Clean Tech

When waste becomes the trendy winner

Preeti Mehra | Updated on March 23, 2021

Coconut fashion: The 2020 Circular Design winner, Kerala-based Malai brand   -  FS Images / Lakme Fashion Week /

UNEP and the textile sector’s Circular Design Challenge hope to move the industry closer to sustainability

Buying clothes is an integral part of retail therapy, but there is hardly any doubt that the fast fashion industry weighs down heavily on the planet. With more demand for cotton, polyester and chemical dyes, the industry’s carbon footprint is rising steadily amid growing concern on the environment fallout. The ecological destruction includes increase in water consumption, pollution of waterbodies, and discarded piles of clothes ending up in landfills. This has led to a call for sustainability and circularity in the textile value chain across the globe, including India.

Since 2018, several textile players have become conscious of the degradation they are causing and attempting course correction. Of course, they have a long way to go to achieve true circularity. As the United Nations Environment Programme’s report ‘Sustainability and Circularity in the Textile Value Chain: Global Stocktaking’, explains, “Circularity goes beyond incremental improvements, e.g. increasing resource efficiency, increasing recycling rates and decreasing hazardous chemical use, and requires a system-wide approach, transforming the way textiles are designed, produced, consumed and disposed of.”

The report stresses the need to bring together initiatives that address different aspects of textiles, to achieve systemic changes. And UNEP’s partnership in the Circular Design Challenge (CDC) is one such initiative. Now in its third year, it hopes to make a difference.

Winning ideas

Last week, at FDCI X Lakme Fashion week, CDC 3.0 shortlisted six design entrepreneurs who recycle waste material and form independent fashion labels that showcase the principles of circularity. The parameters for the jury included design principles, aesthetics, business viability, scalability, value chain and collaborations.

The winner is Goa-based Satyajit Vetoskar’s ‘Bandit’, which used waste tarpaulin and flex billboards to produce trendy bags.

Sponsored by R|ElanTM Fashion for Earth, as in the past, the winner will receive a cash prize of Rs. 20 lakh to build its brand and be helped with industry linkages.

The shortlist included Bengaluru-based NIFT graduate Nehal Celly, who had created the label ‘Nece Gene’ with her design concept on ‘Terrains’, replicating topography. She has collaborated with Arvind Mills to use denim waste. Also from Bengaluru was Anitha Shankar, who designed the ‘Tote Scarf’ from recycled PET yarn. If its owner forgot to carry a shopping bag, the scarf was strong enough to serve as a load bearing tote. Each tote scarf was made from 2.2 PET bottles, saving 500 single-use plastic bags per annum per person. From the same city was Priyanka Muniyappa, whose project ‘Grandma Would Approve’ scouts for garments that are 30-50 years old and increases their lifecycle by rewriting them into new shapes and forms, “creating layers of memories of multiple timelines”.

Using waste was the USP of all the entrepreneurs. Kolkata’s Meghna Nayak, with label ‘LataSita’, picked up used material from puja pandals or discarded wardrobes and used zero-waste production to turn them into garments and accessories. Noida’s Ashita Singhal’s label ‘Paiwand’ upcycled and recycled textile waste using handloom weaves and handcrafted techniques.

Last year’s winner, brand ‘Malai’, too had a unique concept. Kerala-based Susmith Chempodil and Zuzana Gombosova chose to use the coconut palm. They made bio-composite material based on bacterial cellulose grown on water from mature coconuts and natural fibres. The material proved to be a vegan alternative to leather for accessories and garments.

A stitch in time...

Atul Bagai, who heads UNEP’s India office, outlines the organisation’s role: “Our partnership with CDC is to advance systems thinking and circularity… UNEP is advocating solutions to advance towards a sustainable and more circular textile value chain through capacity building, knowledge products and policy recommendations.”

However, CDC is not the only Indian initiative to promote sustainability transition in the textile sector. In 2019, the Clothing Manufacturers Association of India (CMAI) along with the UN and RISE WORLDWIDE (Formally IMG RELIANCE) launched Project SU.RE, said to be the domestic apparel industry’s largest commitment towards sustainable fashion. The initiative introduced a framework to help the industry reduce its carbon emissions, increase resource efficiency, tackle waste and water management, and create positive social impact for long-term sustainability. The aim is to help signatory brands help achieve the 5 SU.RE goals”.

There is also the Circular Apparel Innovation Factory, a venture initiated by Intellecap with anchor partners Aditya Birla Fashion & Retail and The Doen Foundation. Its team of consultants, industry specialists, and impact professionals looks at the textile value chain and identifies the gaps. It then tests innovative solutions and forges meaningful alliances to promote circularity. Much needed in this sector that is economically on fast-forward, but also one of the most polluting.

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Published on March 21, 2021
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