Let’s talk sustainable fashion- The New Indian Express

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Express News Service

CHENNAI: Sustainable fashion is a phrase we hear quite a lot these days. The fact that the fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world, has prompted many environmentally conscious brands and individuals to opt out of fast fashion and adopt more eco-friendly strategies.

Sustainable fashion has caught up recently in Kochi as well. According to the city-based event and brand coordinator, sustainable eco-conscious brands from across the country are eyeing shoppers in Kochi, and conducting online and offline sales of their products for Kochiites. Kerala as a whole has many local fashion and accessory brands, which have played a huge role in educating Malays about sustainable clothing and fashion.


Now, before we talk about sustainability, let’s talk about what fast fashion is. It consists of cheap, mass-produced clothes inspired by seasonal trends, lined up in store-ready clothing stores. For decades, such mass production led to an abundance of waste — largely due to an imbalance between demand and supply — apart from toxic textiles polluting water. The use of materials such as polyester fabrics derived from fossil fuels releases more plastic into bodies of water when washed. The use of conventional cotton which requires large amounts of water to process has also given rise to discussion around the need to rethink what we call fashion.

On the other hand, sustainable fashion is one that inspires us to pay more attention to what we buy, how much we buy, and how well we reduce waste. Sustainable design does not depend on seasonal mass production. Instead, they are made by hand on demand, using environmentally friendly materials and methods. Kerala, which is home to traditional kasavu and hand-woven instruments such as Chendamangalam and Balaramapuram, has always had continuity in its veins. These days, this trend is booming, with handloom cotton, linen, recycled polyester, organic hemp, and other eco-friendly materials becoming popular. Many online and offline brands now offer a myriad of sustainable designs.

However, while sustainability may be an emerging style statement, how accessible is the regular Kochiite? We talk to designers and shoppers about trends, and how they can be further adapted with the right kind of consumer education.

100% haux
According to Sreejith Jeevan, founder of Rouka, Kochiites are well aware of sustainable fashion and why it is relevant. However, he admits that no brand can be 100 percent sustainable. “We cannot say a product is completely sustainable even if it is made from organic raw materials and the workers are paid a fair wage. Sustainability is not based on such rules, but rather an attitude that makers and consumers need to embrace. It’s all about balancing responsible production and consumption,” said Sreejith.

All season style
Jebin Johny, founder of clothing brand Jebsispar, says although most people think of sustainable fabrics during the summer, handloom cotton can be worn during any season. “Especially the Kuthampully ATBM cotton. The gaps between the fine threads do the trick. During summer, our body heat is released more quickly, whereas during winter, it is locked inside,” he said. Eco-friendly fabrics are also skin-friendly, making them ideal for the global warming that awaits us.

Price puzzle
While the positive aspects of eco-friendly fabrics make us want to adopt them more, the price tag usually discourages many people from buying them. Priya Joseph, an IT professional from Ernakulam, voiced this concern. “If the whole idea of ​​sustainability is to reduce pollution from fast fashion, shouldn’t it be important that we make it more accessible? Buying eco-friendly clothing has become more of a trend now. But if the concept is only for one group, isn’t the whole idea defeated here?” he asked.

For this, Sreejith says sustainability should not be confused with the price on it. “If you want a slow mode experience, it will come at a price,” he said. “The process behind making every wearable fabric is what makes handmade clothes expensive. The yarn obtained has a fixed price, the designer pays the weaver fairly, the printing costs become additional. Craftsmen spend hours making each piece perfect. They carve blocks of wood and then dip them in chemical-free dyes. All of this makes every design expensive,” said Jebin.

Furthermore, Sreejith said designers want all their consumers to have access to sustainable editions. “But if we have to make them cheap, then we have to compromise methods that make these things sustainable. If they are to be made cost-effective, sustainability will also demand mass production. That would defeat the purpose. Also, when you buy handmade items, they last for years. Unlike store-bought clothes, you don’t have to buy a new one every few months. That said, filling your wardrobe with lots of sustainable products isn’t sustainable either. Sustainable fashion is about long term relationships and not short term affairs,” she said.

Caroline Joseph, another Kochiite, agrees. “When you realize the amount of labor it takes to make sustainable clothing, you know why it costs so much. Weavers are paid what they deserve, and that’s how it should be. Also, when you consume consciously, you don’t spend to stockpile your wardrobe,” he says.

Serving weavers in danger

In Chendamangalam, factory staff are busy weaving school uniforms, shirts and kaavi for the coming school year. The pandemic outbreak and subsequent school closures, along with the financial crisis have pushed most of them into debt.

“For two months, we ran out of yarn. We just resumed weaving uniforms recently,” said Sagari, a 60-year-old weaver. According to Dasan AE, president of Chendamnagalam Handloom Weavers Co-operative Society Ltd No: H47, the ikat sector can be improved only if people buy and regard the product as a work of art. The price of sustainability, often a fair wage that these craftsmen have been resisting for years, since fast fashion became normal.

However Chendamangalam is also getting orders from well-known brands outside and inside Kerala now as part of the Peduli Chendamangalam project. “We provide them with the raw materials they need. Orders from outside are only five percent of our total production. Usually the daily wage of a weaver is around I200. It’s not enough, but orders from outside can even bring in around I500,” said Dasan.

The workers claim that in two weeks they can only earn Rs 2000. “We are not satisfied with the wages we are receiving at the moment, but we cannot switch professions because this is the only job we know of. If orders keep coming in, then there will be a steady stream of income,” said Shiny, a weaver.

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