It’s time the fashion world rewires and reassesses itself to keep a check on its carbon footprint, lest it reaches a point of no return. By Poonam Bhagat
For twenty years I dated a scientist who was also an environmentalist actively involved in saving the planet which, he firmly believed, was doomed because of the fashion fraternity and their propensity to encourage conspicuous consumerism. Need I say it wasn’t easy?
Our conversations, sometimes, were discussion about physics (as opposed to the physical) they revolved around neutrons and neutrinos (not that I can still tell the difference), quarks (strange and charmed) and anti matter that matters most. These dialogues were more like monologues, as you can well imagine. My loopy and cheesy contributions only alluded to the law of magnetism where opposites attract. I did, however, take the chaos theory and turned a fractal into a design element reaping the benefits of which for about a year, tweaking it as I went along. I also lent his prized book on the subject to a friend who somehow managed to turn it into a wet soggy mess (I think he left it out in the rain) and we never saw it again. The friend in question has moved on to bigger and better things and is now head designer for a leading luxury brand in Paris while I sit here drawing rough sketches on recycled paper urging the young ones in my fold to be aware of how important it is to save trees so we, the earth dwellers, can breathe.
Which takes me back to the conversations I used to have about the environment with the physicist. He had a burning and pressing desire to save the Ridge in Delhi, our oldest natural heritage, from being vandalised by builders and to protect the Yamuna flood plains, our biggest water catchment areas, from being concretised. He was writing a book on nature and sustainability and I was often made to read pages out loud from those which lay strewn about his study like confetti. The book was published and earned accolades and I, inadvertently, learnt many valuable lessons to help reduce my carbon footprint on earth. By the time the pair of us parted ways my transition from a conspicuous to a conscious consumer was complete.
While I was learning my lessons on ecology, I read an article on forever drool-worthy Milind Soman who said his greatest extravagance was letting the tap run while he shaved. I was impressed by the fact that he realised he was wasting precious water… It is no wonder then that he stopped shaving as time went by.
This little golden nugget of information and the company I was keeping impacted me to such an extent that I turned into an eco-warrior of sorts. My association with the Ridge, which was earlier of a romantic walk through the shimmering quarries, hand in hand, listening to the chirruping of birds as they flew back home with the sunset as a backdrop, had now morphed into something ominous. I started noticing the lakes drying out and the birds disappearing. I noticed how the rich forestation of the land had been destroyed by one stroke of the bulldozer and the only space where one could breathe in Delhi was on the verge of destruction.
Now, my love affair with natural fabrics goes back to the time when my label Taika was born, on a cold winter morning 26 years ago. Handlooms, especially chanderis, became our staple fabric with linens and tussars vying for attention. We have, since our inception, tried to do ethical work in an ecologically friendly environment. We do not make patterns on paper for every design we simply cut. We dry clean the clothes once and are very particular about keeping them clean after that. We switch off the lights at lunch and tea and the main lines in the evening when we close up so that even the refrigerators aren’t running unnecessarily. We send our factory cars out on errands on a charted route so they accomplish everything they need to in one area without having to run back and forth. The less petrol we use the better our carbon credits.
I am always endeavouring to educate our workers about why they shouldn’t chew tobacco and spit onto walls, to urge them to not soil a garment while making it, to not waste water, to switch off the irons when not in use… the list is long but we are getting through it.
We also believe in upcycling textile waste instead of sweeping it into the bin. Bags full of cloth scraps are sent to an NGO that works with underprivileged women who use them as filling for quilts.
We repair, reinvent, remake, reuse and recycle every little bit of fabric or left over garment.
Fast fashion has never been a palatable option for me. We believe in slow and sustainable fashion which takes longer to create and is lovingly born from handwoven fabrics and has a classic longevity. I am constantly surprised by my clients showing up at my studio wearing a Taika which is twenty years old and yet looks spanking new. Slow fashion means a good many years of wear instead of just a few months and then tossed in the garbage with the change of season. We also give away all our dead stock to charity so that the clothes get used by those who need them most.
I am a great propagator of reversible clothing and the idea of mixing and matching creates a new look each time. I have hiked for 12 hours at a stretch through hills and valleys of the French and Spanish Basque or through the hills of Shikoku, Japan following the Buddhist trail, with just a backpack to keep me company. Less is more is clearly the mantra. It’s the clever and ingenious use of a few articles of clothing that I carry which not only sustain me but make me feel somewhat classy even when I’m feeling like the woebegone cat who got caught in the rain. A multitude of tubular strings made of recycled newspaper and painted over in vibrant and metallic colours are my constant companions. They make for a very dramatic appearance while being eco-friendly. In fact, I’m so drawn to recycled paper jewellery that I have been using it as an accessory on my ramp since 2002.
We have a responsibility towards our planet and if all of us did our share to sustain it, it wouldn’t blow up in our faces, atleast not just yet.