With slow fashion trying to change the dynamics of the fashion business, our designer Neha Kabra from our sustainable brand Maati by Neha Kabra, speaks about the contradictions the trailblazers of the ‘slow’ industry are recurrently met with in the face of the insatiable demands of fast production and consumption.
What does a fashion revolution mean to you, and how does that play a role in the way the brand keeps evolving?
A fashion revolution is where we address the real problems, the core matters, and not just use it as a fad word or keep it as a trend. It’s where we talk about the raw material problem and the landfill problem, and how to tackle it.
What are some of the problems that you’ve seen come up in these everyday processes of sustainability?
Each process has its own problems. And when we talk about slow fashion, when we talk about sustainable brands,churning four or five collections, a year is practically not possible. I mean, there’s nothing slow about it. And in fashion, I think each process, say even if the fabrics are produced, the weavers I work with, it takes nearly two months to produce 50 meters of fabric.
One loom only produces around 12 meters of fabric in one go. And that takes nearly a good one month. So there are multiple looms working to do that and if the fabric only takes two months to come and then the actual production takes place. So it has its own timeline and the constant need in fashion to have something “new” constantly has unfortunately become a cultural practice. That we see something and we want it and to produce that design immediately is something beyond my imagination as production takes such a long time. And to bring that change I think is more of a challenge at the moment. Yes, people are aware about sustainability, people are aware about the story and where it’s coming from, but still, constantly wanting something new is a very, very big challenge.
Do you feel that that’s a change that might be coming soon? Or do you feel that it’s gonna be a really slow shift where we’re actually able to become accustomed to or understand that we need to consume more mindfully? That it’s not just that production needs to be slower, but the rate of consumption needs to be slower.
I don’t want to sound pessimistic but sometimes pessimism is what supports us to reaching toward that goal. But I do feel it’s far away for everybody right now. By the end of it, everybody looks for business. For everybody, it’s easier to produce at a larger scale money wise. They say it’s easier to produce 50 pieces in one design than producing one of 50 new designs. And the constant need of needing new, new, new – how do you let that go completely? The culture we are living in is a very fast culture. So it’s not only fast fashion, but fast lives we are living in. With the social media impact, I’m not saying it’s all bad, always, but by now in our culture, there’s so many other brands which are even expediting fast fashion. Even if you want to reverse the phenomena, there are a lot of brands on the opposite side. So while we are actually running into the direction of slow fashion, there is also a lot of expedited fast fashion. I don’t see it happening, fast, but I’m hoping that the change will come because this is exactly like when I started – people were not aware about what sustainable fashion is. Especially in India, I think four or five years down before the word was just becoming a trend. But now I think most people, after having been affected by Covid – 19 are much, much more aware about it. People have become wiser on their spending. They’re not just buying for the sake of it. So I think change will come. It’s taking its own sweet time, but it will come, it has to.
When you’re exploring new fabrics or materials, what kind of input do you get from the artisans? Do they often already know about it or are they also exploring them with you?
It’s both. So when there was a fabric like bamboo, there was still awareness that the fabric is being made. We get the samples, we all touch, feel, see what works for us, what doesn’t work for us. But in bamboo there are so many weaves that are coming in. And when we get those and when we all sit together that’s what amazes them and where we all explore together.
They sometimes really can’t believe that our world has so much technology that is a boon. That’s what strikes them. They feel that this is going to be for the better. And at the same time, it’s slightly worrisome for them too because they are concerned that if people will shift to different styles given the state of fast fashion. There are pros and cons of both. But you have to constantly tell them that “no, (y)our practice is completely different”. You still have to make them [artisans] believe that what you are doing is absolutely fine because they’re growing everything organically. For example, kala cotton is a wild cotton grown naturally without any pesticides and insecticides. So you have to constantly assure them that what you are doing, your process is good and it’s not going to go anywhere. But of course, they (and all of us) do have to accept some of the changes we see coming in fashion – whether for better or worse.