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A true fashion girl knows that style has no meaning without substance. But now we need to add sustainability to this chic catchphrase, says fashion editor Sujata Assomull.

Sujata Assomull
Sujata Assomull. Image: Courtesy Instagram

My approach to shopping errs on the side of caution. Being the daughter of two accountants, cost per wear has been ingrained into my shopping mantras since my teens. I realised early on that if you go with your heart and buy something you love, you will want to wear it again and again (and you shouldn’t need Marie Kondo to tell you this).

Of course, back then there was no such term as ‘sustainable fashion’— this concept only went mainstream after the Rana Plaza tragedy of 2013, when a poorly maintained factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing over 1,100 and injuring about 2,500 others working there for a pittance. And as we dug deeper, we found fashion also was an enemy of the environment — we throw out an estimated 50 million tons of clothing every year and the impact of this is life threatening.

We are drowning the world with our fashion buys and this pandemic has brought the facts home — it has forced us to look at our fashion footprint. And while I have always been a mindful fashion girl, I am even more aware of my choices now. So how do I decide what to and what not to buy?

Be an informed shopper

Sujata Assomull

I do my research before I shop. I know what I need, and what I like to wear, and I read a lot about the many aspects of conscious fashion. The more informed you are about shopping sustainably, the more mindful purchases you will (or won’t) make. On Instagram, I suggest following sustainable fashion advocates such as Livia Firth, the executive producer of eye-opening 2015 documentary The True Cost, and the India-based slow-living coach Neeti Mehra of Beej Living, whose feed is rife with ideas on how to shop and live sustainably.

Cloth before clothing

Being a mindful shopper is not as simple as buying natural fabric over man-made ones. Conventional cotton, for example, the material we all thought was a safe bet, is actually a thirsty plant. Twenty thousand gallons of water is needed to make a pair of denim cotton jeans and up to 3,000 to make a T-shirt. Plus, cotton requires a high level of pesticides (read toxins).


So, how does the everyday fashion girl know what cloth to buy? My reading points to hemp and linen being the most environmentally-safe; cotton too, if sourced from ethical producers. If it’s hard to find this information about the brand you want to buy from, it means the brand is not transparent. That’s your first red flag. Talking about processes (or ‘supply chain’) is the sign a label is ethical, sources from the right places, and has nothing to hide. Grassroots by Anita Dongre, Jodi, and The Summer House are great examples.

There are also many new-age fabrics created from upcycled products such as Econyl – nylon yarn made from synthetic waste materials like fishing nets. Resort label Verandah was one of the first to look at such fabrics in India. Again, this all points to why you need to stay informed and on top of new developments in cloth.

Embrace swadeshi style

There is a reason I have highlighted only ‘Made in India’ brands. As a rule, I wear something that is made by an Indian artisanal brand on a daily basis—it could be heirloom jewellery, a piece of costume jewellery (Tribe by Amrapali, Isharya, and Deepa Gurnani are my top picks), or my footwear (my go-to’s are kolhapuri chappals by The Sole Sisters; I’d pick them over a pair of sneakers any day!).

 

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MAKING THIS MONDAY A PJ DAY: We normally think that Indian craft techniques are best suited to special occasion wear and that our garment manufacturers work at the the more mass and fast fashion end of the market. The truth is no other country has the diversity and slow fashion traditions of India- from sleepwear to red carpet wear. One of my discoveries of lockdown is the Hong Kong based #HandmadeinIndia brand behind these super soft cotton voile pyjamas with hand painted brush strokes details worn with a block printed robe with Kantha stitch details- Pure Made in India Luxury. They might even entice me to embrace the PJ all day trend. Tap for deets. By the way did you know the word pyjamas stems from the Hindustani word pāy-jāma which means leg covering. #mystyle #vocalforlocal #madeinindia #textiletraditions #madeinindia #makeinindia #pyjamas #pyjamaparty #supportsmallbusiness

A post shared by Sujata Assomull (@sujstyle) on Jul 12, 2020 at 8:25pm PDT


I have been Vocal for Local since I started my career in fashion journalism over 20 years ago. The best way to support Indian craftspeople is by wearing their work. The textile industry is India’s second-largest employer, so the problem is even more acute here — its health is critical to the country’s welfare. The kaarigars who create these beautiful pieces are at the heart of the trade.

When you support homegrown fashion that uses local talent and savoir fair, you are supporting the local economy and ensuring native creativity flourishes. Plus, small-batch production tends to be ethical and sustainable in its supply chain. Keep following girls on Instagram who embraces this mindset, such as Ekta Rajani, blogger Sherezade Shroff Talwar, and well, me.

Commit to being a repeat offender

This is the most important rule of mindful shopping. Just because a garment is ethical or sustainable doesn’t mean you should buy it. Only purchase something if you love it and will repeat it. Did you know that by extending the lifespan of your clothes by just nine extra months of active use, you can reduce carbon, water, and waste footprints by around 20-30% each?


Shop when you feel good because you tend to shop less when you are in a positive frame of mind. Never shop in your tracks and with no makeup on, or check out e-commerce websites when bored. And ask yourself these questions: Will I wear it at least 30 times, is it filling a gap in my wardrobe, and does it work with the other pieces I own?

The Fast Fashion dilemma

So, when it comes to fast fashion, I do buy Zara, but I don’t buy ultra-fast fashion labels—the Boohoo types who make a bikini for under £1 (how can a bikini cost less than Rs 100, even if it does not require much fabric?). I only buy Zara pieces that I know I will repeat (my latest buy being the shoulder-padded T-shirts from their Choose Life collection, which the company says is made from environmentally-friendly fabrics), and I mix my high street with Made-in-India labels. There some great Indian e-commerce offerings, including The Label Life for everyday wear, and for travel and resort wear, The Beach Company, both very open about their processes. I am trying to have a more diet-type approach to fast fashion—buying from these brands is my cheat day.

Old is the new New

It is about shopping how our grandmothers did—how they looked at quality over quantity. They bought things made of the best fabrics so they could be remodelled into something else and mostly bought pieces that had the potential to be heirlooms. Living in India, finding a good tailor is easier than most places. And it’s a fun experience to actually upcycle your own clothes.

Going forward

When it comes to special buys, vintage is going to be my new mantra. I have always kept a keen eye on Saffron Art auctions for pre-loved jewellery pieces (my go-to daily watch, a Chanel J12 is from them), but I want to make vintage shopping more a part of my style buys. It really is about combining the best new-age conscious fashion principles with the wise old ways of our grandmothers.

 

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“Rubies do not age. The fire that was locked in their hearts millions of years ago still burns, even after the emperors and empires that fought for them have crumbled to dust and ashes.” Diane Morgan ⁣ ⁣ Our upcoming auction REDiscovery features exquisite ruby jewellery that will complete any look! ⁣ ⁣ 👆 Ruby and Diamond Flower Brooch⁣ Estimate: Rs 7-9 lakhs⁣ ⁣ 👉 Ruby and Diamond Chandbali Earrings ⁣ Estimate: Rs 6.5 – 8.5 lakhs ⁣ ⁣ 👉👉 Ruby Bangle⁣ Estimate: Rs 3.75 – 4.25 lakhs⁣ ⁣ 👉👉👉 Ruby and Diamond Earrings⁣ Estimate: Rs 2 – 2.5 lakhs⁣ ⁣ 👉👉👉👉 Ruby and Diamond Bracelet⁣ Estimate: Rs 1.5 – 2 lakhs⁣ ⁣ REDiscovery: Online Auction of Art and Collectibles 22-23 July 2020⁣ ⁣ #saffronart #rubyjewellery #rubies #rubyearrings #julybirthstone #rubybracelet #indianjewellery #jewelleryauction #REDiscoveryAuction #onlineauction #finejewellery

A post shared by SAFFRONART (@saffronartindia) on Jul 20, 2020 at 10:32pm PDT


All images: Courtesy Instagram and Getty

Sujata Assomull

London-born Sujata Assomull is a Dubai-based journalist and author of 100 Iconic Bollywood Costumes. A mindful fashion advocate, she was the launch Editor in Chief of Harper’s Bazaar India. An international chronicler of fashion trends, she is a go-to resource in the industry for commentary on India and the Middle East’s evolving and dynamic markets. Her bylines have appeared in Vogue Business, Business of Fashion, and Arab News.

Image: Courtesy Cimmaron Singh