Sustainability has been a part of the Good Earth DNA. Anita Lal, founder and creative director, tells us what it takes to build a viable brand with a socio-ecological mission.
Two decades ago, responsibility and fashion were not uttered in the same breath. The need to be responsible was not as earnest as it is now. Things were not as frenzied as they are today. Yet, Anita Lal decided to make sustainability the cornerstone of her brand Good Earth. Instead of looking outwards, she searched inwards, sifted the roots and reached out to a conscious decision of bringing handlooms, especially khadi, prodding it out of the power corridors into the mainstream. The idea was to give handlooms the much-needed nudge. “Well-finished clothes with clean, easy-to-wear silhouettes was our focus,” Anita, the founder and creative director of the brand, says. The journey towards achieving the feat was not without its share of bumps.
The challenge lied in identifying and sourcing genuine pieces of fabric. It was like finding a needle in haystack. For two years before launching Good Earth, Anita and her team visited khadi centres tucked away in every possible nook and corner of the country. They researched, evaluated and sourced fabrics in different weights and counts. While working with khadi centres, the Good Earth team came across clusters of kaarigars, who were the real face behind the handloom, and yet were the most neglected of the lot in the fashion food chain. “We decided to work with artisan communities directly, and help them refine and elevate their work to the level of unquestionable quality,” she says. The clothing label Sustain was, thus, born ten years ago.
Sustain is rooted in craft collaborations as the brand works closely with handloom workers, dye experts and weavers. It is because of their collective toil that it has been able to develop organic fabrics and natural dyes while offering elegant silhouettes rooted in tradition. Their latest line Malabar Niloufer has clothes made with Chanderi and cotton with antique gold handblock prints, floral embroidery and scalloped edges, amking it a semi-formal wear. Crafted in earthy tones of pearl, tobacco, mist and mauve, the collection captures the glow of a beach at twilight. Another line Kavi features a range of daywear with easy silhouettes in shades of mogra with white-on-white embroidery, delicate hand-embellishments. The Haiku line takes inspiration from traditional Japanese verses. It has layered styles in soft hues of lotus pink, or ren. Rozana has everyday wear with familiar cuts, minimal embroidery and jamdani weaves in hues of natural indigo and mogra. There are dresses, pants, stoles, kurtas, shrugs, shirt dresses, palazzos, and skirts. For Sustain, simple steps create big ripples.
The label tries to follow sustainable practices at every step of their supply chain, sourcing, manufacturing and finishing processes. “Design intervention is done with deep sensitivity only after a good understanding of a craft and its origin is attained,” Anita says. She discovers and eventually works with craftsmen from different parts of the country, developing unique blends and fabrics: gyasar silk brocade from Benaras, block-printed kalamkari from Machalipatnam, naturally dyed ajrak from Bhuj, handblock printing and varq work from Jaipur, ikat weaves and malkha from Andhra Pradesh, and chikankari from Lucknow. Some of them have been working with the brand for decades. “We have been working with the same master craftsman for printing and quilting for over 16 years.” Natural dyes are something that the brand lays a lot of emphasis on. “Over time we have been able to develop khadi that is hand woven with naturally dyed yarn,” Anita says. It tries and maximise the use of natural dyes using madder, indigo and tobacco, even for delicate fabrics like silk. This is why you would find the clothes in pastel, subtle colour palette. The brand collaborates with a small community from Orissa for naturally dyed, woven khadi. But, it might not be as quixotic as it sounds.
Working directly with artisans poses its own set of challenges. “Natural colours and weaves can have a lot of quality issues, but we have a policy of accepting all fabrics, no questions asked,” she says. This takes burden off the craftsmen. “Over the years, we have become really good at finding ways to upcycle rejected fabrics,” Anita says. To build an artisan community-sustaining business requires both tenacity and a good sense of humour. You need to take a lot of things with a pinch of salt and be prepared for new adventures everyday. The founder feels that the relationship between the brand and kaarigars is symbiotic. She makes it a point to keep giving regular work to kaarigars or society on a long-term basis in order to generate a steady income for them. “Not looking for viability has eased a lot of pressure off us.” What it focuses on is ensuring quality of every single product and bringing beautiful designs to consumers in the most sustainable way. “We are not looking at rapid growth and will continue to evolve at our own pace.” Over time, Good Earth has earned its fare share of clientele, who are aware of carbon footprints and yet would not compromise on the quality. Its core philosophy has helped the brand stay strong.
The brand tries to stay true to its name, by going back to nature, from its design aesthetic (which is inspired by nature) to using natural fabrics and vegetable dyes. Sustaining traditions, livelihoods as well as the planet is what the brand has pledged for. “The importance of sustaining crafts cannot be overemphasised. At an economic, social and cultural level, we would be impoverished if we were to devalue our crafts, which provide skilled livelihood to millions of men and women,” Anita says. She is happy that young designers are taking a difficult but appropriate route.
There is a newfound consciousness for responsible fashion, even as the design and lifestyle community are taking definite steps to make it accessible. It is now trickling down as a trend at large with a lot of designers experimenting with Indian fabrics, crafts and handloom to interpret them in their unique, contemporary styles. It has seen great resonance with young urban population that is out there exploring a whole new way of dressing. At the recently concluded FDCI Amazon Fashion Week, Good Earth brought designers together to create a collection as they used fabrics woven by the talented students of the Handloom School in Maheshwar that it supports. Labels such as Raw Mango, Eka, Urvashi Kaur, Antar Agni, 11:11, and Suket Dhir came together to put together this collection as a tribute to the great Indian handloom tradition.
“There is still a long way to go to collectively reduce our carbon footprint and reverse
the adversities that are currently being inflicted on our planet. Hopefully, sustainable shall become a conjunction for fashion in the near future,” Anita says.