As a movement committed to the balancing and re-designing of our ways of living, sustainability has come to bear marked significance in contemporary commercial ventures. From innovating with new materials to working through old goods and waste, sustainability and sustainable development objectives are transforming business practices across different industries. But prerequisite to each advancement in this sector are many untold challenges which underpin their inception and engineering. To understand the challenges that can encompass the establishment and operations of sustainable businesses, we had a conversation with Kriti Tula, Creative Director and Co-Owner of the ethical fashion label Doodlage. Speaking about her brand, she discusses with us the ways in which the state of the industry propelled her work, the degree of ad-lib changes and responsibilities in the field, the key(s) to ushering success in a sustainable business, and the value of observing the linear and fast fashion space to identify complexities and reconstruct the course of the fashion practices.
1. Could you tell us of your background and your relationship with fashion and design in your early years?
I am a trained apparel designer from Pearl Academy and studied Design Management at the London College of Fashion. Very early on in my career I got more inclined towards alternate material and upcycling. My first internship was in a large export house and it was appalling to see heaps of fabric waste, rejections, fast moving garment production – there was no appreciation for the art of making clothes. I wasn’t sure if this is the kind of industry I want to be a part of. So I spent my time researching more about sustainable fashion and the need for it after I graduated.
2. How did you come to start Doodlage?
There were limited options in sustainable fashion in India during the time we started Doodlage. Most sustainable brands were working to convert trash like juice cartons into wallets or brands like Anokhi or FabIndia working with natural fabrics, Indian-wear silhouettes and supporting numerous artisan clusters at scale. But none of them catered to the millenials and their changing style statement as they travelled more, who were born with access to computers and fluidly adapted social media. It was around this time that Doodlage was created and started looking at alternatives like upcycling large quantities of fabric wasted in factories into short desirable collections. Our aim was to start conversation around the need for sustainable fashion and explore alternatives to fast fashion.
3. What does sustainability mean for you?
Looking at things holistically keeping the end of its life in sight and how you can prolong the life span of what you make or buy.
4. What were the kind of challenges you experienced when setting up the business?
I had no idea where to start and since I started the brand quite early in my career I had limited vision of its potential. There was also no brand with a similar vision that we wanted to follow in the footsteps of. From figuring out our own raw material to training the artisans to upcycle and not waste resources were challenges unique to what we were doing. Other more common challenges were finding the right places to sell, managing funds etc.
5. Doodlage is one of the widely known brands in India to create recycled fashion and clothing. Could you share with us why it was/ has been of significance to you to establish this concept in the Indian market?
It resonates with who I am as a person and as I matured as a designer it became more clear that either I would work with a sustainable and ethical brand or create one.
6. Could you tell us a little bit about your design and creation process? Where do the materials come from, and how are they designed to create the unique pieces you make?
We work our design process backwards. It starts with first collecting raw material and then creating designs around it. Each material and every lot comes with its own defects and have to be checked and handled at every level. We collect wastages in larger lots from bigger factories to be able to replicate styles but each piece might have details that vary.
7. What has your experience with marketing for an ethical business been like? Have there been any specific aspects of sustainability or messaging you have needed to focus on more to encourage people to buy sustainable wear?
We were not so aggressively communicating what we did when we started. The market was young and we were still working to build awareness for the need for sustainable fashion. A lot has changed since, people are a lot more – not enough, but a lot more aware than they were six years ago. We promote three key areas of our work – made from factory waste – mainly our upcycled collections; made from consumer waste – recycled garments; made to be zero waste – everything made from our waste. We focus on building conversation around working with material that is already created and the importance of creating better paying employment.
8. Did you face any challenges when putting together your messaging and communicating it to an existing audience or while building your audience. If so, how did you navigate them?
Not so much. Our communication has mostly been received well by both old and new audiences. There are always some people who would come back to question what we do and why our products are expensive or is it sustainable to create etc. The best way is to communicate to the best of our capacity. We don’t claim to know it all, and most brands are just working hard to learn themselves and provide solutions through their products while creating better employment.
9. Is it costly to produce recycled designs over fresh pieces? If so, have you seen if that plays a role in the kind of production choices businesses tend to make?
Recycling and upcycling are labour intensive processes and when you work with fair wage vendors to create these pieces and fabrics, it all adds to the cost of production.
10. Do you think there is a certain (social) stigma in the Indian fashion industry to work with recycled waste, materials and fabric?
Certain segments of the society still look down upon hand-me-downs, repairing, recycling. But many millennials and generations after are quite open to the idea of doing what they can to support a more sustainable lifestyle.
11. There is often some skepticism in people’s minds toward sustainable fashion brands. In your experience, what are the things consumers are typically liable to feel wary about with sustainable and ethical fashion? And, what do you think conscious businesses can do to change this?
In my mind this skepticism is usually around green washing and sustainable brands being unaffordable. In both cases the only thing has worked for us is communication.
12. What have been some of the greatest challenges for Doodlage as a slow business since the Covid 19 pandemic?
Things have gotten slower, operations are more difficult, logistical delays, fashion is not a priority product so people end up spending less and several other challenges. We have spent this time testing many new things including trials for brand collaborations.
13. Despite the challenges that come with running an ethical business, what are some of the most rewarding and inspiring moments of being in this line of work for you?
Working with social enterprises to create happier places for artisans to work and knowing that you have been able to inspire more brands to work on sustainable fashion has inspired us to keep working.
14. Is there any word of guidance you would like to give to emerging sustainable brands and entrepreneurs?
Research more, don’t start a label too early, spend enough time working with the linear fashion and lifestyle industry to know more about the problem or circular fashion brands to understand better the solutions before you start.