During the day, Sarvani Chundru works with a pharmaceutical company. A postgraduate in microbiology, she’s in a team that ensures quality control of vaccines. Early mornings and late evenings, her home in Miyapur transforms into a tailoring unit where, with four other women tailors, she is turning metres of Malkha handloom fabric into garments. They cut the fabric with diligence, careful not to waste anything — they follow a zero waste principle.
In recent years, there’s been a slow but growing awareness in the textile industry of the wastage incurred in the production of garments. If you’ve ever visited your neighbourhood tailor at the fag end of the day, you may have noticed scraps of fabric being swept away into a heap, only to be disposed along with regular trash that ends up in landfills. Those in the textile and fashion industry assert that it’s tough to arrive at an estimate of just how much textile waste ends up in landfills, but worldwide, there’s a growing awareness on the need to cut down different kinds of wastage (of water, power and fabric) in the textile industry, all through its supply chain.
The tailoring unit at Sarvani’s home works with Malkha handloom, a blend of khadi and mulmul. The Malkha Marketing Trust, established by Uzramma in 2008, has been making efforts to keep its carbon footprint low by having its spinning, weaving and dyeing units close to the areas where cotton is grown. The Malkha store at Mehdipatnam primarily sells saris and fabrics, but is game to embrace zero waste tailoring. That is when Sarvani, a Malkha patron for four years, stepped in with the required skill sets. Sarvani had learnt tailoring from her mother and realised the traditional method of cutting fabric involves some wastage. She tweaked the traditional method of cutting fabric (which involves six to 10% of wastage) for straight fit kurtas, anarkalis and dresses by watching YouTube videos. “I devised my own procedure of cutting and tailoring for different body types,” she asserts. She has been following the Japanese ‘lean philosophy’ in her lifestyle and this, she says, has helped her cut wastage in whatever she does. For a petite personality, Sarvani stitches a kurta using 1.5 metres of cloth and a three-pleat anarkali dress/kurta using 2.5 metres. In contrast, the traditional method would require three metres of fabric for an anarkali.
Malkha wants its garments to be affordable for a large section of women and hence bats for low cost tailoring. Customers who buy the fabric at the store, can avail stitching at a cost of ₹150 to 300 for different styles of kurtas and dresses. Sarvani is also working on 0.5 to 1 metre pieces, leftover from fabric rolls at the store, to design frocks for children, cushion covers, towels, handkerchiefs and other accessories.
Malkha is not alone. A handful of designers in India spearhead zero waste fashion labels. However, the fashion industry’s initiatives against wastage are still in a nascent stage. At the recent Copenhagen Fashion Summit, a manifesto released by Global Fashion Agenda, Sustainable Apparel Coalition and other organisations highlighted that the industry has a long way to go to being sustainable and environment friendly.
Slow, not fast fashion
Asmita Marwa’s is a zero waste fashion studio. She prides in not throwing away any fabric, threads or buttons. Instead, she tries to use them innovatively in garments and accessories. “I’ve always followed this principle. It goes back to the days of watching my ammamma (maternal grandmother) making patchwork quilts and cushion covers using leftover fabric,” says the designer who showcased her collections at Global Sustainable Fashion Week in 2016. She uses handlooms and the silhouettes are classic, so that they don’t look outdated the following season. “My clothes can be worn for years and the styles will still be relevant. I design separates that can be mixed and matched,” she adds. At her studio, leftover fabric pieces are segregated according to colours and reused to design stoles, bags, cushion covers, tassels and fringes. Some threads and fabric edges go into pillow stuffings. “Nothing is thrown away; it’s incorporated into our design language,” Asmita sums up.
The craft of waste
Chic Pea Studios, designer Ganesh Nallari’s workplace, has been a minimal wastage unit since its inception 12 years ago. In recent years, it’s become a zero waste studio. Ganesh remembers how he would pick up threads and buttons from the floor, much to the amusement of his staff. Within six months, everyone followed suit. Creatively designed patchworks, fringes and appliqués accentuate the ensembles and sari blouses designed by him. “The sari is the quintessential zero waste garment,” he mentions. In his studio, the tailoring waste is segregated by colours and reused. Earlier, he used to make cushion covers with leftover fabric, but didn’t feel the need to develop a line of upcycled accessories. “People come to me primarily for clothes, so I decided to use everything for the ensembles,” he says. Whenever Ganesh teaches, at NIFT and other fashion institutes, he urges students to take up zero waste design as a challenge. The inspiration, subconsciously, came from his mother who was a craft teacher. “She used to make different things using paper that was leftover from her classes. I grew up watching her and learnt to value things more,” he explains.
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