COVER: Sustainability; reimagine, resell, relove; fashion can be forever!

In continuation of our focus on sustainable fashion, we speak to designers across India about refurbishing couture in light of Kim Kardashian’s hotly-debated sartorial homage to Marilyn Monroe
Kim Kardashian at this year’s Met Gala wearing a historic gown custom-made for Marilyn Monroe
Kim Kardashian at this year’s Met Gala wearing a historic gown custom-made for Marilyn Monroe

Hollywood celebrity Kim Kardashian turned heads earlier this year in May when she appeared at Met Gala, the annual celebrity event that raises funds for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in New York, wearing a historic gown custom-made for Marilyn Monroe. It was the dress that Marilyn wore at Madison Square Garden on May 19, 1962, when she famously sang Happy Birthday to American president John F Kennedy.

Two months later, and the world is still divided about Kim’s decision to wear the dress, allegedly damaging the iconic creation by designer Jean Louis. Kim, however, stood by her decision saying, “she felt it fit the theme of the gala (Gilded Glamour),” and that she did it, “to give spectators a chance to experience the gown in a new light.”

Irrespective of which side you stand on, what did catch our attention that night was how beautiful that dress looked on the red carpet. The dress, bought by Ripley’s Believe It or Not! at an auction in 2016, would have probably been forgotten in some showcase, had it not been for its resurrection at this year’s Met Gala.

In a world that’s driven by fast fashion, is slow fashion — that reimagines a garment way beyond its perceived shelf life — the next big thing? Are designers willing to rework their masterpieces if their customers return to them with such requests? Will a new silhouette created from an older one have the same value as the original? We speak to designers across India to find out how this version of slow fashion is fast becoming a much-pursued trend.

Refresh & restyle
“I started my endeavour with recycling and slow fashion with my brocades and silks, because however good the silk might be, the fabric tends to fall apart after a while. A lot of my old customers come back to me with an old garment and they don’t want to part with it. I often end up lining many garments to cover small tears, but sometimes I also patch new fabric onto it and create a brand new garment that’s equally beautiful,” begins Delhi-based designer Sonam Dubal who is known for his love for patchwork stoles and shawls, often made from the scraps of brocade from his workshop.

 “One of my clients once brought back a sari blouse in brocade that we had made and it was falling apart and so, I decided to combine it with eri silk and made it into an evening jacket and used bits of the original garment in the cuff and the collar. I’ve also re-embroidered garments several times and I think it’s just my personal take on the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi (a world view centred on the acceptance of transience and imperfection). I also get clients bringing in heirloom garments, usually treasured and passed through generations, and I mix it with an absolutely different textile, like say ikat, and panel it into interesting silhouettes like a kimono,” he adds.

Right across the country, down South in Chennai, couturier Kaveri Lalchand is a slow fashion champion in her own right. “I often have customers coming in and saying, ‘we love your garment so much, the fabric is so good, we don’t want to let go of it,’ and then I really get busy thinking of a bunch of ways through which we could save the garment,” chips in Kaveri, who often creates adorable stuffed bunnies and hearts and a whole range of face masks from left over fabric.

“We have had experiences of customers bringing back garments after eight years and asking us to reinvent them. Some of them donate the old clothes back to us and ask us to make our branded giftables, so, we upcycle them and give them to our customers for free. We also do resizing, refurbishing, restyling. Sometimes, customers come back to us with older garments that have a stain or a small tear and we patch it up, or cover it up with a new design, or place some embroidery, or a print — but we always enhance the garment in the process. We’ve also made tops from old dresses; dip-dyed garments to give it a new look; and sometimes these experiments have given us ideas for new garments too. Recently, one of our customers developed breast cancer and couldn’t lift her arm and so we added buttons down the front and made it a front-open tunic to ease access and mobility for her,” adds Kaveri, who recently took her eponymous label to Lakmé Fashion Week.

Sonam Dubal & Kaveri Lalchand
Sonam Dubal & Kaveri Lalchand
Shivangini Padhiyar & Mrinalini Shastry
Shivangini Padhiyar & Mrinalini Shastry

Across the Deccan in Bengaluru, sustainable fashion label Summer House chooses to recommend what best their customers can do with garments that have been bought from them. “We’ve definitely had a few customers reach out to us over the years to refurbish older garments. Quite a few of them ask us to repair smaller aspects of the piece that no longer work for them; this can be removing/adding pockets, changing buttons and zips or sizing down. Sometimes, customers come back with queries about what to do with garments that don’t fit them anymore because of size change or just that they’re bored of the same thing. While we don’t necessarily reinvent the garment, we do help with alterations needed for size changes if possible. For cases where they want to give the garment a new look, we try and understand their personal taste and suggest how they can deconstruct and restyle the garment into a whole new style,” chimes in Shivangini Padhiyar, co-founder of the label.

Further north in Hyderabad, Six Yards Plus, a handcrafted sustainable sari store, was recently approached by one of their clients to reinvent one of her treasured saris — one that she wore during her baby shower, almost two decades ago. The label revamped the sari keeping the base as is (pure kanchi silk), but adorned it with 5,000-year-old kalamkari folk art that is rooted in this region. “Saving the sari was the focus, but we also wanted to be true to the textile form and so we choose to stick to cheriyal, kalamkari and pattachitra which are all GI-tagged crafts that continue to be made in those particular areas,” explains designer Mrinalini Shastry who runs Six Yards Plus.

Revalue & resell
Slow fashion as a trend, however, can also translate into a more direct way of avoiding wastage — reselling! And that’s exactly what Mumbai- and Delhi-based brand Saritoria does. The pre-loved fashion platform, which launched in 2020, aims at, ‘redefining luxury couture with pre-loved pieces that tell a story.’ “It provides younger and eager consumers easy access to beautiful and authentic garments from all the biggest South Asian designers at an amazing value otherwise inaccessible to them,” explains co-founder Shehlina Soomro, who runs the platform with co-founder Pernia Qureshi.

“We don’t ‘source’ outfits per se. The platform allows anyone to list items, either directly or via concierge — we’ve had people reach out to us from all over India as well as internationally asking us to help them get outfits onto the site. Currently, sellers can list directly in India and the UK and concierge services are provided in London, Mumbai and Delhi. Our buyers come from all over the world as we ship internationally and we have had buyers from everywhere — Australia to Norway to California,” Shehlina further explains.

But how do they decide on price? “There are numerous things to consider when deciding on a price, and the team at Saritoria is always happy to speak to clients to assist them with pricing. The brand, condition, age and original purchase price are all important factors but most importantly, the seller needs to be happy with what they are getting — they only need to accept an offer that suits them. There is never an obligation to accept a low-ball offer. This is why we have limited our negotiation feature to a maximum of 30 per cent off of the asking price and we have in house-tailors in both Delhi and Mumbai to help out with small fixes or alterations,” Shehlina adds.

Shehlina Soomro & Meghna Goyal
Shehlina Soomro & Meghna Goyal
(L-R) The original Bhutanese garment; refurbished into an evening coat for corporate lawyer Krishna Sarma; by Sonam Dubal
(L-R) The original Bhutanese garment; refurbished into an evening coat for corporate lawyer Krishna Sarma; by Sonam Dubal

An even more interesting take, however, is what Mumbai-based Summer Somewhere has chosen to do. Taking an idea like Saritoria’s even further, Summer Somewhere makes the reselling more personal, by allowing their own customers to resell their garments purchased from them, on their own website. “Sustainability is an inherent part of our core values at Summer Somewhere. We produce in small mindful batches; however, overconsumption and overproduction are at an all-time high and so we are taking our commitment to the planet one step further by enabling our customers to resell their pre-loved Summer Somewhere garments via our platform itself,” explains co-founder Meghna Goyal.

Summer Somewhere’s customers have access to a ‘resell’ button in their order history which enables them to list their garments for resale in just 60 seconds. Customers who wish to buy pre-loved fashion can do so on the ‘relove’ category page on their website. The store is powered by Relove, a technology company that ensures smooth resale between the buyers and the sellers of Summer Somewhere. A first of its kind in India, Relove is a technology product that enables brands to host a peer-to-peer resale marketplace on their websites. It allows them to build a novel business model that will keep their clothes in circulation and hold resale value like a car does, year after year.

So, the refreshed, refurbished, reimagined, resold, reinvented — call it what you may — product does have a value, and maybe the value is even more than the original? As Sonam says, “we come from a culture that values reused things. The value of a garment immediately becomes higher because it was owned by a loved one before we had access to it. And as long as that culture stays, garments like these will continue to be high-value couture for us. I guess slow fashion is natural to us, after all?”

Metamorphosis magic
Sonam Dubal had the opportunity to reinvent an old Bhutanese garment by adding brocade silks into panels and lining it in ikat silk, creating a beautiful evening coat for his regular client, Krishna Sarma, a corporate lawyer (in pic above). 

P.S. Inspired by this story of designer wear going the thrift shop way and in a bid to support and encourage sustainability initiatives, we urge our readers to come forward with ideas and concepts to reduce our carbon footprint on our planet. To begin with, you can use our comments section below as a platform to exchange or give-away pre-loved items! 

With inputs from Priyamvada Rana.

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