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How does one interpret sustainability and its many facets? For veteran designers Didier Lecoanet and Hemant Sagar of the label Ayurganic, their close association with local tribal communities of Kerala, helping them retain their natural habitat and working with everything organic came to define the idea and its many off-shoots. For these renowned designers, it’s about products that define ease and purity.  Lecoanet and Sagar have always stayed ahead of times.

Image: Courtesy Pranav Bhasin
Image: Courtesy Pranav Bhasin

Even before international fame touched designers Manish Arora and Rahul Misra, the duo launched their eponymous label in 1979 and opened their first shop on Faubourg Saint Honoré just opposite the Elysée Palace in the early 80s. They showcased their first couture collection with Cartier Haute Joaillerie and soon became the members of Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, the governing body of haute couture. Their languid silhouettes, experiments with silk and feathers, and use of subdued colourways made them a perfect fit for the international couture scene.

Soon a roster of clients including Saudi Arabian princesses such as Princess Ghada Bin Turki Bin Abdelaziz Al Saud and Princess Noor Bint Badr, and Hollywood jet setters and business tycoons followed. For nearly four decades the duo rubbed shoulders with the likes of Jean Paul Gaultier and Chanel, being a part of the regular couture calendar. However, it was in the year 2000, in order to pursue their long-standing dream of creating ready-to-wear fashion, the designers shifted their base to India.

Image: Courtesy Pranav Bhasin
Image: Courtesy Pranav Bhasin

Being well-versed with intricate couture techniques, their prêt creations were a more contemporary take on classic couture. But one of their most anticipated, subsidiary labels Ayurganic was launched in 2011; it encapsulated all facets of sustainability even before it became a trend. The idea was to create easy silhouettes;  kurtas with hoods, quilted sweatshirts, robes with slits, primarily loungewear and to transform them into ayursvastras; garments with medicinal qualities. It all began by assimilating the local tribals of Kerala, understanding their centuries-old techniques of dyeing garments in medicinal concoctions and creating products that could be worn.

Today, with their production unit in Gurgaon,  Ayurganic is retailed out of Kilona Shop in New York, Cult Modern in Kochi, People Tree, and e-retailers such as Nete.in. One might contemplate on what made Lecoanet and Sagar return to their roots and launch Ayurganic. The answer simply lies in its manufacturing process. Their idea of Ayurganic if completely devoid of trends or collections, it’s about staying close to nature, let the healing properties of environment work their charm, retain what belongs to the forests and work closely with the tribals who hold the keys to the traditional ayurvedic practices.

Hemant Sagar spoke to Lifestyle Asia on his vision behind Ayurganic.

Image: Courtesy Ayurganic
Image: Courtesy Ayurganic
On the idea behind Ayurganic 

It’s a 5000-year-old thought procedure that we had to work on. It was not just about creating a product, it was about understanding techniques and the practices involved. The idea behind our label Ayurganic dates back to Indus Valley Civilisation. There was no one who understood it initially when we were launching the label. We had to straight away start interacting with the fabric makers, work with different communities to understand the idea of creating this specific kind of clothing. 

We were just fascinated with the idea of creating something which brought different disciplines together.  The idea was to create a brand which had a philosophical, medicinal and even a spiritual background. We planned to do it in a completely natural way, stick to everything organic. The vision drove me to launch Ayurganic. Also, Ayurganic is beyond just sustainability. Its origin stems comes from nature, whether its the cotton which is hand plucked or the treatment which is given to it or even the tribes which execute the practice. 

On the processes involved 

Ayurganic is based on the age-old art of treating fabrics with ayurvedic herbs ensuring that the garment also soaks in the therapeutic qualities of these herbs. The process begins by dipping fabrics in water to which coconut and castor oil is added later. This first step is followed by bleaching which is done in water and buffalo milk. Then the fabrics are sun-dried. After this gumming and dyeing are the most elaborate processes involving almost 48 different medicinal plants. Natural dyes such as indigo, sandalwood, Curcuma, saffron can be used. The fabric is then washed and cured for 5 days by leaving it in a wooden case. 

On working with local tribals in Kerala 

We have a workshop in Balaramapuram Kerala and we closely work with the local tribals. We are working with families which have been guarding certain recipes for creating and treating skin-friendly fabrics for eight generations now. We concentrate on working with these small Kerala communities, they live in the forest so they know herbs by heart, they pluck them and bring them to the treatment center. 

Image: Courtesy Instagram
Image: Courtesy Instagram

The process starts in Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve forest where we work with local. Our team from the workshop goes to these tribal areas to do trade. It works on a barter system. Whatever they need from the city, they are provided with and in return, they give us herbs. 

Once we have the herbs, they will go through different procedures. Some will be macerated, dried, crushed and then they are stored for a while. Once it’s ready, the fabric is dipped into them to be treated. Even a simple shirt can be transformed into an ayurvastra; garment loaded with ayurvedic qualities. 

On keeping it all natural
Image: Courtesy Ayurganic
Image: Courtesy Ayurganic

We are all trying to make conscious efforts towards conserving this planet. At the moment we are looking out at the highest levels of air, land and water pollution; it’s not a disaster, its a catastrophe. We make clothes, so at our own level, we reason in terms of clothes. We try not to take away from nature. The herbs come from the forest, plucked by the tribes ensuring nothing is destroyed; nothing is synthetically watered to grow. One of our primary aims is not to disturb the tribals, there we collaborate with them without disturbing their natural habitat. We wash our garments in the Neyyar river in Kerala’s Aruvippuram town and over the years we have been informed by the fisherman that the fish population in the river has increased due to the ayurvedic qualities of clothes we wash in its waters.

On the idea of sustainability

I still dream of a day when you wouldn’t produce customized clothes for a single person, coming out of a 3D printer. I wish there is an easier and more simplified process creating clothing which will lessen the chemical use and wastage. 30 percent of the overproduction in fashion goes into landfills. 

Image: Courtesy Instagram
Image: Courtesy Instagram
On the materials, they work with

So far we have only worked with one fabric and its a cotton-satin weave. The purpose of having a satin weave is to ensure durability and better absorption. Also, this particular weave has an additional sheen, ensuring that the final product looks better. We only use of certified GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) cotton, which means that it comes from permaculture.We veer away from using any chemicals, pesticides at any level or even colours. We have come across technique, which is not easy to define, we are still exploring it, understanding it and looking out to see how can we use it in a much better way. 

Image: Courtesy Pranav Bhasin
Image: Courtesy Pranav Bhasin
On veering away from the ‘collection’ cycle

We do not operate like other labels. Collections are not a priority, the number of products are; which further depends on the amount of usable fabric we obtain. For now, we are only experimenting with off-white as our base colour, things might change in the future. We are soon planning to introduce more silhouettes. 

Anupam Dabral
Sr. Associate Editor
It was while studying fashion journalism at London College of Fashion that Anupam developed a keen interest in the anthropological aspect of the discipline; for him, fashion only makes sense when seen in the context of its environment. He is always on the hunt for great stories, and in his spare time binge-watches films/shows starring Whoopi Goldberg, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders.