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Sangeetha Devi Dundoo
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Fashion Fancy a shirt made of flax or soy fibre? Designers push the boundaries with organic clothing, finds Sangeetha Devi Dundoo

All that's natural Nandana Sen models an outfit by Digvijay Singh
All that's natural Nandana Sen models an outfit by Digvijay Singh

B ina Rao, the city-based entrepreneur and designer who has worked with handlooms for decades, is now in France to showcase her collection of naturally-dyed organic stoles and garments in silks and fine cottons, made from organic yarn that she sourced from a mill in Coimbatore. At the ongoing International Symposium and Exhibition of Natural Dyes 2011, she will also be part of a session on Green Fashion and Certification and Labeling of Natural Dye Products.

Now, why are we talking of organic clothing? The World Earth Day is just past us and it will be a while before World Environmental Day comes along. But these days, you don't need an occasion to talk of eco-consciousness. From jute bags to cloth bags announcing their love for all things ‘green', an organic way of life is in vogue. For some, it's a genuine intention to wear clothing made of natural fibres, eat organic food and do their bit to be eco-friendly. For others, a vacation at an organic resort or shopping for organic clothing is a cool thing to do. In both cases, the fledgling organic market stands to benefit.

“Organic clothing being in vogue is not surprising. Ayurvedic clothing concept started in India,” says Digvijay Singh, whose prêt wear for Bhu:Sattva is made from natural fibres — cotton, khadi, ahimsa silk, wool, linen, hemp, bamboo, flax, banana, pineapple and even soy bean. “Globally, eco-conscious people are talking of organic clothing,” he says.

Digvijay Singh is among the handful of Indian designers focusing on eco-friendly clothing. Joyjit Talukdar, Anita Dongre, Rahul Misra, James Ferraira, Aneeth Arora, Jason and Anshu are some of the designers who have showcased their organic garments in several editions of Lakme and Wills Lifestyle Fashion weeks.

Joyjit Talukdar sees designing eco-friendly garments as his way of giving back to society. “My choice of fabric varies from cotton to milk jerseys to bamboo fibre,” he insists. His label Ela, like Aneeth's label Pero and Digvijay's Bhu:Sattva, has a niche clientele in Hyderabad.

Anita Dongre uses organic cotton for her line ‘Grassroots' and Rina Dhaka, too, has dabbled with organic clothing. Many of these designers have taken their collections internationally but admit that in India, the market for organic clothing is limited. Blame it on steep pricing and scarcity of natural fabrics.

“You need to ensure that the cotton used is truly organic. And very few people deal with soft, malleable bamboo fibre and milk jerseys. We try to keep the prices in check,” says Joyjit. Agrees Bina: “The yarn is priced higher and reasons such as low yield are cited. So inevitably the pricing of the garments tends to be high. This is a deterrent since India is a price-sensitive market.”

Digvijay, who works on Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified cotton, points out other constraints, “We cannot go with trend forecasts as far as colour palette goes. Natural fibres don't take certain colours well.” Natural dyes are made from beetroot, turmeric, pomegranate, henna, indigo, madder root, certain flowers and leaves.

Rina Dhaka feels more consumers will take to organic clothing if it is made affordable. “I've met people who genuinely want to buy but hesitate because of the prices. Scarcity of fabric is a limiting factor. I've sourced organic fabric from Shop for Change for my collections,” she says.

A glimmer of hope lies in retail brands such as Wills Lifestyle (eco-style summer collection) and Woodlands launching GOTS certified organic cotton collections this year, which can help bridge the price gap.

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