Urban Darzi: Upending fashion by upcycling
This lifestyle label is building a case for sustainability by focusing on the philosophy of ‘jugaad’ along with innovative design strategies.
Once just a distant echo, the conversations around sustainability have been shored up by the fashion industry after the pandemic wreaked havoc on the domain. In fact, COVID got people thinking about the colossal impact that their actions and various industries, fashion remains the second largest polluter, have on the environment.
Making a start
“I have been a culprit of fast fashion as well,” mentions Akshit Bangar, his family is in the textile business. On returning to India post attaining a degree in business from the UK, he started a “denim mass market brand in 2013 that would supply to Walmart”.
As the “conversations around sustainability started to take hold in India”, Bangar says that the idea of becoming eco-friendly “struck me personally”. Later, with an investor on board, he decided to launch Urban Darzi as a bespoke local clothing brand in 2018, “I would go to people’s houses and take their measurements [and then create clothes for them]. However, this clothing was made only from last mile fabric, which the retailers could never sell. Even back then, the idea was to create something from ‘waste’.”
Nine months into the business, Bangar shares how he was “derailed when the investor pulled the money out”. This is when he decided to take a break, he took up odd jobs as well, only to concentrate on refining his initial idea and take it forward.
“One thing I knew was that I did not want to do what everyone else was doing. I wanted the brand to have a story and a meaning that people could relate to,” he says.
As the pandemic hit, and the philosophy of sustainability became at the forefront of most innovations and industries, Bangar—along with a design student—put his heart and soul into creating a sartorial collection amid the first lockdown, “We used chips’ packets, etc., in this collection to take the idea beyond textile.”
That is how he relaunched Urban Darzi, now an upcycling label based in both Delhi and Kanpur that works with independent tailors from South Delhi.
With a design team that comprises students from all over India and the world (“we also work with students from New York”), Bangar shares that “students are open to ideas and it has been great working with these brilliant, different minds. They teach me things every day; it is one of the best parts about building this community and taking this brand forward”.
Urban Darzi has adopted a “hands-on” design process that stresses on ‘jugaad’ culture.
Bangar says, “Upcycling, in a sense, is putting things together. If you narrow it down, ‘jugaad’, as a philosophy, is the same, putting things together to make it work. The process is not about what new you can make, but about what you can make from what you already have or what is in front of you, and how you can create things aesthetically. The idea is to reuse and put it [a product] back in the ecosystem over and over again.
Giving people a high-aesthetic product design line made out of the waste that is an alternative [to fast fashion] is a challenge, but that is what we are working towards.”
For an upcycling brand, sourcing can be “challenging” but Bangar mentions that “it is also the most fun aspect of the process”.
“It is about creating something out of literally nothing. There have been a couple of products that we created by literally picking up trash from the streets, sanitising it, and putting it back onto the garment.” The problems faced while creating upcycling products don’t just end at sourcing, “Apart from putting different textiles together, making a product aesthetic can also be difficult because what is aesthetic for me may not be aesthetic for you.”
Giving us an idea of the price points of his pieces, he mentions that the cost of a product is worked out keeping in mind that “upcycling requires a lot of time and effort, especially when creating a functional product”. However, while a bucket hat can start at Rs 1,600, prices for outfits can go up to Rs 12,000 and beyond.
Going beyond clothing
The only way to combat climate change is through innovation. Bangar elaborates, “Ten years down the line, climate change will affect everybody’s lives if it still hasn’t. Technology is going to levels where people are making apple leather and mushroom leather, recycled fabrics, etc., and that is great. But I would like to look at ‘What are you going to do with all the trash that is in front of you?’ That is the crux of our brand: How can you make something useful with anything [waste] that you see in front of you … not just textile, but also other forms of waste—we made a chair out of wood waste and canvas waste; I am working on making bags from discarded seat covers from my car, etc.”
To reduce his brand’s carbon footprint further, Bangar has decided to create capsule collections—“we are going to make two collections a year across fashion and lifestyle”. Working towards releasing a collection by year-end, Bangar shares that the “crux of the upcoming collection is revival, and we are questioning people to look at things differently”.
At around the same time, he also plans to delve into becoming “a wardrobe management company” and is laying the groundwork for artist collaborations in order to create installations using scrap and even discarded “sneakers”. Bangar adds, “I am not just working towards making clothes. I am trying to build a picture where people can actually live in sustainable, upcycled households, think chairs, tables, dining tables, anything and everything made out of waste.”
Addressing the stigma associated with upcycled goods, Bangar says, “The stigma is there for sure, but there is a large section of society that is accepting upcycled products, is open to change, and probably will drive this change.”
He ends the conversation by giving us an insight into what to keep in mind before taking a sustainable step, “Understand what sustainability means to you. You do not need to buy organic clothing or change your wardrobe overnight to become sustainable. Create a balance and try to extend the life cycle of the products you already own.”