The cut-throat competition and widespread capitalism in the fashion industry are not unheard of. Several fast-fashion brands such as H & M and Zara come under fire for their exploitative production policies. Such huge retailers are known to rely on underpaid labourers who are often outsourced from overseas. With every passing minute, millions of clothes are manufactured, worn, and thrown away without a second thought about its environmental impact. In a recent interview, the hugely popular USA online shopping destination FashionNova’s CEO was found saying that their company launches close to 600 to 900 new styles every week. These companies exploit the ever-increasing consumerism that underline modern fashion.
It is refreshing, however, to learn about some Indie designers who are going truly out of their way to explore the true potential of fashion as not merely a business but rather, an art, a medium of self-expression, or a lifestyle. The ethical and sustainable work undertaken by these indigenous designers is commendable, especially considering how they would have to compete with huge commercial fast fashion brands.
Here’s a list of 10 indie-designers who have refused to get caught up in the vicious cycle of fashion capitalism and are taking ethical fashion to new heights:
1. Kriti Tula, Doodlage-
Kriti Tula, founded Doodlage in 2012 on the principle of upcycling fabric waste, making each new piece of clothing not only more sustainable but also more cherished. Doodlage is an Indian clothing label that revamps factory waste from large manufacturing units across the country into collections of limited edition stylish clothes. From edgy patchwork jackets to exquisite dresses, they transform the fabrics that were initially meant to be thrown away into meaningful, easy-to-wear clothing that would be cherished by their wearers.
2. Sajal Jain, InSom-
InSom is an indie clothing brand established only in recent years by Sajal Jain. Jain has been a major enthusiast of sustainable and ethical fashion as she completed her education in the same arena. InSom focuses on upcycling, reusing, and recycling organic fabrics. They have a zero-waste production model to ensure fair trade as all the organic fabric which is discarded, defective, surplus, and leftover is utilized creatively. They convert all leftovers from large-scale organic fabric manufacturing units in India into extraordinary pieces of art, ranging from funky patched tops to super stylish Co-Ords and cosy dresses. They are a label that only provides handmade, ethically made pieces and engages in fair trade.
3. Prateek Kayan, Brown boy
It is not easy to find an industry outsider with a cushy life abroad to leave behind all the glitz and glamour and commit themselves to a social enterprise. However, that’s exactly what 28-year-old Prateek Kayan ventured to do when he left behind his comfortable banking job in New York to make a mark in the ethical fashion industry. He founded Brown Boy in 2014 with an aim to redefine fashion sustainably. Brown Boy is an Indian brand that is not only vegan but is organic and based on fair trade. With its diverse range of garments from hand-printed sweatshirts, vests, t-shirts to yoga pants, (which are made from completely ethical practices, by the way) it is one of the first fashion brands in India to be approved by PETA.
4. Kalyani Shahi, Chakori Ethnic
If you are someone who finds themselves strolling through local markets bustling with tons of handcrafted, ethnic clothes, you would be amazed by the offerings of Chakori Ethnic. It is a sustainable brand that has grown immensely to several loyal consumers and a follower base of 290k followers on Instagram, despite being founded less than five years back. Founder Kalyani Shah started the label with the inspiration to make hand loom sarees accessible to the masses. Currently, the indigenous brand works to put forth different traditional prints and crafts of rural India to the market. It is an ethical endeavour to celebrate the art of rural artisans and craftsmen such as those creating linen, Banarasi, Kota Daria, and in a variety of ethnic prints like Hand block, Shibori, Kalamkari, Dabu, etc.
5. Apurva Kothari, No Nasties
While it is common for brands to resort to greenwashing consumers after the increased consumer awareness and ethical conscience regarding the fashion industry, it is rare to find a brand that legitimately backs up their claims to certifications, real-time data and research. Founded in 2011 by Apurva Kothari “to live a more purpose-driven life”, No Nasties is an indie-brand that is 100% sustainable, organic, and fair-trade based. Their website leaves no questions unanswered as they delineate the process involved in manufacturing, their materials, and material sources while also backing their claims with actual data. They offer designs that are uniquely minimal and size-inclusive. They even describe how their products positively impact the workers, consumers, and the environment. Above all, they plant a tree for every sale.
6. Uma Prajapati, Upsana
In 1997, Uma Prajapati, a fashion designer, and an environmental activist, founded Upsana in Auroville, Pondicherry. The list of ethical clothing labels cannot be complete without mentioning Upsana as they not only thrive in ethical, conscious, and sustainable fashion but also make use of design to solve various environmental and social issues. Prajapati has been actively undertaking various projects such as Tsunamika, small steps, Paruthi, among others to deal with farmer suicides, unemployment, and littering. They work closely with localized communities to create their artistic clothing. From exclusive collections including healing Ayurvedic textiles, organic dyes to traditional handcrafted clothing- one can find both easy-to-wear dresses to luxurious runway fashion.
7. Sohaya Misra, Chola The Label
Another sustainable luxury apparel brand, Chola The Label reflects the vision of its founder Sohaya Misra who believes in “less is more”. They approach high fashion with their offerings of comfortable, layered, and edgy silhouettes. Their deconstructed simplistic designs are a way of marrying culture to expressive designs. What’s even cooler about them is all their apparel is made of recycled fabrics created from post-consumer waste. Making use of free-cutting methods, ensuring minimal wastage.
8. Karishma Shahani-Khan, Ka-Sha
Ka-Sha is a highly revered small indie-fashion label founded in 2012 by London College of Fashion graduate Karishma Shahani-Khan. They celebrate our diverse traditions of handicrafts and indegenous artistry through the medium of clothing. Their fashion items are not only inspired by sustainable and ethical fashion practices but also cherish people, stories, journeys, and perspectives. All of their apparel is made from natural fabrics and are hand-dyed, and they make sure that every piece of theirs embraces sustainability at every level. Each of their visually aesthetic pieces has a story behind them and uses techniques of upcycling and recycling from designing to distribution. Moreover, with their ‘Heart to Haat’ initiative, they make sure that the makers and all the co-creators of their products have optimal working conditions.
9. Shivangi Bajpai, MixMitti
Shivangi Bajpai initiated MixMitti with the ambition to create an ethical brand that connects social awareness and artisanal craftsmanship. Her passion for wildlife photography and textile design is reflected in the values of MixMitti. They are a utility accessories brand that offers a range of handcrafted and cruelty-free bags and notebooks. They fabricate statement fashion items complementing diverse style quotients. What makes them more noteworthy in this ethical fashion list is their initiative to donate a part of their profits towards the preservation of wildlife and natural habitats.
10. Pallavi Behl, Mio Borsa
Mio Borsa means ‘My Bag’ and staying true to its meaning, the brand renders a versatile range of sustainable and ethical bags. Founded by Pallavi Behl, they are not only the first Indian brand to make use of vegan leather, but their products are an amalgamation of sustainable fashion and functionality. They are PFA identified and offer stylish chic bags in subtle pastel shades made from plant PU and pineapple stem extract called ‘pinnatex.’
These indie brands have truly left their indentation in the canvass of ethical fashion. While we were only able to accommodate 10 indie designers/clothing brands in this list, there are various other artists who are achieving great leaps in sustainable fashion. We can only hope that upcoming designers would be inspired by these evolving indie designers to shift towards ethical fashion. However, no major leaps can be taken without those who are consuming fashion. With the advent of social media and vast information trajectories, especially about the harrowing effects of fast fashion on the environment and indigenous landscapes, we as consumers also need to understand our responsibility towards the environment and refrain from fast fashion choices, as much as possible. Remember to support indie designers and switch to sustainable purchasing habits!