Gautam Vazirani is a man on a mission. As a curator and strategist at IMG Reliance, a collaboration between Reliance Industries and IMG to promote sports, entertainment and fashion in India, he is spearheading several projects that focus on different aspects of sustainability and craft restoration in the country. In a world driven by fast fashion, Vazirani is striving to create a platform for labels engaging in ethical practices. He is also executing his understanding of international standards of sustainability in the domestic market.
That Vazirani understands the subject is putting it lightly. At Lakme Fashion Week, he is at the helm of ‘Sustainable Fashion Day’, which focuses on shows and panel discussions on ethical fashion (the theme for Summer-Resort 2018 was craft practices in the Northeast, organised in collaboration with the United Nations). He was also instrumental in curating ‘Indian Pastoralists’, a showcase at London Fashion Week, 2017, which won the Best Country Award.
Lifestyle Asia spoke with Vazirani about sustainability in the Indian context, the current fashionscape and his favourite labels.
Where does the dialogue on sustainability stand in Indian fashion today?
India is one of the few places in the world that has a large population of skilled men and women involved in three key areas that impact fashion: Agriculture of natural fibres, handloom and handicrafts, and apparel/garment manufacturing. Most of the times, we tend to just focus on high-fashion looks/glamour, and that labels this aspect of the industry as ‘fashion industry’. We don’t see the whole picture.
The industry and consumers are yet to fully awaken to core realities that make fashion one of the most polluting industries on the planet. As a result, we continue to make choices in an ignorant state. There aren’t strict regulations or policies to monitor the impact of fashion we create, both as producers and consumers. If every cheap T-shirt sold has a warning label indicating the thousands of liters of water it has consumed apart from chemicals while being produced, we will think twice before buying them indiscriminately.
How important and easy is to embrace sustainability?
Being sustainable is all about being viable. It means creating fashion that will endure trends and fads. Not being sustainable is being short-sighted. You could make quick gains, but your business doesn’t last. The concept of sustainability looks at viability for people, plant and profits. Be it materials, fibres, fabrics or processes involved in making textiles or a garment, such as dyeing/printing techniques, embellishing and stitching that minimise on creating toxic wastes or exploring new solutions, designers have explored the idea of sustainability.
Being a fashion curator yourself, what do you see in a label to term it as sustainable?
The story of a sustainable label is in its process. The more you believe in sustainability, the more pain-staking and evolved your process will be. You will avoid shortcuts and ensure you do not create any loopholes. At times, a designer goes through great pains to find the right ingredients for the sustainable fashion they create.
I try to find answers for questions like what kind of fabrics they use, how they print or dye them, how they treat their staff, what they do about waste. Designers need to see themselves as changemakers.
Tell us about a few labels you admire who are taking the agenda of sustainability further?
Rajesh Pratap Singh, Anavila, Eka, Pèro, Naushad Ali, Doodlage, Karishma Shahani Khan and Maku. They all practicing strong values and principles in sustainability. Also joining the league are some younger labels such as I Was A Sari, Kurio and Bombay Hemp Company. I am very proud of the fact that for the first time, the August 2018 Gen-Next batch of Lakmè Fashion Week had all the five chosen designers being conscious of the materials they chose to work with. This is a great sign of change.
Which international label’s efforts in sustainability do you admire?
Eileen Fisher and Patagonia from the US are great examples of brands who truly believe in sustainability and are not afraid to take bold decisions. At the recent Copenhagen Fashion Summit, I had the opportunity to listen to Stella McCartney in conversation with Tim Blanks of the Business of Fashion. I was very impressed with her views and work towards sustainability, especially on the point of not using leather and fur. We are also working on a project with the British Council and Fashion Revolution called ‘Crafting Futures’ for women weavers of Tripura. London-based Bethany Williams is part of the project and she is a sustainable designer. I find her extremely innovative in her techniques and ideas, especially on working with waste.