When Dutch label Viktor&Rolf showcased upcycled gowns as part of its couture collection earlier this year, it grabbed everyone’s attention, for it had taken a royal princess gown silhouette and patchworked it with fragments of old garments. Some lovely, pastel pieces were appliquéd with gold foil—a nod to the Japanese pottery tradition of Kintsugi, which highlights flaws while repairing instead of hiding them. It’s all quite fitting as fashion copes with the burden of being among the world’s most polluting industries, second only to oil. Which is perhaps why high fashion that keeps its carbon footprint in check is increasingly coveted.
In India, however, the art of creative reuse has long been part of the aesthetic DNA of designers, who treat clothing like tactile memory projects. Clothes, after all, are heirlooms brimming with the lived experiences of their makers and wearers. As the year comes to a close, Lounge highlights five Indian designers who have built their practice on principles of repair-and-reuse and created imaginative, wearable stories.

High-tech makeover: AM.IT by Amit Aggarwal

Jackets carved from Khadi gamchas and recycled polythene, dresses made of chatai (floor mats) or detailed with sequin waste and old CDs—Amit Aggarwal reimagines his signature label’s sculptural aesthetics with an upcycled twist for his diffusion line AM.IT. “It’s challenging to work with upcycled products, we cannot take away its main properties, and yet we have to make it look high fashion." Many of the Patola saris were ripped, and Aggarwal fortified their tensile strength with industrial pleating and weaving. Combined with mirror-sequin waste and leather braids, Patola-panelled skirts and dresses were showstoppers of the Resort 2017 collection, aptly named Seamless, highlighting Aggarwal’s ingenious coupling of seemingly disparate raw materials.

Kriti Tula, founder and creative director of Doodlage, learnt about the scale of waste when she worked with garment production units as a student at the Pearl Academy in Delhi.
Kriti Tula, founder and creative director of Doodlage, learnt about the scale of waste when she worked with garment production units as a student at the Pearl Academy in Delhi.

Coming Full Circle: Doodlage

Kriti Tula, founder and creative director of Doodlage, learnt about the scale of waste when she worked with garment production units as a student at the Pearl Academy in Delhi, and the London College of Fashion. “There needs to be a conscious effort to create consumer awareness around ethical fashion," she says. From 2011, when the label was conceptualized, Doodlage now redesigns over 500m of fabric scrap each month, sourcing it from garment factories, end-of-the-line fabrics and rejects. Tula also donates leftovers and old samples to be repurposed by non-governmental organizations like Goonj. In its latest outing, the label teamed up with Nete to launch the online retailer’s first in-house collection, Geometry Of Flowers, based on fair trade, zero-waste and upcycling.

The Kolkata-based designer turned to upcycling eight years ago.
The Kolkata-based designer turned to upcycling eight years ago.

Memories on cloth: By Paromita Banerjee

The Kolkata-based designer turned to upcycling eight years ago, inspired by Japanese “Boro", meaning “too good to waste", techniques. Amid patched leather bags, notebooks, buttons, tassels and appliqué borders, the pièce de résistance is the label’s signature reversible jacket, tailored from a mélange of discarded textiles, including Jamdani and indigo patches. “These scraps were memories on cloth from our weavers and reminded us of the stories we have visited in the past," she says.

Founder of Ka-Sha. At Ka-Sha, discarded onion sacks are interlaced with ribbons and threads into alternative fabrics.
Founder of Ka-Sha. At Ka-Sha, discarded onion sacks are interlaced with ribbons and threads into alternative fabrics.

Working within means: Ka-Sha by Karishma Shahani Khan

“I enjoy the process of creating with minimal means; it pushes us to be more intuitive and experimental," says Karishma Shahani-Khan, founder of Ka-Sha. At Ka-Sha, discarded onion sacks are interlaced with ribbons and threads into alternative fabrics, used and damaged T-shirts knitted into cardigans, and post-production textile remnants woven into home textiles and jackets. Khan thinks education is crucial to encourage both makers and connoisseurs in upcycling and sustainability. “I find that when we talk about the making of a product and its story, it adds so much value for the buyer," she says.

Aneeth Arora never planned an upcycling line, but when photographer Dayanita Singh saw the designer’s old Ralph Lauren jacket spruced up with bits from her previous collections.
Aneeth Arora never planned an upcycling line, but when photographer Dayanita Singh saw the designer’s old Ralph Lauren jacket spruced up with bits from her previous collections.

Reclaiming the old: péro UPCYCLE

Aneeth Arora never planned an upcycling line, but when photographer Dayanita Singh saw the designer’s old Ralph Lauren jacket spruced up with bits from her previous collections, she requested something similar for her own black jacket. Arora agreed, adding an “Upcycled by péro" label to the refashioned jacket. “I thought it was a great way to use pieces that already exist," she says. Today péro’s upcycled denim jackets and crocheted Adidas Stan Smiths, showcased in the SS17 collection, are a rage. Arora prefers that clients not set deadlines for the restorative process. “My jacket looked interesting because it was with me for a long time," she adds.

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