Conversations and visual narratives about ethical clothing
Ongoing personal project to encourage conversation and education about ethical and sustainable fashion, and what we can do to improve our thinking and actions in this direction.
Using a surreal visualisation of floating clothing to assert the beauty and superiority of the sustainable and ethical approach in fashion.
Photography, Digital Art, Creative Direction by Rhea Gupte
IN CONVERSATION WITH VINITA and SHIKHA
Growing up, how did you perceive fashion. What prompted you to work in this industry?
Shikha: Even as a child, I was interested in draping fabrics, playing with my mother’s saris. I would deconstruct garments to make newer silhouettes for myself. I just took these interests forward, towards a career in fashion.
Vinita: I was not particularly interested in fashion as a child. My first love was painting; even to this day I occasionally participate in art exhibitions. I grew up in the hills in Nainital, and my exposure to fashion ranged from seeing Kumaoni costumes in local weddings, to the Bollywood glamour we saw on TV. Generally pursuing a creative career, I joined NIFT and there, my journey in fashion began.
ILK, to me, has always been a whimsical label where I see every garment almost as a storyteller. Was this your vision for the label?
Having worked for various labels, we wanted to create our own, where we ran with our imagination and creativity. We wanted to make no compromises and keep ILK solely about expression. Many brands today are dictated by market trends, and business decisions. At ILK, we like to keep it artistic, remain inspired, and pursue beauty. Most of our collections are inspired by nature and not necessarily from the season’s trends or forecasts.
What was your first encounter with the concept of Ethical fashion? How did you come about it and what propelled you to incorporate the idea into your own label?
We remember watching a documentary about sustainable fashion. On viewing it, we realized that just by being a small in-house studio we are automatically following many practices of sustainable fashion. We do not have sweatshops overseas like big brands into fast fashion do. Our craftsmen and us work in the same studio. We do not employ underage labor. We have always tried to keep our working conditions labour friendly. We avoid doing a lot of wastage in terms of consumption of fabrics and trims.
Being a brand which does things right, what kind of fundamental restructure do you think businesses, big or small, can make, to improve their practices?
Fashion labels often face the challenge of balancing creativity with profitability. There have been times when customers have come to us with designs from other designers and wanted us to make exact copies of those. We do not entertain such requests. We believe, action against plagiarism has to start at this level.
What do you do to ensure that labourers at your studio are well taken care of? What kind of working conditions do you provide and how do you ensure safe practices?
At our studio we regard our employees as craftspeople with key skills, not necessarily as labourers. They work normal hours, and are well compensated. If anyone does extra hours, they get extra pay. We strive for all of us to pursue normal lives. It is only during fashion week when things get crazy, everyone pulls out the superhuman in them right from us, the designers, to the craftspeople.
Several publications have noted that the younger generation, especially design students, make sustainability and ethics a priority in their vision for their business. What are your thoughts about the younger generation? Do you think there is progress or are we going backwards?
It is very interesting to think of a designer’s journey in sustainable fashion. In design school it starts with making garments out of recyclable materials like broken bangles or trash-bags. The intentions are good but the garments are not realistic. As one gets into the fashion industry one is able to take these intentions forward in a better way. Nowadays, there is more transparency in supply chains, and in the future we will perhaps have knowledge upfront of how much water and electricity went into a fabric’s production. So, on the whole we are moving in a good direction. The keenness around sustainable fashion is rising and with this alone, we will find systems forming that allow us to actualize the good intentions.
What would your advice be, to a young brand just starting out?
It’s imperative to work towards figuring out your brand’s USP at an early stage. Marketing your brand right is crucial for your business.
Our previously featured designer, Nimish from Shift would like to ask you, “In what areas would you like a strong government intervention?”
Government should work toward simplifying compliances and regulatory requirements in areas such as labour laws, factory Act, foreign exchange regulatory requirements especially for exports, as it will help doing business in India with ease.
I would like to ask you to contribute a question I can ask the next designer I interview for Ethical Threads.
What is your opinion on forming a consortium for the fashion industry, for bigger issues like government norms and smaller issues like resource sharing?