Last year was an “annus horribilis” for most of us, but for fashion, this reset was much needed, perhaps. As the pandemic made us more aware about the environment and ethical impact of fashion, everyone began talking about the five ₹of fashion: Reduce, Re-wear, Recycle, Repair and Resell. Fashion magazines began addressing issues of consumption, re-wear became the new go-to hashtag for fashion influencers, recycling the new mantra of fashion designers, and secondary fashion websites saw their biggest growth. Designer Nimish Shah, creative director of Bhaane and one of the first designers in the Indian fashionscape to focus on conscious design, says, “All luxury watches offer repair services – then why not clothes?”
A renewed appeal
In July last year, fashion brand Antar-Agni launched its Restore Love initiative, making repair and restoration service part of its design ethos. “The world has been obsessed with owning more, and throwing the old away, a direct affront to our oldest Indian values of saving and passing on. Restore Love was born out of a demand for course correction that nature sets in front of us,” says Ujjwal Dubey, the label’s founder. And he predicts that “fashion media will be buzzing about creative alternatives to repair and restyle old outfits.”
Mumbai-based label, Vaishali S, is known for experimentations with Indian textiles. A couture-based label that is all about sustainability, its collections have showcased at New York Fashion Week and has always taken back any garments that need repair.
“Repair is an integral part of couture, we have always had it since the beginning, most of the time garments can be repaired, otherwise there is always a way of repurposing them,”says Vaishali Shadangule, the founder.
Doh Tak Keh (which translates to two paisa), a street label with a penchant for upcycling discarded fabrics from textile specialists, has taken its restore and repair approach to design one step further by designing a lehenga for a client using old sari fabrics, dupattas and other unused fabrics.
And it is not only labels who follow principles of slow fashion that are looking to include repair in their repertoire. Value retailer and India’s largest e-tailer of swimwear, The Beach Company (TBC) started a service called, Together for Tomorrow during the lockdown of 2020, to adopt more sustainable practices. The company will now darn or hem any loose stitches and also replace any missing beads or trims at no added cost. “We realised we were not only helping the environment by offering to repair products, but we were also building brand equity and in turn a loyal base,” says TBC’s founder Harshad Daswani.
A second lease of life
Fashion is constantly searching for something new, but often the best inspiration is found in tradition and as the industry commits itself to become more sustainable, mending becomes a natural part of the conversation.
Designer Anita Dongre says: “We have always offered repair services, it is essential service for a fashion brand. Not wasting is part of Indian culture. In a country where we have access to tailors, there really is no need to throw away clothes that can be repaired,” she says. Dongre believes one of the essentials of living is knowing how to stitch a button on a shirt, something she ensured her son Yash learnt in his childhood.
As this period of pause has made us look back into our traditions, the technique of rafoo seems to have been rediscovered. A process of darning, the idea is that the garment is restored, either made to look as good as new – or beading, embellishment or design detail is used to make the article look better than new. Rafugars – experts in this technique were considered trained artisans.
Delhi-based anthropologist and brand strategist Meher Varma points out, “When designers are discussing repair with some depth, it seems to me that they are talking about something internal and external, sartorial and spiritual. By mending what we have fractured, we seem to be also mending ourselves.”
Palak Shah, CEO and founder of Ekaya Banaras, says, “When we repair old saris or torn pieces, it’s not just about rescuing them, it’s also about preserving memories and sentiments.”
She also points to the fact that most international heritage luxury brands like Hermés and Louis Vuitton offer repair services.
In uncertain times, when it is only natural to cherish old times, it is perhaps inevitable we will want to hand over the clothes we wore at these times – to daydream dressing if you like – and it comes with the added caveat, it is also a truly sustainable approach to fashion.
From HT Brunch, February 7, 2021
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