As I flip through the ‘lookbook’ of Ethicus’s latest collection Mumbai Meri Jaan , the fun, colours and energy of the city speak impressively through the photographs. The busy backgrounds of CST and Marine Drive by night, the pigeon square of Gateway of India, an aerial view of Dharavi, Mumbai’s iconic fiat taxis and the chawls, the green belt of Sanjay Gandhi National Park in the middle of the concrete jungle, the local train, the Bollywood film posters eloquently define the city of dreams.
But how do you wear them on you like a Mumbaikar? To understand it, you need to check out the Ethicus collection of handcrafted organic cotton saris that boldly play with vibrant colours, exciting patterns, traditional and modern themes, native and exclusive weaves.
To celebrate the eighth anniversary in business, the founder of the farm-to-fashion label, Vijayalakshmi Nachiar, is here to showcase the creative pieces of work in the city for the first time. “It is always nice to meet new people and get to know their taste. Many people from Madurai have been buying our saris from our exhibitions elsewhere. I am excited about meeting them here and hope the two-day expo will be a good market for us,” she says and plans to wow Maduraiites with her Mumbai Meri Jaan collection along with other themes from previous years.
So you will find a rainbow sari reflecting the many hues of Bollywood, or a black and yellow striped sari signifying the kali-peeli taxi, the blue tarpaulin roof covers in Dharavi translated into a hand woven sari of black and dark grey shades with striking blue border and pallu. “When you wear the sari, you carry a slice of that region,” says Nachiar.
It is not only the design, colours and look of an Ethicus sari that has made people fall in love over the years. “But it is also the brand for organic cotton that gives the feel and fall of what you wear,” she adds. Today, points out Nachiar, organic cotton and sustainable fashion are synonymous. “It is not just about the environment and the clothes you wear but about the people and the choices they make.” That is why you see politicians from Sonia Gandhi, Sushma Swaraj, Smriti Irani and Supriya Sule to authors Shobha De and Sudha Murthy among many others flaunting Ethicus.
A decade ago, Nachiar and her husband Mani Chinnaswamy decided to help people make an ecological choice by writing an inclusive growth script for the textile industry. It was the time when cotton farming in the country was moving from chemically intensive to genetically modified and the native seeds were losing out. Mani, who hails from the third generation of a ginning family owning the Appachi Cotton Mill in Pollachi, chose to produce eco-logic cotton.
“Our idea was to grow our own cotton organically and put in the best raw material that will show in the fabric,” says Nachiar. She also hails from a cotton trading family and with an academic degree in textiles, the couple struck on the value addition idea of consuming their own refined cotton produced by independent farmers in Karnataka to create heritage fashion. The couple learnt on the job how from growing the fibre to the finished product requires loads of time, energy and effort. But it all goes unrecognised.
Like the farmers, weavers too work for a wage but their skills remain unacknowledged. “We decided to include everybody in the farm-to-fashion chain in the making of a sari and also roped in designers,” she says. When the in-house Ethicus was launched as a brand dedicated to environment friendly conscious fashion, it became equally important to know the stories behind the clothing. Tagging became a USP for us, says Nachiar, and the authentic stories helped in empowering the decisions of prospective customers.
Each Ethicus sari and other products like stoles, scarves and dupattas carry a tag with information on where and how the cotton was grown along with the photo and name of the weaver and the time taken to weave the item. “Our saris are not bling. As an organic concept, they are slightly high-end products,” says Nachiar, adding, “the beautifully designed and well made clothing with a silk-like finish drapes and falls gracefully down and makes you feel good in your own skin.” Wear it to experience it!
The company works with 800 farmers, 50 weavers and a team of designers to create the theme-based saris using organic certified dyes.
They release two new collections every year. Every sari follows a theme to tell a story. The upcoming collection is titled Matchmaker
Some of the earlier themes include Love (as seen in Yash Chopra movies), Chettinad inspired Athangudi, The Ballad of Blossoms interplaying the prose of Tamil script with Victorian flowers and gardens
Ethicus has built a studio with traditional jacquard looms, runs a free-education school for the children of weavers and also conducts eco-logic tours of the farms where the farmers also grow alternate crops.
Ethicus’s new line, Mumbai Meri Jaan , will be on sale at the Urban Spice gallery in K.K.Nagar from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on June 23 and 24.