The fashion industry has taken a massive hit due to the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, however, the silver lining has been the stress on sustainability. Even in small measures, the impact is worth noting, says ace designer Anita Dongre, founder, House of Anita Dongre.
Dongre, whose fashion stores have re-opened across India, speaks to indianexpress.com on her lockdown experience, the positives of thinking eco-friendly and why the world needs a more sustainable focus.
How has the lockdown experience been for you?
This has been a time for me to meditate, practice yoga, and spend more time with family, at home. The lockdown experience has been a process of reflection and looking inwards, while at the same time being available for my teams and solving issues with them – both personal and professional. In terms of work, I have spent this time managing the making and disbursement of masks to hospitals, villagers, NGOs, municipal corporations and police stations through the Anita Dongre Foundation. Through this time, we have been able to employ women in villages as well as provide protection to frontline workers.
It feels good to finally restart our e-commerce platforms and open all the stores. We’re being extra cautious and prioritising the health and safety of our staff and shoppers.
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We moved into our sustainable design HQ in the beautiful hills of Rabale 4 years ago. It has been a little over a month since we last saw its lush greenery. We miss its serene beauty and its pink bougainvillea façade, and can’t wait to go back. Here are some of the salient sustainable features of our design HQ: – – The walls are designed with air gaps and insulation to optimise energy efficiency. – All our water faucets are fitted with aerator fixtures that save up to 70% of water. – The ACs are regulated at 24°C to save energy. – Our designs are proudly fur-free and leather-free. – Our on-campus composting pit helps fertilise our in-house garden of mint, guava, coconut and papaya trees. – To reduce our overall environmental impact, our kitchen runs on bio gas and only serves vegetarian food. – Our campus has adopted six adorable dogs who lived here long before we did. – The exterior walls of our campus are covered with Bougainvillea which attracts birds and adds to our surrounding greenery. Life and business are built around conservation, where the quest for greener alternatives keep unfolding. Earth Day 2020 #AnitaDongre #HouseofAnitaDongre #EarthDay #EarthMonth #Sustainability #SustainableLiving
Your brand has started making masks. How has the response been?
So far, the masks made by House of Anita Dongre are meant for donation. Clearly, there is a growing need for masks especially among people in villages, police personnel, NGOs, and hospitals, so our efforts are focused on fulfilling this and contributing to keeping people safe.
The fashion/textile industry been affected by the pandemic and lockdown in a massive way. However, has there been a silver lining?
The textile and fashion industry are among the hardest hit from COVID. Everything from manufacturing to retail is affected and changed forever. The most promising of these changes is a definitive shift to eco-friendly material and processes with an emphasis on sourcing locally. But recovery will remain slow until we find a solution to COVID and ensure people feel safe again.
How do you view sustainable fashion?
I don’t believe we have the luxury of a future where sustainability isn’t at the heart of every action. Fashion as an industry must make sustainability the default – it will become completely irrelevant otherwise. At House Of Anita Dongre, every decision from manufacturing to the choice of lighting in the office factors in our progress towards carbon neutrality.
Our processes have always put the planet first but having this time allowed for greater focus on issues that deserve immediate attention globally:
– Shift focus to a ‘Circular Fashion Loop’ to get closer to a zero-carbon and water footprint as a brand.
– Evaluating vendors and partnerships by their carbon-neutrality. We need everybody to effect change.
– Post-pandemic, restoring an employment balance, and supporting the economy will remain key. To us, this means doubling down on our existing efforts of financially empowering rural women, the support of traditional Indian art, and spearheading animal welfare.
The entire industry is going to follow stringent safety norms, it’s going to be a new way of working. At House Of Anita Dongre, we’re re-configuring our operating procedures to bring as few people into the workplace as possible. Easier said than done as a manufacturing and retail business.
Can you share recent instances where you have incorporated eco-friendly measures that people can also include in their day-to-day lives?
If I could make one single request to people, it would be to compost. It is so simple to do and makes such a difference. Composting creates manure for your garden or plants in the neighbourhood while making us more mindful about the amount of waste we generate. The added bonus is saving the time and effort for local authorities.
This has been a trying year but I hope the lesson we must learn is clear. We must co-exist and nurture other living beings and our planet. We must respect and treat mother nature with respect, making a conscious choice to conserve our forests instead of ripping them up in a mindless pursuit of “progress”. As humans we are blessed with the brightest mind, I hope we learn collectively to use it wisely, and for good.
What is your biggest dream?
In the world of my dreams, every person irrespective of their gender or age can live the life they want to and words like justice, peace and freedom are our reality. I dream of a world where we all live in harmony with nature and give more importance to preserving nature than we do to mindless development. I dream of a world where all animals are loved and are free. I guess my dream is to live in a world that is kind, happy, and peaceful — every day.
How should young designers view design considering that sustainable living is expensive in many ways?
I strongly believe that it is young designers and consumers who will bring change. In the last three months, the world has seen the reality of how much better life would be if we lived sustainably — the evidence is around us in the clean air, blue skies and clean rivers. There are innovations to be made in the fashion industry and innovative young designers and consumers are at the forefront of this change. There is a consumer base – smaller perhaps, but we’re a large country.
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