Climate concerns fuel demand for sustainable fashion

Fashion retailers, such as H&M, Wills Lifestyle, W and Akira Ming, are focusing on slow fashion in India. (Priyanka Prashar/Mint)

For designer Sunaina Sahani, 28, the meaning of fashion has changed in the past five years, since she started working with fast fashion brands. “A lot of fast fashion and volume-driven retail is not conducive to the changes that are happening in the environment. My first-hand experience working with a few of them made me realize that adopting organic fabrics and natural dyes is the way forward if we want to save our planet,” she said.

Sahani only buys brands that retail apparels made from organic and handwoven material, and ensure ethical manufacturing process. Taking a cue from the increasing environment awareness and ethical fashion choices, a variety of big and small-scale fashion retailers, such as H&M, Wills Lifestyle, W and Akira Ming, are latching onto the concept of organic, or slow fashion.

These brands are creating clothing lines using organic material, natural dyes and designs that lead to minimal wastage and, in turn, cause minimum damage to the environment. The new trend addresses the concerns about the costs of the fast-moving industry, whose carbon emissions are estimated to be more than those of all international flights and maritime shipping combined. Although sustainable, or slow fashion, is still a small contributor to India’s apparel market, which will be worth $59.3 billion in 2022, it is the sixth largest in the world.

“Undoubtedly, sustainability is becoming a conversation among consumers, especially with the climate change issue. I feel it is a good start that brands are taking note of it,” said Ankur Bisen, senior vice president, retail and consumer products, Technopa.

Today, textile production is the world’s second most polluting sector after the oil industry. The annual greenhouse gas emissions from textile production stands at 1.2 billion tonnes, says journal, Nature Climate Change.

Sunita Singh, 57, marketing head at an electronics company, says: “It helps to know that what you are wearing hasn’t hurt the environment. I don’t mind paying a little extra because I get the quality I want and, in a way, I support the organic movement.”

In February, ITC Ltd-owned fashion retailer WLS (formerly Wills Lifestyle) said that all its garments will be made of natural fabrics and will be fully biodegradable. Even threads, buttons and labels will consist of purely natural elements. “Evolved consumers understand the consequences of their actions—on themselves, their communities and the planet,” said Vikas Gupta, divisional chief executive, lifestyle retailing business division, ITC.

TCNS Clothing Co. Ltd-owned apparel brand W has also launched a Yolo collection made from environment-friendly fabrics.

Global fast fashion brand H&M, too, sells sustainable clothing through the “Conscious” line made from tencel blends, recycled polyester and sustainably-sourced cotton voile and linen blends. It has vowed to only use cotton from sustainable sources by 2020, and shift to recycled and other sustainably sourced materials by 2030.

“We have committed to become climate positive by 2040 for our entire value chain. We will work to reduce more greenhouse gas emissions than our value chain emits,” said an H&M India spokesperson in an emailed response.

Apart from fabric, ethical practices also need to seep in through the manufacturing process. Slow fashion brands, for instance, ditch chemical dyes and opt for vegetable dyes and use water-based binders instead of petroleum binders for printing on cloth. Since organic fabric is not as elastic as factory-produced material conscious clothing tends to be mostly roomy or boxy which also need design innovation to be well-crafted.

According to Divya Ahluwalia, founder of fashion label Akira Ming which sells clothing made of khadi and silk with wooden, mother of pearl or coconut shell buttons on Etsy.com, design plays a huge role.

“The construction of the garment is such that it leads to minimal wastage and whatever scraps are left we use it to make patchwork cushions or donate it to non-governmental organizations to create up cycled products such as rugs,” she added.

With fast fashion brands fuelling consumption among growing markets such as India, excess inventory and garment disposal by consumers continue to pose a serious question. “One brand, retailer or even a country can’t drive sustainability. All these efforts need to be formalised through global accepted policies and regulations that can drive sustainability. Sadly, we do not have any such policies for sustainable fashion,” said Technopak Advisors’ Bisen.

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