World Environment Day: Avantika Malhotra's recycled fashion collection reflects deep connection to the sea and advocates for sustainability

The Whispers in the Current collection not only exemplifies sustainability but also embodies innovation and reinvention
Six looks from Avantika Malhotra's  Whispers in the Current collection, which won several awards in the Recycled/Sustainable Fashion category
Six looks from Avantika Malhotra's Whispers in the Current collection, which won several awards in the Recycled/Sustainable Fashion category

For Avantika Malhotra, the ocean has been a lifelong muse, weaving through her memories and experiences. Growing up as the daughter of a captain, she has called coastal cities like Mumbai, Hong Kong, New York, and Singapore home. Her passion for scuba diving, which began at 11 and led to her achieving an advanced open-water certification at 15, further deepened her bond with the sea. The dichotomous nature of the ocean, capable of soothing and disturbing, became the focal point of her collection. Through Whispers in the Current, Avantika aims to explore the ocean’s captivating power and initiate conversations on personal comfort zones, drawing on her own experiences of scuba diving as a conduit for this message.

 Avantika Malhotra Whispers in the Current
Avantika Malhotra Whispers in the Current
Six looks from Avantika Malhotra's  Whispers in the Current collection, which won several awards in the Recycled/Sustainable Fashion category
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“This collection is a reflection of my deep-rooted connection to the sea; a connection that has been a constant presence in my life. I wanted to capture the essence of the underwater world — the fluidity, the tranquility, and the mysteries that lie beneath the surface. The initial working title was actually A Message to the Sea, but it didn’t feel quite right. After some reflection, I landed on Whispers in the Current. It’s like the ocean’s speaking directly to me, capturing our shared dialogue. Plus, it’s a double entendre—when diving, sounds like your breath, fish, boats, and sand resemble whispers in the current,” she elaborates.

 Avantika Malhotra Whispers in the Current
Avantika Malhotra Whispers in the Current

Recycled fashion is no easy feat; to transform something worth discarding into something worth keeping requires innovation and resilience. Reminiscing about the challenging eight-month design journey of Whispers in the Current, Avantika says, “One of the wetsuits sourced for the collection proved too thick for machine sewing. As a result, one of the bags had to be entirely hand-stitched. We adapted our approach to collaborate with the material rather than compete against it.”

This innovative approach to sustainability earned the collection recognition at the 2023 Muse Design Awards, where it won in the Recycled/Sustainable Fashion category, as well as a 2023 NY Product Design Award in the Designs for Social Impact category, and International Design Awards in categories such as Prêt-a-porter, Sportswear, Swimwear and Accessories, and Beachwear. With a total of eight awards to its name, Whispers in the Current not only exemplifies sustainability but also embodies innovation and reinvention.

The design process behind the collection is one of creativity and collaboration. “Wetsuits served as the cornerstone of this collection, providing both structural integrity and a unique textural element. I sourced used, damaged wetsuits that were going to get thrown out from a dive shop in Chelsea, New York,” she recollects.

Avantika collaborated with friend and fellow designer, Christian Olarte on the accessories for the collection. “Christian and I have collaborated on various projects over the past five years, so it was great to work with him again. When he visited my studio while I was working on the collection, there was a piece of 5mm neoprene on the table. We started discussing and interacting with the material and quickly realised its potential. This led to an impromptu collaboration where we created two bags for the collection together,” she shares.

The collection presents a versatile six looks, comprising interchangeable separates, bags, and jewellery. Bags were designed and produced in collaboration with Christian. The pieces are meticulously crafted to prioritise wearer comfort and reflect the fluidity and freedom experienced underwater. Blending elements from the world of scuba diving, the collection seamlessly integrates sportswear influences, promoting movement and flexibility, perfectly mirroring the dynamism of an active lifestyle.

Avantika’s innovative approach shines through, particularly in looks one and three, which are entirely fashioned from second-hand damaged scuba wetsuits. Through this resourceful transformation of damaged materials into captivating garments, she subtly advocates for sustainability and eco-consciousness. This collection is a deeply personal narrative of Avantika’s enduring relationship with the ocean. Since its release, it has sparked discourse amongst audiences to explore their own dichotomies and embark on journeys of self-reflection.

Sharing a memory from scuba diving that particularly inspired the collection, she says, “I recall two experiences. In 2013, in Thailand, I struggled to remove and re-wear my mask underwater. The second in 2014, in Mauritius, where I experienced a panic attack upon entering the water. We were in a small boat in the middle of the ocean, unlike the larger boats I had dived from before. The rough water and strong current prevented me from diving, marking the first and only time I had to return to the boat. These experiences, contrasted with my tranquil and peaceful diving moments, made me realise that the ocean can simultaneously comfort and terrify.” This duality inspired look five in the collection. The concept of being on the precipice of both emotions influenced the half on, half off silhouette seen in this look. The tank features bright green edges to highlight the overlapping design, creating the illusion that it might slip off. Additionally, the pants have draped pieces hanging off, reminiscent of how divers take the torso portion of their wetsuit in between dives.

Pointing out the standout element, she says, “We preserved the adjustable ankle straps and zipper from the original wetsuit to be the closures on the small clutch.”

Six looks from Avantika Malhotra's  Whispers in the Current collection, which won several awards in the Recycled/Sustainable Fashion category
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Sustainability, for Avantika, involves implementing low waste practices in her design process. “I always start by looking at my existing fabric library before buying new, and seek out deadstock materials to give new life to unused fabrics. I prioritise certified fabrics like GOTS, OEKO-TEX, and Fair Trade, and whenever possible, source materials locally. My aesthetic often features curved seams and shapes, which can lead to significant material wastage. To counter this, I use opposing curved seams to create innovative shapes and drapes while minimising waste,” she says. Additionally, in the initial design phases, she enjoys using 3D software like CLO3D for digital patternmaking and garment simulation on avatars. “This approach enables rapid experimentation without paper and fabric, reducing environmental impact,” she explains.

Avantika sees the future of sustainable fashion evolving towards more conscious production cycles and a greater emphasis on considering waste throughout the design process. “One major source of waste in the industry is dead inventory. I believe that employing made-to-measure and pre-order models will become more common. These approaches help avoid over production, ensuring garments are only created when there is a confirmed demand. Through my collections, I hope to increase awareness amongst consumers and other stakeholders,” she signs off.

manuvipin@newindianexpress.com

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