Ethical/Sustainable Fashion: Need of the Hour

Today, fashion as an industry is witnessing a huge change in terms of production and consumption. Earlier, there were very few people who would care about how an outfit is made or why using sustainable fabrics is important. However, we are seeing a community growing very strongly across the world who believe that sustainability is the need of the hour and no longer a choice.

From fashion designers to bloggers to activists to brands, we are seeing more awareness and work happening in the sustainability space. Consumers have become conscious and are ensuring they support this to a large extent. While brands are working towards having an ethical way of production, we as consumers are working towards owning a sustainable wardrobe; the ’30 wear challenge’, clothes swap, recycling/up-cycling, researching on brands before purchasing, shopping vintage; we are becoming a conscious buyer

To bring parity to this discussion, I spoke to two people who, like me are working on the sustainable fashion space. One is the founder of an ethical fashion brand, while the other is a blogger, designer and fashion faculty. Below are the excerpts from the two interviews:

Q&A with Sonia Anand, Founder Monk & Mei and Oorja M, Blogger, designer and fashion faculty

What according to you is Ethical Fashion?

Sonia: Ethical fashion is where everyone gets their due recognition for their contribution and products made are focused towards making a better working planet. It is where social and environmental goodness is embedded inside the DNA of the brand.

Oorja: Integrating fashion (a major reflection of our lifestyle) with being a good person! Ethical fashion shouldn’t be a niche, offbeat or value signalling look-how-woke-I-am practice. I believe that everybody with a conscience, a sense of compassion and the minimum amount of intellectual capability has the potential to be sensitive towards the urgent need for ethical fashion – like it’s common sense.

Why does it matter?

Sonia: Because today the desire to improve lives is embedded in everyday decisions as people ‘act with their wallets’ to create a better planet. And these people are no longer the ‘niche’ or ‘elitist,’ as with the changing times every individual aspires to do his/her bit to make this world a better place. Hence the onus is on labels to operationalize and make buyers aware of their ethical code of conduct.

Oorja: At this point in time, being sustainable isn’t an option, it’s a necessity. We need millions of us doing sustainability, even if imperfectly, rather than that little group of 100 odd purists on the globe. We’re spriting headlong into extinction, sustainability is the only way to delay and hopefully eradicate that possibility

Research shows that over 60% millennials spoke and discussed about sustainable and ethical fashion, but not even 20% made purchases. What according to you stops them from making the real purchase?

Sonia: Treating ethical standards/practices as charity and CSR is the biggest culprit. Business integrated with social goodness have to be new norm. Every product has to communicate the impact created to lives and the planet. Rest all have to be shunned.

Oorja: To speak strictly of the Indian ethical and sustainable scene, I’m going to say price is a big factor. As an ethical fashion designer, I have to mention that majority of my customers are not millennials, they’re older and have a lot more disposable income. Another factor that we don’t talk about enough is that there’s pretty much only one kind of ethical/sustainable ‘look’ prevalent in India, that leans towards the tribal, boho, desi, Fabindia style. Most ethical fashion brands look the same, what about the countless women who like to dress sexy or dress athleisure or dress super western? Or those who work in a corporate and prefer a tailored, sleek look over Indian office-wear. A lot of women don’t enjoy wearing a “desi” look. It is completely their choice. I’ve always noticed a serious dearth of ethical options that are also high on – purely from a design perspective – the style and look factor as a Zara, French Connection, Mango or H&M. We don’t have a lot of tailor workforce who can stitch that kind of thing for us even, unless we go to high end boutiques.

Question only to Oorja –Do you believe if we stop consuming fast fashion, it will help the environment and the people working towards slow/ethical fashion?

This has many nuances. Minimizing fast fashion – your consumption in general – definitely will have a positive impact. If you can boycott, you’re awesome, good for you! But I don’t quite see depth of sense in this boycott fast fashion movement because the only people who can seriously do it is a handful of us privileged, urban, wealthy Indians who HAVE the money to buy purely slow/ethical fashion – which is more expensive most of the time. Plus, aesthetics matter. Not everyone has the handspun, handmade, antifit, boho aesthetic preference but almost EVERY Indian ethical brand adheres to that look. If one wants a fitted tee, a miniskirt, a bodycon dress, a gown, a sexy pair of denims, who would they turn to that gives them the self expression they desire but is ethical at the same time? Even night wear, or lingerie for that matter does not come in sustainable fabrics. There are many gaps to fill in the ethical fashion scene in India. The masses rely on fast fashion for an affordable wardrobe that feels good, we can’t forget that clothing is an agent of self expression which is a basic psychological human drive. If people have access to trendy, celeb-spotted, internationally fashionable clothing that’s dirt cheap, the huge chunk of people for whom price matters the first-most will never forsake it, and they do not have much of an alternative that is ethical YET affordable. We cannot ignore that a change in politics, economics and sociological factors has to come first for a change from the bottom up in this industry, much more so than the woke value signalling of “boycotting” fast fashion. If we dig deep enough, every type of fashion is harmful in some way or other, to someone or the other.

Question only to Sonia-Share a little about your journey and how the brand happened?

Rarely it is seen that an organization that exists to manifested its Philanthropy of influencing the purchase decisions of the buyers by making them aware of the hands who have created these masterpieces and how has the entire process from identification to creation has helped improve lives. Today the desire to improve lives is embedded in everyday decisions as people ‘act with their wallets’ to create a better planet. Who are these people? They are no longer the ‘niche’ or ‘elitist,’ they are you, as with the changing times every individual aspires to do his/her bit to make this
world a better place. With this belief, Monk & Mei commenced a program that aimed to generate sustainable livelihood for people closer to their homes. Each end product that was up for sale had a story behind its making. The buyers got to know how her/his buying has led to creating an impact on the life of the producer of its garment as well as to the ecosystem of fashion/lifestyle thought of lending a hand to the undiscovered craftsmen of our country. As we charted into unheard territory with no basic ecosystem of apparel manufacturing, we have had a deep appreciation for everyone around us, and it is proof that kindness is in our DNA. During this course, we could see that these appreciations accelerated the inner transformation.

Share some pointers on how someone can make a move towards sustainable fashion

Sonia: Ask three questions to judge if it is ethical product. (a) Who made this product and how did my buying help the producer (b) Did my buying help create a better planet? (c) Was the product devoid of negatives like animal cruelty, environmental pollution, sweatshop manufacturing? A Yes to all three will lead you to better buying decision.

Oorja: Choose what works for you and what you can realistically do well, never think that aping someone else is the only ‘right’ way. It may be right for them and not for your unique lifestyle. There are many ways to be a better consumer. Open your mind to borrowing, lending, to secondhand shopping and swaps. Just eradicating cultural barriers one may have against these avenues will open up beautiful possibilities! Improve your styling game so you rewear your garments more often. Buy more basics and less impulsive, loud garments – if that’s okay with you. I myself cant completely boycott fashion for years and years continuously, because my lifestyle requires certain types of Western attire that I currently haven’t found a slow fashion brand for. What I do is being very intentional and mindful to consume as little as possible, maybe once in two months. Never buy fast fashion just because its on sale, or because youre sad, only buy it if its an absolute necessity.

In conclusion to the above discussions, what I would like to add is, we as consumers need to get conscious and understand how our purchases are affecting the environment as well as the workforce creating them. It is not easy to boycott a complete industry as this will definitely affect the lives of the people behind the scenes. It is the brands who need to take measures to help bring about a change.

Sharing pictures of the lehenga set called AASMA, created by block print artists in Jaipur for Monk & Mei

Photographs by:

Subhankar :

He is slogging it out for a living in the Corporate World for a decade and a half. Took to Photography in 2015, merely a passion which eventually metamorphosed into a medium of self expression. His journey as a Photographer started on a casual note where he was clicking random places and people on the Streets. Then eventually he got to learn about the craft by observing others and learning the nuances from the Masters of the Craft. He got into Portrait Photography in November’18 just out of curiosity and there has been no looking back since then. It’s been an exhilarating journey and he is enjoying whatever is coming his way.

Auyon Acharya: Photography for him is a form of self expression. He started it by taking all kinds of pictures, before finding his niche is portraiture. The desire to make his voice heard is what drives him to create and shoot different concepts.


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