyclable clothes and accessories are already mainstream! “Streetwear has really gained major momentum in the past few years and that in turn has created an interest in vintage/pre-loved clothing! I think young India is an audience that is looking to purchase versatile separates that they can re-use and repurpose to create looks that help them emote their moods,” says Kunal.
“Garments that are made from discarded clothing is very relevant now, mostly because they incorporate core principals of sustainability and elongate the life-span of clothing. Fabric waste has immense potential if utilized properly and can open up a whole new realm of garment production,” says designer Disha Pai of sustainable fashion house Phirki. “As sustainability becomes more accessible to people, we'll slowly see a shift into it becoming more of a focal point in the mainstream market,” she adds.
“A huge struggle is costing. Unfortunately, right now, being sustainable isn't fully accessible to the general public. Sustainable packaging and green development as a whole have a running problem of being more a more expensive proposition. Hopefully, as the scales shift, and the demand for ethical production increases, the cost-to-supply imbalance will also decrease,” says Disha.
The clientele is now giving priority to responsible buying. They are looking for products which are reusable. Sustainability is a factor that they are now looking into — Varun Chakkilam, fashion designer
Even before hitting the store shelves, the waste begins — about 20 to 30% of fabrics are discarded in the piece cutting process. Even the most efficient garment factories, which feature automated processes, can’t lose less than 10%. The fashion industry, and its waste, are a problem that must be addressed
— Evelyn Sharma, founder, Seams For Dreams, which is working globally to create awareness about the harmful effects of our fashion hoarding behaviour