By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
Forget Paris, Milan or London–India used to be the textile epicentre of the world. Its prolific trade in cloth reached a peak in the 18th and 19th centuries, when silk and cotton handkerchiefs, neck-scarves and table napkins were shipped in their thousands to England and beyond. One of the most commonly sold items were tie-dyed silk handkerchiefs from Bengal called ‘bandannas’, which were exported as neck cloths for sailors, agricultural labourers and other working people.
Of course, we still use that word for that particular piece of cloth, but there are many other words we adopted from India to refer to clothing: pashmina, calico, dungarees, gingham, khaki, pyjama, sash, seersucker and shawl to name a few. But we borrowed more than words: British manufacturers copied Indian designs and patterns liberally, and then undercut their European markets by cheaply printing ‘Indian’ textiles with machines and synthetic dyes.
Fortunately, Indian textile traditions have never died, and today there are a few Indian designers reviving ancient techniques in their eco-friendly, ethical collections. Here’s our pick of some of the best modern, eco friendly Indian Fashion Brands around today.
Anokhi is based in the pink city of Jaipur, the historic capital of Rajasthan. The city has a rich history rooted in the arts and crafts, and the Anokhi brand has fully embraced this in the course of its 40 years of producing eco-friendly textiles, which boast a range of natural colours, clothes and excellent artisanal product quality. The company is well known as a role model for its solid business practices and its preservation of handprinted traditional textile techniques.
Ever since its founding in 2009, Bhu:sattva has gained a reputation for creating feminine silhouettes in a soft colour palette. The label is both ethical and eco friendly: in addition to always using natural fabrics in its collections, Bhu:sattva launched its ethical “Khadi Art” project in association with the WEC (Women’s Empowerment Corporation) and OWM (Ora World Mandala), in order to revive the basic principles of Gandhian Philosophy: empowering clothing creators both economically and socially. This is just one example of the many ethical projects linked to this label, which is proud to promote both environmental and social sustainability.
Delhi based designer Samant Chauhan won a variety of awards after his eco-friendly graduate show in 2004. Since then, he’s continued to use handwoven Indian textiles to create collections defined by their simple, clean-cut silhouettes embellished by embroidery. Chauhan gives credit to the Bhagalpur craftsmen for his ever evolving and innovative designs, and he launched his Rajputana Collection in their honour.
Behno’s style is inspired by Le Corbusier’s interpretation of Chandigarh, India’s first city to embrace the Modernist movement. Le Corbusier called for a new era where society would conserve its resources by rediscovering traditional values and creation processes. With this in mind Shivam Punjya, founded Behno when he was completing his research on women’s health in India and came across some exquisite hand-made textiles. His plan was not just to create a fashion brand but to change the lives of women who were normally earning less than $1 per day to produce beautiful hand-spun, hand-woven textiles. So far Punjya has been successful both in his social intent and in the creation of an elegant, modern line of clothing.
A design graduate from NIFT Delhi in 1994, Payal Pratap worked in the fashion industry for six years before joining her designer husband Rajesh Pratap Singh and assisting him in his work over the last decade.
In 2010, Pratap launched her label for the Indian woman who is modern, independent, yet deeply rooted in tradition at the same time. She believes in timeless elegance, and caters to the stylish woman whose concept of chic goes beyond trends dictated by fashion magazines.
Cross stitch embroideries and delicate detailing decorate natural fabrics such as dupions, chanderis, crepes and georgettes to create collections that are made to last year after year.
Main image: Payal Pratap