The Rana Plaza collapse that occurred in Dhaka, Bangladesh on 24 April 2013 can be recalled as the most disastrous incident involving garment makers. The incident claimed the lives of more than 1,100 people working in the garment factory building. The tragedy threw light on the poor conditions of labour involved in creating attires for some the world renowned brands like Benetton and Mango. It also questioned the ethics of the fashion houses that outsource their work to these garment makers.
The International fashion labels have a responsibility to create ethical working conditions instead of giving rise to sweatshops. However as the end users do we have a responsibility towards ethical fashion? YES, and how can we make ethical fashion choices to curb the cruelty that hides beneath the beauty of fashion?
Here’s our guide to making ethical fashion choices in India-
India is a rising power in the global garment industry. Its garment sector has a highly scattered and complex structure. As consumers we can still keep a check and buy ethical fashion in this highly diverse market through following ways-
Fair trade is a business certification that aims at giving fair wages and non-exploitative working conditions for the growers of fabric fibres. It can also extend to textile weavers and creators of exquisite hand embroidery on apparels. Fair trade gives importance to people and makes them the core for sustainability of business.
In India fair trade holds great importance for ethical fashion as it uses age-old handicraft techniques for attires. Embroideries like zardosi, chikankari, kanjeevaram and bandhani dyeing techniques are quintessential to creating ethnic Indian attires. These techniques require high skills and are labour intensive.
Many fashion designers and young entrepreneurs are endorsing the use of ancient Indian embroidery and dyeing techniques by giving fair employment opportunities to artisans based in rural areas. Some of the brands that are promoting sustainable fashion are FabIndia, Bhu:sattva, Do You Speak Green, Grassroot by Anita Dongre, Pero by Aneeth Arora, Aziio, Samtana, No Nasties, Mother Earth and others.
Raw Mango handwoven saree by Sanjay Garg
Anita Dongre’s Grassroot works towards preserving tradition, empowering women and using organic fibres and natural dyes. Do you Speak Green offers natural clothing using organic cotton and bamboo fabrics with eco friendly dyes and water based prints.
Fashion Designer Anita Dongre with rural artists
Hidesign, the global brand for exclusive leather handbags uses vegetable tanning techniques. That makes its products 30% more expensive and they also take double the time to produce. The Hidesign factory also boasts of being eco-friendly by avoiding asbestos and using pure fired bricks.
Knowing more about what went behind creating attires and accessories creates further interest among the consumers who are willing to embrace the ethical fashion revolution.
The brands that sell ethical fashion goods face a huge conflict between their ideologies and consumer preference. Most of the consumers pay attention to pure aesthetics and are unaware of even the fabric type used in making the attire. The ethical fashion houses that focus on sustainability also have to deal with the pressure of making their products stand out aesthetically through the myriad cheaper choices available to the consumer. We need to change the consumer dynamics in India. We have to grow into an intellectual buyer who thinks beyond the look and price of the outfit.
Creating ethical fashion needs time and effort. Educating ourselves about what we are holding close to our body must become priority. After all we will never want to beautify our selves at the cost of brutally killed animals, underpaid starving farmers and by irreversibly damaging the environment. Ethical fashion deals with higher production costs and as consumers we should be willing to go the extra mile to support businesses with sustainable ideologies.
We need to take pride in the fact that we are ensuring better pay scale at the grassroot level and also avoiding cheaper chemically treated fabrics that damage the environment in the long run.
As Indians we are fortunate to have a rich legacy of textiles and garments. Our country also abounds in traditional techniques to treat garments, so why look outside? Many modern home-grown brands are transparent about their supply chain strategies. Brands that easily divulge information about their manufacturing processes and social responsibilities undertaken by them should be given preference.
When you are travelling to tourist places in India, always buy ethnic products made by local artists. This way you can directly transfer benefits to the artists while making ethical fashion choices.
Outfits, which display labels of developed nations like America or Australia, do not necessarily indicate adherence to standard pay scale. Although these countries have stricter labour laws many garment manufacturers in such countries hire migrant workers, sometimes even illegally and they are exploited for the profit of the garment maker.
Shivam Punjya’s Behno is a contemporary women’s wear label designed in New York and it is exclusively produced in India in an ethical manner, in a factory in rural Gujarat. The ethical fashion label is striving to dispel the notion that garments ‘Made in India’ are inferior to those manufactured elsewhere.
The ‘Made in India’ brands are also offering a high end global platform to the arts hidden in the unknown, less travelled lanes of India.
Fashion is not just what meets the eye. It goes through a metamorphosis at different levels, before reaching the final consumer. Let’s just be more emotional and aware about what we wear and take comfort in the fact that it is beautiful all the way. When we have the privilege to choose, why not choose for a better world in our own small way.
Image source: www.fashionchangingtheworld.com, www.fashionablyfoody.com, www.mid-day.com, www.couturerani.com