Soybean sari, anyone?

A creation by Varnuyathe  

Bananas, pineapples, aloe vera and milk — it sounds like your grocery list, but it’s what the fabric of the future seems to be made of. From stiff jackets fashioned from kenaf to flowy anarkalis stitched from milk protein yarn, if you’re looking to go back to the organic way of life, you can adapt your wardrobe to suit your lifestyle. These three brands have worked with these unusual materials, blending them with organic silk and cotton to create a range of clothes that are as easy on the earth as they are on your eyes.

Varnuyathe, Chennai

For Menaka Bapuji, it wasn’t her time at NIFT that sparked an interest in natural fabrics. It was the years she spent working as a naturalist and photographer at a wildlife resort in Satpura, Madhya Pradesh. It motivated her to think about the natural resources consumed, and the toxic waste generated in traditional fabric manufacturing.

A creation by Varnuyathe

A creation by Varnuyathe  


After returning to Chennai, a chance encounter with fabric at her father’s knitwear company got her started. Inspired to find a process that consumed less water and electricity, and released less harmful oxides, Bapuji also started working with natural dyes.

At Bapuji’s studio, Varnuyathe, she works with fabrics that are a combination of cotton or silk, with fibres made of hemp, kenaf (a kind of spinach), aloe vera and even beechwood.

How different are these fabrics from a regular cotton or silk? “Each variant has its own nature,” says Bapuji. “While hemp woven with cotton or silk is softer and falls better (suited to making an evening dress), kenaf-woven fabric has a firmer texture that lends itself better to daily wear, while the material made with aloe vera has a feel and weight that’s reminiscent of raw silk.”

Bapuji says, personally, she prefers the ethnic and Indo-western styles that lend themselves to simple cuts and some additional trim.

Varnuyathe retails out of their studio in Anna Nagar, Chennai. Details: 9884317823

Ritu Kumar, New Delhi

Kumar takes her signature earthy tones to another level in her new collection of saris that feature a mix of cotton and viscose, blended with banana and soybean yarn.

“We were looking for mixes of fabrics to introduce a more organic collection to the line, and during our testing, the banana and soybean fibres were the ones that came out most beautifully. It worked for the line of saris we were looking to create, which were not too in-your-face, like the handloom saris from the old days,” she elaborates.

A creation by Ritu Kumar

A creation by Ritu Kumar  


While the low carbon footprint of the manufacturing process has been the highlight for Kumar, there is also the fact that the soy and banana blends are perfect for saris. “I find the fabric to be very natural, great for draping, as they cling beautifully.” The designer, who has been working with natural pigments for over 35 years, adds, “These fabrics take to colour beautifully.”

Taking advantage of the special effect of dyes on them, she has used traditional art like shibori, Madras checks and kantha work. “The reason we worked with traditional art is because it works well with the fabric itself.... polka dots wouldn’t have looked as nice as the Chidambaram sari checks in their bright colours that we have now!” she laughs.

Kumar says her aim is to create an organic look that will appeal to their younger clientèle, the ones who wear saris a little differently. Replacing the petticoat with dhoti trousers, for those who like to experiment with draping, this fabric is versatile enough.

This collection of saris from Ritu Kumar is available at

Bhu:sattva, Ahmedabad

Jainam Kumarpal started bhu:sattva about seven years ago, when he realised that there weren’t many players in the organic fashion market, and not enough awareness either. “I did some research and met NGOs working with farmers,” says Kumarpal. He has since tied up with these farmers who produce raw organic cotton and promises them a 100% buy back guarantee. Not surprisingly, about 70% of bhu:sattva’s designs are exported to about 17 countries abroad.

A creation of Bhu:sattva

A creation of Bhu:sattva  


Then, in 2015, he realised India has had a large history of using natural fibres like banana and soy, but that no one was utilising these traditions. He decided to blend these with the raw cotton yarn his weaves were already using, and the results were a hit. Now the company has 45 designers working with fabrics that range from hemp and bamboo blends to the more exotic milk protein, aloe vera and pineapple fibre.

Milk protein fibre is a regenerative manmade fibre, which is blended with cotton or silk to create a material with a distinct cashmere-like feel. “It looks lustrous like silk and has an inherent flow that makes it great for anarkalis, skirts and maxi dresses,” says Kumarpal. It keeps you warm in the winter and cool in summer, he says. It’s the same with aloe vera, where the fabric isn’t as smooth as milk protein, but is as good for the skin.

Bhu:sattva retails at Amethyst in Chennai and Collage stores in South India

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Printable version | Apr 20, 2021 3:02:11 AM |

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