ARCH College of Design and Business is proud to present the #FashionColloquiaOnline series as part of #FashionFriday as we build up to the global event of Fashion Colloquia 2020.
This year, the theme of the event is ‘Heritage… Stories of Change… Our Shared Future.’ On this edition of #FashionFriday, our founder and director, Archana Surana, had a conversation on sustainability in the fashion industry with fashion activist and influencer, Aditi Mayer. Based in Los Angeles, Aditi is a photojournalist who highlights themes of sustainability and social politics through her work. Passionate and articulate, Aditi offers nuanced views on the various facets of sustainability in the fashion industry in her conversation with Ms. Surana. Watch the full video here.
Archana: Sustainability has become quite a buzz word. But what does sustainability mean to you?
Aditi: Sustainability for me is not just a consumer act or buying a product. It is how we see our relationship to the earth, its resources and labor. When it comes to thinking about sustainability today, it is important to make a differentiation. It’s not just about sustaining systems as they have existed thus far. Sustainability is going one step forward and thinking about how to make the entire process better and adopt better practices. Before we talk about sustainability as a product or act, we must really see it as a lifestyle or mindset that demands a whole shift in our culture.
Archana: Speaking of the Indian fashion scene and considering how dynamic it is and how it’s always changing, have you been able to keep track of it?
Aditi: The Indian fashion industry is pretty interesting because I like to talk about the impact that British colonization has on the Indian fashion culture in general. I think the British Raj really created the foundations of the Fast Fashion that we have today.
When we think about Indian culture, we have our local tailors, artisans, and textiles that are localized to certain regions. But with the British Raj, we first saw the first instances of factories built for mass production that exploited cheap labor at a large scale. A major part of the resistance against the British Raj was rooted in indigenous fabric production.
When I talk about India, it is important to touch upon how it was shaped by colonialism. We really lost the idea of creating our own goods. So now when we talk about the contemporary world with a deregulated neo-liberal economy, we have this idea for a global race to the bottom. Global brands are looking for places around the world where they can produce goods as cheaply as possible and that is important to talk about. The way fashion industries are set up today is not a coincidence. They’re still piggybacking off these legacy systems that were created years ago.
Archana: The world is talking about circular fashion, circular economy, circular design. Do you have a perspective on some truly circular ideas that have come out that can be an impression on young designers?
Aditi: I always like to say that we need to return to our ancestral heritage. When we talk about our communities, we have always been very sustainable historically, zero waste in our practices.
At the raw material level, we need to look at the impact that these materials are having on the Earth, so I think we’re seeing a very intentional return to natural fibers, fabrics, and clothing. For example, polyester is cheap but the impact it is having on a microplastic level makes it unsustainable. That is just one part of it.
Another part of it involves our relationship with labor. Think about it, you already have established communities that do great with local fabrics and textiles. We need to revitalize these artists and craftsmanship that has always been a part of our history but have been systematically undermined by the fast fashion industry because people want things to be as cheap as possible.
Lastly, we need to think of waste as a resource. All over the world, especially in India, a lot of textiles are wasted, and we need to start thinking of waste as a product of flawed design processes for a more sustainable future in fashion.
Archana: Being a young woman, when you look at women in Indian Fashion Business, what’s your view on it?
Aditi: Something that I have realized in my experience documenting a lot of garment workers all over the world is that there are so many similar patterns. In fashion, you see a lot of interactions between communities that have been marginalized and I think a large part of that is because of the fashion industry, as it exists now, has unrealized exploitation.
The fashion industry is so broken that it normalizes exploitation. The communities that are already marginalized are influenced by these trends even further and left vulnerable to the industry.
A lot of my recent work in LA has been more on the labor organization front, about educating the workers about their rights, educating them about how they should stand up against corporate power because, at the end of the day, garment workers lack the agency and knowledge to do so. We’re doing something wrong as an industry because that’s the heart of the solution – the garment workers.
We need to find a way to empower them and it’s a challenge because there’s no one-size-fits-all solution here. No matter who you are, you are entitled to dignity at the workplace and that is something we all need to demand together from corporate powers that profit off it.
Archana: How can we bring the right brand image to the fashion industry?
Aditi: Great question! The fashion industry has such a negative connotation because it has been so exploitative on multiple levels. I think we really need to start seeing fashion for how cool it is! It’s not like fashion is frivolous, it is an industry that has a huge impact on the world and the environment. I think the fashion industry has to go through a major metamorphosis. We know that and it’s happening. To enter the fashion industry today is to become a part of this global conversation that’s happening, no matter where you are. We all need to think about how to create a system that doesn’t come at the expense of our local communities and resources.
Join us at the Fashion Colloquia 2020!
If you found this conversation intriguing and informative, we would love to have you join us at the Fashion Colloquia 2020, an international research colloquium, which will be held in Jaipur from 26th to 30th January 2020.
Hosted over a period of 5 days, Fashion Colloquia 2020 will play host to a range of stimulating talks, events, installations, research and guest speakers who are redefining what fashion means today. Don’t miss your chance to experience this global spectacle and keep watching this space for more thoughts about everything fashion and stay tuned for the next #FashionFriday!