I think Indians, and not just artisans and designers, have an innate sense about material and its usability, which is very sustainable at its core. It’s light-years ahead of Europe,” says Kate Fletcher, Research Professor, Centre For Sustainable Fashion, London College of Art. She was one of the keynote speakers at the recently held international conference, ‘Rediscovering Culture: Transforming Fashion’, organised by the National Institute of Fashion Technology New Delhi. The conference initiated dialogues on fashion, culture, textiles, crafts and sustainability. Sustainability is where Fletcher comes in. She has authored books on the subject — Sustainable Fashion and Textiles: Design Journeys, and Fashion and Sustainability: Design for Change with Lynda Grose. She has also worked as an ecological design consultant with some leading British brands. Excerpts:
On bridging academia and fashion
I ended up being an academic, given the high amount of flexibility the field offers in terms of interdisciplinary approach. I worked for a long time in the corporate world, but I missed the potential that the academic space offered, at least in the UK. Here I got paid to ask difficult questions on difficult subjects, and imagine and create ideas for change.
The psychology of sustainable fashion
Sustainable fashion is all about questioning oneself. What kind of happiness do we get from that additional purchase or changing an entire wardrobe when a new trend kicks in. We are constantly craving a new identity essentially. We see a lucrative relationship between buying things and happiness. These are important questions that need to be dealt with. The speed at which we are consuming things is outpacing the ability and technology that we have. We need to have that difficult conversation with the fashion industry about their profits, without undermining the environmental impact of the industry.
On the concept of Indian sustainability and upcycling
Reusing old saris and textiles and fashioning them into dresses or other things is also a way of having cultural memories alive, which I feel is very important. In the UK, my mum’s generation also did that. Fashioning new dresses was difficult, because here things are more constructed than a sari. But my mum’s generation would sow in the frayed edges of a bed sheet, so they won’t show. Such practices stemmed out of an economically thrifty environment and plain old necessity. As in for woven fabrics, especially in India which have been made with such dexterity and care — there is something about wearing them, especially if they have been handed down to you. Juxtapose it with this new trend of materialism and appreciation of material goods. Indian design sensibility right from Gandhi to his idea of khadi needs to be replicated.
On the way forward
There’s a story I like to share. A friend of mine made some garments and put them on a rail, and started a pop-up shop. You couldn’t buy them for money, but swap them for any clothing item you had on you that day. So people came and were like ‘I’ll pop it’, and before you know it, my friend got them (the people) to come and think — that whatever you are willing to trade — why did you buy it in the first place, and what did you like about it. This thought prevented 90 percent of the eager ‘poppers’ from trading their clothes. So the lesson to take for this was that the most radical garment is the one you already own.