• Padmja Sopori

Moral Fibres

Hobbyist World had a chance to have a chat with veteran designer Anita Dongre and her journey with Grassroot and sustainable fashion.

What inspired you to start Grassroot?

It was always a dream of mine to make beautiful clothes that also create beautiful tomorrows for our people, planet and crafts. Being introduced to the women of SEWA (Self Employed Women’s Association) is where the Grassroot story began. After connecting with them and hearing them share their stories, I was determined to help find a way to give these strong, talented women a way to economic independence, accessible to them in their villages. Through Grassroot by Anita Dongre, we now create our clothing with artisans across India, allowing them to use skills derived from years of heritage. Through intelligent design intervention, we bring these crafts into mainstream fashion, making them accessible to the public. This provides these artisans with employment and therefore, better livelihoods. We want to create a cycle of production and purchase that is transparently beneficial throughout - taking fashion one step further.

What does sustainability mean to you? What drives your passion for sustainable fashion?

To me, sustainable fashion means conducting the business of fashion the way it was always meant to be—looking towards the future, practising and building processes that are sustainable, respectful of the people involved and environmentally conscious. The objective is to nurture our treasure chest of handcrafted traditions by reviving, sustaining and empowering the arts and artisans by ensuring continuous work and creating livelihoods. Moreover, I firmly believe that women empowerment is also an important contributing factor to the sustainability movement. Hence, educating our women and providing her with skilled training is of utmost importance. Honestly, it’s about inculcating a conscious sense of living, and as designers, we design to that spiritual aesthetic. Every small effort contributes to the sustainability movement. I have always wanted to be sustainable, and as soon I had the resources, I embarked on the journey immediately.

What is the biggest challenge or problem the fashion industry needs to tackle right now?

Currently, the fashion industry has been touted as one of the most polluting industries in the world. In addition to the rampant textile waste that comes from the public consumption of fast fashion (the buying, wearing and disposing of a garment after only a few wears), there are also important issues corresponding to the release of toxic chemicals and poisonous gases into water and air leading to environmental degradation. The need of the hour is to learn how to dispose of, recycle, upcycle and produce responsibly and make the necessary changes on a war footing. The government too needs to provide an enabling policy, legal & regulatory framework promoting ‘circular’ clothing system; encouraging responsible sourcing of raw materials, ensuring a safe & decent work environment, fair living wages and setting up large-scale recycling facilities to deal with pre & post-consumer fabric, and textile waste (in a scientific, environmentally and socially responsible manner). These are some of the significant ways to bring about change.

Do you think the future of fashion is sustainable?

I firmly believe that sustainable fashion is the future—not only in India but globally as well. There has been a remarkable increase in the demand for organic or sustainable clothing today. Eco-apparel and organic textiles are a rapidly growing market, which is creating opportunities for companies, employees and the environment. As opposed to fast fashion, that offers customers more and more clothes (so that they can keep up with ever-evolving trends), sustainability encourages people to buy less so that they discard less. This has led to consumers re-examining their tendency to over-buy and under-wear apparel—consequently leading to a higher demand for sustainable apparel. Sustainable clothing feels great— whether these are easy breathing handwoven fabrics, beautiful textures in environmentally friendly Kala or the exclusivity of a careful hand-embroidered dress. What's encouraging is that more people are choosing these benefits in addition to demanding change in how the fashion industry approaches production and its effect on the environment. Needless to say, there isn’t any way for fashion to survive as an industry without choosing sustainability.

What are your top tips for others trying to lead more sustainable lives?

Sustainable living is a way of life and fashion forms part of that. I would like to urge people to ask questions when it comes to sustainable fashion— know where your article of clothing has come from, what are the conditions the artisans live in, how much does this one article contribute to that person’s life, etc. Be fair to the planet and also ask questions about how many wears you see from the garment. Last but not least, understand it's an investment, so value these pieces and cherish them for a long time.