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Is India ready for sustainable fashion brands?

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Is India ready for sustainable fashion brands?

Experts agree that there has been a change in people’s mindset about slow fashion

A surfeit of fashion brands that are calling themselves eco-friendly or sustainable have been launched in the past few months. While some of these are from startups, others are new lines from established companies. Interestingly, sustainability is also the theme for a couple of brands for children.

A surfeit of fashion brands that are calling themselves eco-friendly or sustainable have been launched in the past few months. While some of these are from startups, others are new lines from established companies. Interestingly, sustainability is also the theme for a couple of brands for children.

Jaipur-based Mitali Bhargava has introduced a sustainable kids’ wear brand Littleens, which prides itself in being made from exotic plant-based fibres. The yarns come from orange peels, aloe vera, banana and bamboo. She claims the fabrics are super soft and don’t trigger allergic reactions. The brand exports most of its products to Europe, Australia, Singapore and Canada with only 15-20% sales happening in India, she claims.

Jaipur-based Mitali Bhargava has introduced a sustainable kids’ wear brand Littleens, which prides itself in being made from exotic plant-based fibres. The yarns come from orange peels, aloe vera, banana and bamboo. She claims the fabrics are super soft and don’t trigger allergic reactions. The brand exports most of its products to Europe, Australia, Singapore and Canada with only 15-20% sales happening in India, she claims.

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Yet, she expects the Indian market to pick up as the country’s affluent customers, especially young mothers, are very protective about their children. She has priced her winter collection for four to 12-year-olds between 5,000 and 17,000, while the summer range averages at 8,000. The brand’s mission is to go green without leaving a carbon footprint behind.

Actor Alia Bhatt’s startup venture Ed-a-mamma, too, targets two to 14-year-olds. At the launch some months ago, she told Mint that she has always felt passionately about the environment and “wanted to give back a strong message to conserve it through this brand". Ed-a-mamma offers naturally sourced and sustainable apparel for children.

Clearly, such brands are targeted at a customer base with buying power and concern about the environment.

Last month, Jain Amar Clothing’s Madame brand for women also launched an Eco-Aware collection, which it claimed was “ethical and sustainable fashion" in terms of sourcing, manufacturing and designing with minimal impact on the environment.

Akhil Jain, the company’s executive director, said that Madame’s long-term sustainability goal is to move towards becoming a 100% eco-friendly organization. “We also plan to reduce the carbon footprint by at least 80% and become a carbon-negative company by 2030," he said.

Again, during the pandemic, fashion designer duo Richa Mittal and Avni Behl came up with S P A C E, a high-street fashion label made from “natural fabrics". Mittal said they saw a gap as most high-street retailers were using poly-based apparel. While cotton-based brands lacked style and came at high price points, S P A C E offers sharp-tailored apparel at smart prices, she said.

She thinks the Indian consumer is definitely moving towards sustainable fashion. “The times we are living in, everything is moving towards minimalism and sustainability—with minimum impact on the environment. People now are inclined to classic fashion over seasonal fast-moving one," she said.

Kaushik Ranjan Bandyopadhyay, associate professor and area chair for business sustainability at IIM-Lucknow’s Noida campus, agrees that there has been a change in people’s mindset about slow fashion.

Most big global brands such as Zara and H&M have separate sections on sustainable, organic clothing though it’s not a complete shift, he said. Developed countries are far more aware and one finds shops selling sustainable, re-purposed materials, he said. “Those values are starting to build here. Already, there are many startups in this segment. My own students have similar startup ideas as they talk of re-purposing and rejuvenating," he said.

But it’s still an uphill task as fast-fashion brands are far more aggressive. Besides, slow fashion is about durability and quality and, hence, a price mark-up for the end consumer. “However, the extra premium for sustainability is not always justifiable," he said.

Wazir Advisors founder Harminder Sahni feels that for most apparel brands, an eco-conscious range is good optics. “For the last 40 years, brands have been asking you to change clothes, follow fashion cycles and building obsolescence in their products," he said. They won’t change overnight.

The slow fashion trend is still niche and more prevalent in places like Europe. “So fast-fashion brands are looking to tap the east," he said.

Yet, the pandemic may have effected some attitudinal change, consumer behaviour expert Sraboni Bhaduri told Mint in an earlier interview. From an ultra-high consumption society in the past two decades, we are now down to consuming less. Fashion purchases, too, will see a shift with elaborate wardrobes being revised to accommodate fewer pieces. “World over, there’s talk of slow fashion. Clearly, some dissonance has set in with regard to extensive fast-fashion wardrobes," she said.

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff.

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