Designer Amit Agarwal is obsessed with bindis. If they are the reason for his happiness at his rented home in Delhi, they evoke concern at work. “I don't live with my mother, but she visits me often. She always leaves behind her memory in the form of stick-on bindis on mirrors, which makes me feel at home,” says Agarwal. “My work requires me to frequently visit industrial areas that are strewn with leftover bindi-making vinyl sheets. Every time I see the waste, I think of the environmental damage it causes and get worried.”
So, for his autumn-winter, pret-a-porter collection at the Amazon India Fashion Week in Delhi, Agarwal created a bindi-inspired 'upcycled' clothing range. Crafted and adorned using industrial waste, the line offered a variety of dresses, skirts, jackets and tops. For instance, surplus bindi-making vinyl sheets, which have adhesive on one side, were pasted on chanderi, cotton and silk to create patterns. Dresses were decorated using plastic flowers and used stockings. Skirts and jackets were adorned with plastic straws.
If you thought that recycling and upcycling are synonyms, you are wrong. Recycling entails breaking down an object to create another one, while upcycling turns waste into products of higher value. A recycled product can be used only a limited number of times. Upcycling, on the other hand, addresses the issue of uselessness of a product. An old jacket can be upcycled by tastefully and cleverly using patchworks or by adding decorative buttons. Upcycling supporters term the process “closing the loop” and consider recycling as the last resort.
Upcycling is not new to Indian households. For ages, women have been upcycling old saris using patchworks and kantha techniques. But it was never considered fashionable. Call it the maturing of Indian designers, a collective endeavour to create a business segment, or an attempt to ape a global trend, an increasing number of Indian designers are now waking up to the concept of upcycling. They are incorporating it in their collections or providing upcycling services to their clients.
“Upcycling is in vogue globally,” says David Abraham of designer duo Abraham & Thakore. In their latest collection, aptly titled Old & New, leftover fabrics and old saris were layered and hand-stitched together to create kurtas, Nehru jackets, shirts, dresses and skirts. Fabric cut-pieces, leftover brocade borders and ribbons were sourced from garment factories. Sequins were made from discarded X-ray and camera films. And snaps, hooks and studs were converted into ornaments. “It was tougher and more time-consuming than creating a normal collection. At every step, there were new challenges because we had limited raw material. For instance, we were working with fabric cut-pieces that had length and width restrictions. So, getting the correct shape of the garment required a lot of effort,” says Abraham.
They are set to face a bigger challenge when they start factory production in August, says Abraham. “Like couture, every upcycled garment requires individual attention,” he says.
And that is what spells hope for the growth of this niche segment, says designer Paromita Banerjee. “In the price of prêt, you are offering couture,” she says. In her collection Boro Part II, she has created multipurpose upcycled dresses, kurtas and jackets, which can be used as western or traditional wear and casual or evening wear.
“Boro is a Japanese term that means 'too good to waste'. I feel bad each time I have to discard the leftovers. Driven by my greed to use every inch of fabric, I came up with an upcycled collection,” says Banerjee. She used fabric waste to make dresses and embellishments like buttons, tassels and kangri borders. The final leftovers were used to make handmade paper.
“It is high time we slowed down the consumption process and embraced responsible fashion,” says Agarwal. “The recent earthquakes that shook Nepal and parts of India are alarm signals sent by nature.”
Agrees Abraham: “I have consumed and wasted in the past. But, with age, I have matured and understood the significance of responsible fashion.” He heaps praises on young designers, saying, “We belonged to the pre-consumption era and weren't so aware about the repercussions of mindless consumption. But the new generation is environmentally conscious. They are not only highlighting the cause by churning out upcycled fashion, but also working to bring a mindset change.”
But, in a country that equates designer wear with new clothing, are there takers for upcycling? “Of course, today's youth is different from that of the previous generation,” says designer Aneeth Arora, who recently launched the label Pero Upcycle. “They are more conscious about environment. They relate to this kind of fashion.”
Be it the jacket you bought with your first salary, or the sari your grandmother gave you on your graduation, upcycling is a great way to bring worn-out clothes back to life. Arora says it helps designers strike a stronger connect with clients. “Some clothes connect with us emotionally and have stories attached to them. When you upcycle one such garment for a client, those memories and stories are revived,” says Arora.
With Bollywood celebs like Kareena Kapoor opting for upcycled heirloom wedding silhouettes, the trend is here to stay, says Abraham. Thanks to their exposure to global trends, young people are no more alien to the concept of statement clothing. For them, individuality matters a lot. Banerjee says this will help augment the demand for upcycling.