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Indian origin designers go green

From the US and Canada to the UK and Malaysia,Indian designers use sustainable material and processes to add value to both substance and style of their collections.

Written by Rajiv Tikoo |
February 6, 2011 10:59:51 pm

From the US and Canada to the UK and Malaysia,Indian designers use sustainable material and processes to add value to both substance and style of their collections. They share the reasons for their passion and the impact they make,in telephonic and email interviews with Rajiv Tikoo

IFECO fashion is becoming a trend worldwide with the like of Stella McCartney,Alison Hewson and Bono pitching for the cause,select Indian origin designers from the US and Canada to the UK and Malaysia,too,are playing a small but significant role in it.

Canada-based designer Satish Sikha has turned an environmental campaigner,focusing particularly on creating awareness amongst children. In the US,Tina Tandon is weaving the classic with the modern,with emphasis on natural fabrics,and Swati Argade is treading the fair-trade path,preferring world-friendly fashion over eco fashion. Sheena Matheiken,again in the US,is breaking the barriers as a fashion innovator and showing how to simplify wardrobes without downplaying style. The newest kid on the block,Karishma Shahani,who has just finished her studies in the UK,is focused on forging links between aesthetics and ethics. Nearer home,model-turned-fashion designer Kavita Sidhu has embarked on introducing Malaysians to the aura of the organic.

The reasons are compelling. It’s estimated that more than 8,000 chemicals go into converting raw material into textiles. Non-organic cotton alone is reported to consume more than 25% of the insecticides used worldwide.

Green fashion is all about checking the consequent degradation of the environment by caring about its integrity and the well-being of people—both workers and customers.

It’s not only about using sustainable material,but also eco-friendly processes all through the supply chain without shortchanging on substance and style. Going beyond symbolic annual Earth Day gestures,it’s about integrating environmental sustainability in the business of fashion—and acquiring a competitive edge in a world increasingly becoming environmentally conscious.


Swati Argade,USA

World friendly with low-carbon footprint

Brooklyn-based clothing designer Swati Argade opts to pursue concepts like ethical fashion and world friendly fashion over eco fashion because these terms are more holistic and not only demonstrate respect for the earth by using ecologically sustainable materials,but also focus on caring for workers by ensuring that they are paid fair wages.

She walks the talk. For example,Orissa’s fair-trade cooperatives were the preferred choice for sourcing fabrics for her collection Ticket to Ikkat. Her endeavour is to also lend a helping hand to preserve old textile practices of India and promote them by showcasing them to larger audiences at the global level. She hopes it would help them flourish,and also contribute to the sustainability movement.

Argade is also for recycling,repurposing and upcycling,but it should be worthwhile. “Ultimately,the the design is paramount,” she points out.

More recently,she has been focused on the launch of her brand bhoomki. It will comprise a collection of coats crafted with material sourced from recycled plastic bottles and organic cotton,which will be given final shape by her team in her studio.

She plans to go a step further. Shipping emissions for the bhoomki collection will be offset by buying carbon credits. She says,“These coats will have the lowest carbon footprint vis-a-vis competition in America.”

She expects ethical fashion to become more mainstream in due course. Of course,she adds,it would help if the Indian government promotes its cottage industries,which could also spur large textile industries to become more responsible.


Karishma Shahani,UK

Matching ethics with aesthetics

The newest kid on the block,Karishma Shahani has just graduated from the London College of Fashion,UK. Her understanding of design and production and fashion has already helped her make waves in eco fashion,having been featured in Ecouterre.com and Ftvindia.com in addition to the Vogue. Her recent collection seeks to reinterpret materials and their functionality,based on reuse and recycling,drawing from used and packaging material and enhanced with natural dyes,she elaborates.

Apart from working to evolve her sustainable fashion label rooted in traditional arts and crafts,she is engaged in reviving traditional Indian arts and crafts,highlighting their ethical and organic dimensions,and showcasing them globally.

While on one hand she is engaged in promoting traditional Indian crafts by converting waste material into a contemporary textile line for a high end home furnishing house,on the other hand,she is collaborating with Amy Sol,an American artist,in a women’s empowerment project rooted in a weavers’ village in Madhya Pradesh. The output collection is booked to travel as an exhibition in the US.

Her vision of sustainable fashion is holistic. She says,“I envision a strong link between aesthetics and ethics.” Her vision of a sustainable future of fashion is also about change,which has the power to transform the lives of all stakeholders. Upcycling and re-inventing garments with the excess material,which is already available,is another way forward worth exploring,she adds.


Satish Sikha,Canada

Designer reborn as a green campaigner

After sharing shelf space with Armani and Versace on the high street in Toronto,Canada,couture fashion designer Satish Sikha is busy stitching together a coalition of fashion designers,models and film stars to spread awareness about the environment,particularly amongst schoolchildren.

He says philosophically,“After seeing how much kids need,one realises that monetary satisfaction is negative satisfaction. Making another human being happy and healthy,particularly children,is the real positive satisfaction.”

The realisation gave birth to the urge to create an awareness about living a better and healthy life. He adds,“My aim is to create awareness about the importance of healthy living in our everyday lives. We need to look at how we live and what we eat. For example,it’s very important for all of us to wear organic clothes instead of synthetic clothes laced with chemicals.”

His urge has prompted the self-appointed ambassador of global warming to embark on a journey from the North Pole to Antarctica with what he claims is the longest eco fabric of one-yard silk pieces ever,hand sewn and embellished with green messages from a global who’s who. The Indian signatories include Amitabh Bachchan,Sushmita Sen,Kapil Dev and Alyque Padamsee,among others.

Sikha has showcased the fabric in hundreds of schools all over the world. India is the next destination on his itinerary. He says,“Children love the eco-fabric and they get to learn about organic manufacturing and natural dyeing in the course of campaigning in schools.”


Sheena Matheiken,USA

Creative,but consequential

When sheena Matheiken embarked on harnessing creative ventures to usher in a socially responsible future,she set up The Uniform Project Foundation. To begin with,she decided to wear the same dress for all 365 days of the year. She roped in her friend Eliza Starbuck to make seven similar garments to last her through the full week,with variety coming in from sustainable—vintage,handmade or recycled—accessories.

Saying that The Uniform Project was born out of a desire to do something creative that was also consequential,the fashion innovator-cum-social entrepreneur adds,“We are now a social enterprise that converges ethical fashion and philanthropy,challenging women to simplify their wardrobes without compromising on expression and style.”

Today they have a fundraising platform that showcases women taking on the same challenge on a monthly basis raising money for causes close to their hearts,by taking on the ‘1-Dress’ challenge,she adds.

The project also produces a line of ethically manufactured little black dresses as a tribute to what she calls the ideals of simplicity,versatility and individuality. She hopes it would encourage smart designers to launch ethical collections,with support from informed consumers. Matheiken adds,“It would make sustainability the norm rather than the exception.”

Going beyond environmental sustainability,the project has a social purpose too and seeks to raise funds to enable underprivileged children in India to pursue education. Akanksha Foundation is the preferred NGO in India.


Tina Tandon,USA

Naturalist with an innovative line

New york-based Tina Tandon boasts of association with a global who’s who of the high fashion world. She has worked with top design houses like Christian Lacroix,Escada and Hugo Boss and retailed in high-end stores,including Searle on Madison Avenue in New York City and Kitson in Los Angeles,in the process attracting the coveted attention of celebrities like Padma Lakshmi,Katrina Bowden and Jules Kirby.

The USP of Tandon’s line is marrying the classic with the modern on a base of natural fabrics like cottons. Saying that it’s worrying to see landfills after landfills full of non-biodegradable trash that just keeps on piling up,she adds,“I prefer to mainly use natural fibres that are biodegradable and can dissipate back into nature at the end of their product lifecycle.”

Aware about the fact that look,feel and touch are still the major factors for people’s decisions to buy or not buy a particular clothing item,Tandon tries to cater to their needs by infusing natural and eco-friendly elements into her collections. She says,“We also try to use innovative fabrics like modal satin,which gives the look of silk,but is more sustainable,in fresh,style forward designs.” She adds,“I would like to see more high fashion designs made of renewable fibres like modal,bamboo and soy.”

She tops off her work with supporting charities,which are working to wean away underprivileged children from labour in India. She also supports organisations like SEWA,which work for women’s empowerment.

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