Fashion designers want people to understand the story behind the cloth they buy and not just follow a trend (Photos courtesy: Raw Mango, Andrea Gentl) Photograph: (Others)
The most important challenge facing eco-fashion today is to create products which ends the problem of wastage at affordable prices
Flowers are one of the most overrated yet appreciated token of all times. Remember the first time you got a flower or gifted one, or a memory of your favourite flowers on display at a florist? Do you recollect the times when keeping a gifted flower, already wilted in between the pages of a book was quite a thing?
Now, imagine if there was a possibility of getting that one memory sewn to a piece of cloth that adorns your body. Cara Marie Piazza from New York does just that.
A natural dyer and textile designer living and producing her work in New York City, Cara works with decaying flowers to make natural dye for her apparel line on fabrics that are “sourced ethically and sustainably, using only organic cottons and fibers as well as Ahimsa and Peace grade silks”.
Beauty in Decay
Cara finds beauty in decaying flowers and is inspired by nature.
She says, “I'm not sure where my morbid fascination with decaying nature and atrophy started but the impermanence of life has always been very moving to me. There’s a delicacy to decay and time, which feels like a primordial reminder that we’re connected to something else.”
Designer Cara Marie Piazza works with natural dye extracted from flowers (Photo: Laura Cervini) (Others)
A nature lover, Cara is “committed to sustainable and ethical production wherein she creates one-of-a-kind textile using only natural dye from botanicals, plant matter, minerals and non-toxic metals and food wastes. She treats her fabrics through alchemical dye sessions, ancient shibori techniques and bundle dyeing to create a product that has its own story to tell.”
Her brand Calyx is home to handmade products that go beyond what meets the eye. The prints and style are dictated by nature’s seasons and can be draped in classic cuts or can have customised fittings. Care describes Calyx as “your amulet, your personal armor and your secret strength. The first thing you put on and the last to be taken off”.
The venture has currently gained immense popularity in the United States where everyday wastage of food and clothes is a looming issue.
There’s a delicacy to decay and time, which feels like a primordial reminder that we’re connected to something else
Ethical Consumption to avoid Wastage
In this context, Sanjay Garg, founder of Raw Mango in India who is known for his penchant for handwoven Indian fabrics talks about “ethical world consumption” as a means to end this problem of wastage. Known for his brand of contemporary Indian handwoven textiles, Sanjay says, “As a designer I am asking different questions altogether--do we really need so many clothes? Do we need so many designs?
Sanjay talks about a developing trend of organic or sustainable fashion. He says, “It's trendy to now work towards eco-fashion but this is not the solution. You can't look at it from a fashion perspective--look at it from a larger picture. Sustainability has become a joke today. This problem needs to be addressed from a bird's eye view with a realistic approach.”
It's trendy to now work towards eco-fashion but this is not the solution. You can't look at it from a fashion perspective--look at it from a larger picture
He adds, “ Frankly this is all about creating a luxury product. If you say that you are changing the elite consumption then it’s a different thing but if you say that it will change the fashion scenario of the entire world where everybody can afford eco-fashion, then it's an abstract idea. It can never see the light of the day.”
Sanjay also adds that we are looking at an ideal world that can never exist in reality. He says, “In a world where everyone earns almost equally, eco-fashion can become affordable for all. Till then, we are pleasing a certain section of elite and not doing any benefit to the society and we must admit it.”
As a matter of fact, Sanjay adds, “Take the case of Indigo dye--you need farms to produce those plants. But do we have enough lands for growing food in India, enough wheat or vegetables to feed everyone’s stomach. The idea of growing vegetable dye in this context isn’t realistic. It’s great that a designer is using decaying flowers that would otherwise end up in trash cans but what happens when she gets a bigger production order? Does she then promote those opulent weddings where food and flowers are wasted?”
Designer Sanjay Garg (left) with a bridal couture piece from his label (Photo: Raw Mango) (Others)
What started as a small venture is growing in momentum for Cara. The New York based designer is more pumped than before to bring a change, however miniscule in nature. She intends to make a statement by “starting a dialogue about sustainable consumption”. She says, “I am aware that this is an oxymoron but I believe in the power of story, and believe that when you own a garment imbued with intention, you’re not likely to throw it away.”
“I don’t want you to buy copious amounts of my pieces, I want you to buy one, or a few that you feel like you can have forever. The pieces will morph and change over time, just like you, which is the inherent beauty of the natural dye craft, the impermanence and variation makes them beautiful”, she adds.
The pieces will morph and change over time, just like you, which is the inherent beauty of the natural dye craft, the impermanence and variation makes them beautiful
Cara is happy that more number of designers are innovating. She adds, “More and more designers here (New York) are embracing sustainable practices in their work. I feel blessed to have grown up here, and to have found a network of designers that are all thinking and working within these parameters. There of course is still fast fashion but more of us are embracing the small, ethical and local.”
Eco-fashion is no more an alien concept. Fashion designers and individual contributors from around the world are aiming to shift people’s attention from machine-produced mass goods to aesthetically-sound hand spun clothes that have lesser carbon footprint.
Sanjay with his brand has been striving to achieve this. He says, “I want to change the meaning of luxury fashion in India but not make eco-fashion a trending word. I want people to understand the story behind it. Handloom should be so beautifully made that machine cannot make it. That's when we can achieve the target of making luxury synonymous with handloom. If handloom cannot do it, we should not go ahead with this.”
A weaver at work (Photo: Raw Mango) (Others)
Sustainable Fashion only for the Elite?
While Sanjay falls under the category of mainstream fashion designers who takes his clothes and style to different fashion weeks around the world, there is another hand weave connoisseur who offers a novel perspective on the issue. Sally Holkar, founder of Women Weave and The Handloom School talks about breaking stereotypes with handloom and doing what others are not.
Women Weave employs hundreds of women weavers who are not traditional weavers but have an understanding of the same. Sally trains these women to help make the art of weaving handloom a lucrative job opportunity for local people. She says, “I feel that handloom has to move way upmarket to survive. Handloom has to do things that aren't necessarily very ethnic looking or even recognisable as handloom. We need to do something that can only be done affordably, in short runs by hand--by people living in low cost areas of India.”
A handloom creation at work (Photo: Raw Mango) (Others)
Sanjay has a concern regarding this. He says, “Handloom cannot be made affordable to all. The cost of making handloom is such, that the end product still remains within reach of the elite class only. Even if we reduce the prices by bringing down several costs, it does not break from the class. All this if we are paying the weavers a fair wage.”
According to distinctive designers, sustainable eco-fashion still remains an elitist market but there is hope for a change. Sally adds, “There is something very positive about this generation. Many find us on our website, and those who approach us and want to work with us are eco-friendly aware, sustainability aware, truth-in-advertising aware. Today people are particularly interested in three things: natural dye fibers, natural dyes and women. This sentiment is shared by people across the globe.”
Cara, also is hopeful for the future but understands the interplay of demand and supply of fast fashion. She says, “The customer is still used to buying cheap and quick, it’s a slow moving conversation but more and more consumers are opening up to it.
Leaving an impact on the industry, Cara admits to her products being placed at a luxury price point. She along with other designers from the world who deal with handmade clothes know that they are “artisanal and take a very long time to produce thus making it unaffordable for a large section of the populace”.
The cost of making handloom is such, that the end product still remains within reach of the elite class only
Be the Change you want to See
Cara is positive about a bright future and says, “I don’t think there’s just one source of change but it feels as though there is a universal consciousness shift. With more number of people getting sick and suffering with anxiety, they are looking for healthy and non-toxic alternatives to their lifestyles. It’s a global reaction to our polluted world.”
Sanjay however feels that we are late to realise this. When I ask him about fashion designing schools in India introducing a mandatory paper on eco-fashion, Sanjay responds, “Everything in life should be eco-aware, I am sorry if they opened their eyes so late. I don't know why it is still new to us. It should be a part of our lives. It’s too late to be implementing this. How do I treat waste on an everyday basis? What did I do with my old car? It’s about how you deal with your life...what are you doing with filled notebooks that you studied in school life, paper that you have used. Fashion is a very narrow subject to look at.”
Sanjay presses for an ideology of minimalism. He advises all to use fewer resources to sustain themselves. “Surviving on less, taking the least possible space to live”.
Cara Marie also believes in giving back to nature what we take from it. She says, “We owe everything to nature--everything. We own essentially nothing. I fully subscribe to the theory that we’re all a part of a cycle; what you take, you must give back. For example, while harvesting herbs you must give the ground a present! A poem, some of your hair, a compliment, thanks. It’s all about replacing what you took to keep the cycle going. That’s another reason for why I teach, it’s selfish really--the gifts I receive back when sharing what I’ve learnt are ten fold.”
Designer wear by Cara Marie Piazza (Photo: Cara Marie Piazza) (Others)
She narrates an interesting tale of a customer interaction: “A lovely woman from Michigan once told me that her daughter thought I was a superhero. Her daughter suffers from eczema, and didn’t know you could dye your clothes with Calendula. The whole exchange was so moving, and humbling. I’m definitely not a superhero, but it broke my heart that there aren’t more options out there.
She adds, “Everything in life is of a piece to me, we’re all completely interconnected. Everything has it’s own lifecycle and ecosystem and to run harmoniously I believe you have to look at the whole picture. I think we’ve forgotten that with our clothing, with our color. This knowledge isn’t something new, there was a time where humans lived more harmoniously with nature, and I’m hopeful there’s a shift towards this lifestyle again.”
Cara feels that the fashion industry worldwide is suffering because it is highly unregulated. There are no checks and balances. She says, “It’s actually extremely hard to monitor the amount of pollution and waste it produces on a global scale.”
However, she now wants to start a movement where she teaches her technique to clients who maybe can't afford her clothes but would want to learn the art. She says, “This knowledge doesn’t have an owner, my hand is different from the next person’s, so I try to help in empowering people to try naturally dyeing for themselves.”
Cara does not know how to separate work from personal life but you can find her enjoying dinner with loved ones, cosying with a book, seeing a show and catching up on her sleep when she’s not staining her hands with flowers.