Upcyclers | Fashion

Making sustainability mass

Soharia leading one of her earlier workshops

Soharia leading one of her earlier workshops  

Two women, one in Delhi, and another in Mumbai, are trying to collect and spread knowledge about upcycling

In 2017, Swati Soharia decided she’d stop buying clothes. This is important since Soharia is a knitwear designer, with a degree from the National Institute of Fashion Technology. But she just couldn’t get herself to work in the fashion business. “I’ve never been one to stick to buying garments often, and to consumerism,” she says.

For a while before she cut new buys from her closet, she’d worked in visual merchandising, with a company that did shoots for brands as diverse as Chivas Regal, Absolut, Wella, and Olay. Soharia’s job was to make installations that’d feature in these shoots.

For instance, if they were doing a visual campaign for a set of nail colours, she’d make display boxes out of a medium-density fibreboard (MDF), a material made by combining wood fibre, wax, and resin at high pressure and temperature.

Typically, this process generated a lot of waste. She began noticing how much would accumulate in their factory spaces. It started to make her uncomfortable and restless. Which is when she quit, started looking at ways to reuse all sorts of waste material, and set up an eponymous label to do just this.

Beyond a trend

Upcycling isn’t really new. These days, we outgrow the novelty of most things given the glut of posts, shares, retweets that tire us fast. But the upcycling and sustainability movement in fashion is still important — in fact, more so now, given how the water table in our cities is dipping further and further.

In late 2017, Soharia got in touch with a curator working in the area of sustainability. This gave her the avenue to display her initial work with the label at the Ara Innovation Space, a community in Vienna that brings together artists, researchers, and industries to ideate on future resource efficiency and work towards a circular economy.

A few other upcyclers
  • Doodlage: Delhi-based upcycling brand, makes contemporary clothing
  • Satthvam Trust: Bengaluru-based project that upcycles carton boxes into carry bags
  • Pozruh by Aiman: A Delhi-based upcycled womenswear brand
  • Miesu by Seerat Virdi: A Ludhiana-based brand that uses recycled polyester and discarded cotton

Soharia, buoyed by this experience and orders that started coming in through word of mouth, opened her store in February 2018. Soon, she started collaborating with bigger brands for corporate gifting orders, meeting demand needs by reaching out to NGOs who’d already recognised women with basic tailoring skills.

“I train them further in upcycling,” she says. “I bank on this sort of collaboration. We need orders, they need employment, and the corporates are happy with this sort of social collaboration,” Soharia adds.

Coasters from Swati Soharia Studio

Coasters from Swati Soharia Studio   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

She spreads the word on upcycling with workshops at various women’s self-help groups in and around Delhi, making words like slow, conscious, sustainable, and upcycling go beyond being niche and hipster. It’s now a workable means of livelihood.

Much work across genre

The connect with the urban crowd isn’t secondary though. Soharia holds workshops and hobby classes, meant to influence people, helping to keep upcycling alive in everyday memory, fuelling thoughtful purchase and behaviour change.

One such project is Refash.in, a website (not to be confused with the Singaporean website of the same name, which sells second-hand clothes) by Mumbai-based Akanksha Kaila Akashi, specialising in all things upcycled. It is billed as a portal that lets you discover, access, and educate yourself on designers and brands who “are creating new, contemporary products out of old, discarded materials.”The website started in April last year, soon after Akashi attended one of Soharia’s workshops in Mumbai.

A scene from Akanksha Akashi’s workshop in Mumbai, where she taught how to upcycle old t-shirts into tote bags

A scene from Akanksha Akashi’s workshop in Mumbai, where she taught how to upcycle old t-shirts into tote bags   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

“There are a lot of upcycling brands in the market, but what was missing was a platform to bring them together,” she says. “We’ve built a database of over 200 upcycling brands from all over the world. I discover new designers and brands on a daily basis. They just don’t get enough momentum or coverage,” she says.

Akashi, who moved to Mumbai from Delhi in 2016, finds that in India, the movement is yet to go beyond niche brands. “The term upcycling also remains relatively new here. But the core of it is running through our veins. Indian mothers and grandmothers have been reused fabric for ages,” she says.

Through its various interviews, features, and directory of upcycling brands, Refash.in seeks to contribute to upcycling becoming “a mass movement in a couple of years.”

Currently, they’re running a series, where they spotlight upcycling efforts in one world city every month, and it has covered brands like Queen of Raw, Ilene Fisher’s Waste No More campaign. They featured New York last month. This month, they officially launched their e-shop for homegrown upcycled brands like Dwij and Inai. The footwear brand Paduks, will soon feature.

Even if you can’t stop buying clothes, like Soharia did, the hope in the short term, says Akashi is to see a whole “Refash” section at mainstream fast-fashion stores like Zara. Baby steps do turn into adult strides.

Soharia’s upcoming workshop, on July 20, 2019, will focus on making bags with upcycled fabric. At the Stainless Steel Gallery, Mathura Road, New Delhi. ₹2,200 per head; all materials provided. To register: 9958011198

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Printable version | May 26, 2020 2:30:51 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/fashion/trying-to-make-sustainability-mass/article28502096.ece

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