Every year when we celebrate the World Environment Day, the talk of sustainable fashion gains momentum. Designer Rina Singh says for her sustainability is a way of life. “It is reflected in how we produce, consume and recycle. Not just about clothing; it is also about believing in people and our resources. There are seasons when we do not have a story for hand-block print yet I innovate designs to give my artisans livelihood. Sustainability is also about not giving up on certain weavers even though we cannot fit their art in the trends or the price points.”
This Gurugram-based designer, who grew up in a traditional household in Kurukshetra, says her focus does not change from one season to another. “It is more or less in the same direction. What I think of fashion is season-less, timeless. One thing that is a constant is that it is always meaningful fashion. It is for women who know what they want to wear. I don’t change my sensibilities according to the trend.”
What changes though is the treatment of fabrics. “The way I layer them changes and the prints that we might do and the colour palette. All these nuances change. For example, we just finished our autumn winter line and we have started delivering them internationally and in India. They would be wearable across cultures, countries.”
Cutting across boundaries
Her clothes are relateable. “My shapes and silhouettes are not culturally referenced. I imbibe easier shapes that would work across body types across the world. The coordinates are also smarter like a summer jacket tighter or a billowy blouse in silk cotton worn with a culottes, or a shirt dress worn with a cropped straight pants and organza inners. All these elements make the collection universally acceptable.”
While Rina was pursuing higher studies abroad on scholarship, she realised that stories based in India strike a connection with locals. “I could not compete with them in making a muffin but I could win against them hands down when it came to making alu ka paratha .” No doubt, she has stuck to the basics.
Rina imbibed the importance of sustainable lifestyle at her home. “My childhood impression of villages of Haryana is that they were driven by Gandhian sentiments. All men wore similar looking dhotis and kurtas. Khadi, the handmade fabric, was used in creating ghar ki chaddar . In summer vacations, when I returned home from hostel, my focus of attention was big looms. Weavers would come over for 15-20 days to make durries . It used to be a big family thing. I used to see fabrics, nets being made right in front of my eyes.”
She grew up watching her father dressed in simple off white palette. “There was earthiness in his lifestyle. All my life I have not seen polyester, plastics in my house. So how can I use anything artificial in my outfits? I do not believe in making complicated things with too much of embellishments and colours. My clothes have a sense of belongingness, earthiness. They are traditional and their simplicity attracts customers.”
Steering clear of fashion weeks works for Rina, who retails her brand Eka from Good Earth and Ogaan stores in Delhi. “It is just that I have always focussed on the international market for my business. We retail at close to 100 stores across the world.”
Explaining how the sustainability factor works in her summer collection, Rina says, it was made with handwoven linens, cotton khadis and malmal. “A group of weavers worked on small lots per design and followed a model of sustainable production. The yarns were hand washed after dyeing and were not processed heavily. We washed fabrics in house, before and after the production. We have a separate pit to dispose off the colour waste.” Similarly, Rina has used crochet laces in the lining that are made of 100% hands-on yarns and have been developed by hands across craft clusters of Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal.
Describing author Arundhati Roy as a friend, Rina says: “She is my muse. She is very much her own person. She has travelled extensively abroad yet she lives and breathes here and wants to wear fashionable clothes made here.”