The Importance of Sustainable Fashion

By Dr K S Murthy, Pidilite Industries Ltd

India is the second largest cotton producer, consumer and exporter in the world. Textiles contribute to about 14% GDP and 14.4% to fabric exports. The fine and longest staple cotton Suvin Ratna (Cotton Association of India), Jewel of Cotton and Hemp or industrial hemp (BOHECO) are gaining importance besides standards, compliance, certification and sustainability. In view of this SDC EC in association with B D Somani Institute organised this seminar.

Giorgio Armani said “the difference between style and fashion is quality.” Speaking on “Trends Forecasting” Mrs Meher Castelino presented on fashion forecasting and how it is achieved. India is different from the rest of the world due to variations from one region to another. Fashion forecasting is important for people who want to follow what is going to be in fashion as well as for designers. The reasons and uses depend on:

  1. The season’s guide fashion forecast.
  2. Social aspects like the society of a region or country which influence the types of clothes worn.
  3. Whether the country is rich or poor and accordingly the type of fashion that generates.
  4. Cultural evolution: How fashion has evolved over the decades.
  5. The political, social and cultural environment of a country.
  6. Colours: One cannot have fashion forecasting without different colours for different seasons.
  7. Export forecasting: Export designing has to follow the export forecast of the rest of the world which is six months ahead of the current season.
  8. Local forecasting: Local designers show for the current season eg Lakme Fashion Week in February for summer resort clothing and in August for winter.
  9. Customer profile: Drives the fashion forecast in different countries depending on the social and financial profile of the customers.
  10. Fashion forecasting is aims to ensure the right outfit, for the right occasion and at the right time.

Mrs Aparna Chawathe, Associate – Cotton Association of India spoke on “Cotton Promotion Programme Suvin Ratna”. CAI plays a lead role in the promotion of generic cotton and the launch of Suvin (superfine extra long staple cotton) and its advantages with regard to the environment. She said about 59 farmers are involved in cotton farming, 45 in cotton cultivation, trade and processing in Pollachi. Cotton acres range from 150 lakh hectares to 121 lakh hectares. Cotton is a natural fibre and one of the largest cash crops but it is losing its market share to manmade fibres. CAI is playing a lead role in ensuring the supremacy of this crop by increasing consumption at the end user level.

  • Key strategies: Niche segmentation: Suvin cotton is created by the ingenuity of Indian scientists by combining the Sujata cotton variety from India with the Cin cotton variety and hence the name. It is the best cotton available in the world and restricted to a few thousand bales in Tamil Nadu and used by the best textile mills in Japan. The other finest cottons are Egyptian or American ELS cotton. The farmers are disinclined to grow Suvin because the effort that it takes to grow is disproportionate to the demand. CAI has created a brand called Suvin Ratna. Currently Suvin is an exclusive premium shirting material (2/200 count yarn) available with a certificate of authenticity. The shades are blue and grey.
  • Awareness: Since wearers tend not to pay attention to the fibre, they have started a cotton education strategy to influence decision makers like students, school children, home makers and young fashion designers about the benefits of cotton over other fibres. They have a school contact programme ‘Cottonology’ to communicate the benefits of cotton in an entertaining manner. They take a pledge that ‘cotton is comfort with no compromise’ and ‘cotton for life’. A film was showcased depicting the character of King Cotton. Projects featuring the history, geography, science of cotton and cultivation are illustrated with the objective of establishing the importance of cotton.
  • Identity and Image: They have created a cotton promotion identity “choose cotton for life” and a Certification Mark like the wool mark registering 100% cotton. This mark will be on the bales exported to designate the brand of Indian cotton.

Mr Chirag Tekchandaney and Mr Yash P Kotak, Bombay Hemp Company Private Ltd (Boheco) jointly spoke on “HEMP – A sustainable clothing solution.” Seven youngsters out of college started this enterprise in 2013 and grew to 16 with the aim of making a difference to people’s lives. Boheco is India’s premier Industrial Hemp and Medicinal Cannabis lab – farm – market company with an aim to revive Indian agriculture. It works with Union and State governments to assist farmers to improve their socio-economic standards by utilising the cultivation of cannabis for industrial, construction, and pharmaceutical purposes. There are three other hemp companies in India and they work with them.

60% of the workforce is employed in agriculture but their contribution to the economy is just 13-14% of GDP. To enhance that they have chosen cannabis used for hemp fibre/fabrics – a sustainable solution. As a fabric, hemp provides the warmth and softness of a natural textile but with superior durability and it is versatile and can be used for various products such as apparel, accessories, shoes, furniture and home furnishings. A Boheco crisp white shirt is a premium high fashion shirt sold at Rs.2500 and is unique for both men and women. It is hand produced by local artisans.

Industrial hemp has only 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (carcinogenic) and can be used to make nearly 25,000 products including textiles, oil, milk, paper, biodegradable plastics, flour, protein powder, bio-fuel and construction material. If the farmer takes 6-9 months to grow cotton, he can grow three times the amount of hemp in the same period. It grows 12ft tall in 90-120 days with less water consumption, and is environmentally friendly (it takes a lot more carbon dioxide), prevents soil erosion and has a larger yield when compared to cotton. People in the hilly and mountainous region of the state of Uttharakhand were making rope for their cattle. But with the evolution of design and technology the fibre is now used to make fabric. It is handcrafted by women artisans. A Boheco hemp shirt was provided to Parliamentarians for trial. Everything is natural but they haven’t yet got certification for organic.

Mr Sumit Gupta, GOTS Representative, India and Bangladesh spoke on “Global trends in sustainability and compliance.” According to Rachel Carson, the renowned environmentalist, man is a part of nature and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself. His key points included:

  • Conflict: Between Eco and Ego.
  • Sustainability: Meets environmental, social and economic.
  • Compliance in textiles: amongst the issues to consider:
  • Social: including issues relating to child and bonded labour; seeds at hybrid and GM companies; environmental – PCB, GOTS.
  • Testing for harmful substances (RSL, GOTS – SVHCs-169, Oekotex); Legal (REACH, EU-Rafex, Korea-2023 deadline; CPSIA).
  • EU Eco labels; Global Organic Textile Standard – minimum 70% of fibre material must be certified organic (organic content standard) and traceable;
  • Global Recycled Standard – minimum 20% recycled content.
  • Testing for Restricted Substances; RSL. Brands like C&A have their own RSL and materials tested according to their standards.
  • Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals – ZDHC: Brands come together like AAFA with RSL, MRSL and wastewater guidelines; possible health risks for prohibited chemicals. Compliance would result in supplying to different brands. Aiming for the complete elimination of hazardous chemicals from textile supply chain by 2020.
  • The human body is susceptible to hazardous chemicals like aromatic solvents, Nonylphenol, APEO, Reprotoxic chemicals at ppm (10-6); ppb (10-9).

In terms of the consumer:

  • A high profile detox campaign run by Greenpeace took place in 2011.
  • Labelling and better choices: 80% of people in Germany, England, France, Norway and Sweden look at the labelling to make a more informed choice.
  • Trust on information: Over 60% say that they trust the labelling of products according to a recent survey carried out by Nielsen, 69% of respondents are willing to pay more for natural and organic products; 53% are willing to pay more for a product which has a community commitment.

The way forward: Though labelling and certification are part of business one has to understand the sensibilities of the consumers and the region where the business is done. An investment in social and environmental causes leads to financial benefits.

The solution: Take a holistic view of sustainability as a whole ie the product and process.

Proposing a vote of thanks, Mrs Raju Bhatia thanked the speakers for sharing their expertise, and said B D Somani Institute would take the information forward and hoped the outcome would be reflected in the forthcoming Silhouettes Fashion Show.

For details of forthcoming SDC events, please visit the website.

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