FDCI x Lakme Fashion Week: Indian designers shine a light on recycled fabrics and their environmental impact

The Circular Design Challenge gave six designers a chance to strut their sustainable stuff

The FDCI x Lakme Fashion Week in India, an online-only event that concluded on Sunday, dedicated an entire day to sustainable fashion, giving conscientious brands and designers an opportunity to present their eco-friendly and tech-forward collections to a wider audience. Part of this day was the Circular Design Challenge, presented by R-Elan in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme.

The proposals of six designers, shortlisted from a total of 80, were chosen based on criteria such as the environmental and social impact of their creations rooted in principles of circularity.

Tarpaulin and flex at Bandit

The winning label, Bandit by Satyajit Vetoskar, was awarded 20 lakh rupees (the equivalent of $27,600) for its use of discarded tarpaulin and flex from billboards to make functional, durable and stylish raincoats, backpacks, fanny packs and totes. Next on the designer's agenda is to upcycle car seat belts as shoulder straps for handbags.

The other five finalists, too, displayed astounding creativity.

Vintage fabrics at Grandma Would Approve

Priyanka Muniyappa's intriguingly named Grandma Would Approve is a label that seeks out garments such as saris that are more than 30 years old, and has collected a stock of vintage fabrics ranging from corduroy, silk and jersey to linen, georgette, denim and polyester.

My mission is to create pieces that educate and delight people through intelligent design, while bringing to light the diversity of Indian textiles

These the designer treated using the "reconstruction through deconstruction" technique, by combining the material of 10 to 15 garments, hand-cutting them into puzzle pieces of 50 to 100 panels, and patching them up to create luxurious cut-out coats, tunics, pants and caps.

"Keeping the unadulterated spirit of [thrifty] grandma in mind, I incorporated upcycling, reconstruction and restoration into the design process. This allows us to increase a garment’s life cycle and keep it away from contaminating landfill and water bodies,” says Muniyappa.

Denim waste at Nece Gene

Neha Celly, founder of Nece Gene, collaborated with Gujurat-based Arvind textile mills to use the waste generated from denim to create garments such as ruffled minis, dresses with exaggerated sleeves and pin tuck detailing, and cropped tops, plus clutches for her concept, titled Terrains. She showcased the physical features of swamps, hills, wetlands and estuaries in her designs, and even used the small scraps and leftover fabric as pulp to make tree-free paper and books.

Nece Gene. Courtesy India Fashion Week

"People’s buying choices, their zero tolerance towards recycling and rectifying old garments needs to be addressed. With fast-fashion collections coming out [often], India needs a voice that shouts about the urgency in making things circular," says Celly.

Plastic tote-scarves

Her peer in the Circular Design Challenge, Anitha Shankar, turned to single-use plastics to create colourful tote-scarves made from 100 per cent recycled PET yarn, with each scarf using 2.2 PET bottles. The unisex scarf can be tied around the neck or affixed to a chain to transform into a sturdy bag.

Scraps at Latasita

Former journalist and self-taught designer Meghna Nayak, meanwhile, presented a collection called Fed with Waste constructing swirling skirts, fluid jackets, sheer robes, rompers, hoodies and summer dresses with old, heirloom, unused, discarded, post-consumer or otherwise wasted material.

Zero waste pattern cutting involved using every last scrap, which was also reversible and size-friendly. The remaining waste was given to local artisans to create sanitary pads, stuffed toys, pillows and mattresses.

"My mission is to popularise this closed loop, zero waste production process, providing a genuine alternative to fast fashion by creating pieces that educate and delight people through intelligent design, while bringing to light the diversity of Indian textiles," says Nayak, whose label is called LataSita.

Textile waste at Paiwand

Finally, Ashita Singhal, founder of Paiwand, collaborated with design houses to convert their textile waste into recycled fabrics using handloom weaving. Cotton, silk, organza and even leather were upcycled and rewoven to produce stylishly embroidered dresses, kurtas, pants, bomber jackets, maxi skirts and knee-length coats.