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The Ultimate Guide to Sustainable Fashion in India.

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Sustainable fashion India: With upcycled, fair-trade, organic, ethical and eco-friendly alternatives, homegrown brands are making a real fashion statement.

Guest post by Parita Bhansali

“Never buy anything that’s less than fabulous. Then you’ll wear it over and over again!”

I often remember the words of Carrie Bradshaw’s character in Sex and the City before I buy something. She might not have meant it that way, but for me, it represents everything sustainable fashion in India is about.

The on-going Covid-19 crisis has made many of us pause and introspect about our impact on the planet. With the minimization of human consumption across the globe, nature seems to be healing and the air seems to be cleaner. We know we need to act now to save this planet we call home.

Also read: Sustainable Living India: Ideas to Embrace in the New “Normal

no planet b, save the planet
Why embrace sustainable fashion in India? There is no Planet B. Photo by Sean O.

Sustainable fashion India: An introduction

What does fashion, the clothes we buy and the brands we support with our money have to do with any of this?

Turns out, the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of the world’s annual carbon emissions – 5 times that of flying! It’s also one of the most polluting, water-intensive and waste-generating industries.

That’s exactly why I decided to write this massive guide to sustainable fashion India. This is how we can reduce our individual impact on the planet, one piece of clothing at a time.

What is slow, sustainable fashion anyway

sustainable fashion in india, sustainable fashion brands in India
PIN this sustainable fashion India guide for future reference!

As the names suggest, fast and slow fashion refer to the pace at which you change / update your wardrobe.

Do you impulsively buy new clothes that are environmentally harmful, water intensive, exploit humans, abuse animals and have a small shelf life?

Or do you consciously invest in clothing brands that are mindful of the resources they use, refrain from using animal products, pay fair wages and last a lifetime?

Broadly speaking, sustainable fashion refers to clothes and products that:

  • Are made from eco-friendly or recycled fabrics.
  • Use organic (chemical-free, pesticide-free) materials and dyes.
  • Employ fair trade practices – no forced labor, no child labor, reasonable working hours and fair pay.
  • Refrain from using materials, inks and other ingredients derived from animals, and say no to animal testing.

Also read: Can we Stay Safe Yet Reduce Single Use Plastic During the Pandemic?

What’s wrong with fast fashion

mindful living
We need to reduce our individual footprint on this planet we love. Photo by Monika Geble.

Fast fashion uses up excessive natural resources

  • Every year, the fashion industry uses 93 billion cubic meters of water – enough to meet the water consumption needs of 5 million people!
  • 150 million trees are cut and turned into fabric every year, through land clearing and plant pulps.
  • Every year, disposed off clothes result in half a million tons of plastic microfibers in the ocean – the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles. These microfibers are spreading through the food chain and are probably in our bodies now.

With the rise of online shopping, more fast fashion brands setting up shop in India and the constant pressure to keep up with fashion trends, India is already on its way to embracing fast fashion – at great cost to the environment.

Slow fashion in India can reduce our individual carbon footprint

Only 15% of our clothes are recycled or donated. Even those gradually land up in landfills where they slowly release methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes significantly to climate change. That’s a strong reason to embrace sustainable fashion in India.

Humans and animals are exploited to cater to our fashion demands

  • Even though child labor has been declining, the International Labor Organisation estimates that 170 million children worldwide are still forced into labor – many of them manufacturing textiles and garments for big international brands.
  • Leather is made from the skin of various animals: Oxen, cows, alligators, ostriches, snakes, even kangaroos. Unlike popular perception, leather is not simply a by-product of the meat industry. It is an industry in itself – one that makes billions of dollars by cleverly convincing consumers that they want to wear the skin of a dead animal or carry it on their arms!
  • The wool industry has been in the spotlight for aggressively shearing wool off sheep, goats (cashmere) and rabbits (angora wool), often leading to open wounds, pain and trauma to the animals. These animals ultimately land up in slaughter.
  • A single silk saree involves the death of 10,000+ silk worms – by smoking their cocoons or boiling them alive – even before they can mature into those pretty silk moths. According to the Higg Index, silk consumes more water and emits more greenhouse gases than most common textiles like polyester, viscose and cotton.

Also read: 11 Tips to Ease Your Transition Into a Vegan Lifestyle

Sustainable fashion India: How to make better choices

sustainable clothing india
Sustainable fashion India: There’s an urgency to switch to mindful brands. Photo by Sara Kurfeß.

Given the obvious urgency to switch to more eco-friendly, ethical and conscious fashion, here are some ways I’ve learnt to embrace sustainable fashion in India:

Ask before buying

Do I REALLY need that dress? Am I adding to my non-biodegradable cosmetic collection? Am I using hair products tested on animals?

Before I buy anything, I do some quick research. Brands do reply to queries. I hit them up on their Instagram pages, drop them an email or call them.

Recently, I was curious about Sugar Cosmetics, so I both googled and called them – and was surprised to learn that their products are cruelty free (not tested on animals). I recently dropped a message on Chumbak’s Instagram page asking about their accessories, and learnt that their belts and watches are made from animal leather.

Invest in eco-friendly, organic, cruelty free brands in India

For me, buying less means being able to invest more in better alternatives:

  • Look for clothes made of organic cotton. Check for labels from the Better Cotton Initiative, to ensure less water and chemical dyes.
  • Replace your cotton clothes with eco-friendly natural fabrics like hemp and bamboo. Cotton is water-intensive and depletes the soil, while hemp produces twice as much fiber per acre, uses less water and enriches the soil. Itshemp aggregates all hemp products available across India!
  • Purchase accessories, bags, shoes and belts made of faux (fake) leather. These days, innovative brands are making leather products from cork, upcycled flowers, hemp and even pineapple leaves!
  • Choose personal care and cosmetic products like shampoo, lipstick, kajal, mosquito repellent, toothpaste etc that contain no animal ingredients (vegan) and haven’t been tested on animals (cruelty free). China has made it mandatory to test all products sold there on animals – so any brand that sells in China is unfortunately not cruelty free. Look out for the cruelty free label to identify products.
  • Most colored cosmetics use ingredients like red carmine dye made from beetles, lanolin from the glands of wool-bearing animals, keratin from the horns and claws of reptiles, fish or birds, and silk protein from silkworms boiled alive! Opt for natural, vegan, cruelty-free cosmetics instead.
  • Use toiletries and cosmetics free from plastic. Replace plastic bottles with soap, shampoo and conditioner bars – easier to carry while travelling too.

Identify ethical fashion brands

I’ve been using the “Good on You” app – which rates brands based on their impact on humans, animals and the environment. It doesn’t feature Indian brands, but can be useful for international ones or while shopping abroad. It also has brilliant content about sustainability, ethical sourcing, vegan fashion etc.

Embrace slow fashion in India

  • Instead of impulsively buying something new, choose to invest in clothing that has creatively been upcycled. Refash and Bodements exclusively stock clothes upcycled from pre-loved garments!
  • Buy from zero waste brands like WeAreLabeless and Adah by Leesha, that use every bit of scrap fabric and plastic to create something new, sending nothing to the bin.
  • Upcycle sarees you or your family own. LataSita converts sarees into beautiful dresses and other designer clothing. Mishcat Co recycles sarees into artisan carpets!
  • Let your friends visit your wardrobe. Asking your friends to mix and match your clothes can give you a new pair from a different point of view!
  • Donate clothes in good condition to old age homes, orphanages and anyone who needs them. Some retail companies like H&M ask you to exchange your old cloths for points/new buys.

Also read: How I Fit All My Possessions in Two Bags as I Travel the World

Affordable sustainable clothing India

Even as fast fashion is taking over the country, several brands offer clothing that is not only creative but also homegrown, upcycled, fair-trade, organic, ethical and eco-friendly. Now that’s a real fashion statement!

Hoomanwear

Hoomanwear is India’s first – and perhaps only – causewear brand, which donates atleast 15% of all profits to organisations involved in meaningful work. Founder Harshil Vora is a passionate vegan, and all their t-shirts, crop tops and hoodies are plant-based (less than 5% synthetic fibers) and customizable with different vibes. They are made only on demand (zero waste), use certified sustainable inks, are free of animal ingredients and delivered in recycled pizza boxes or cloth bags!

Check out The Shooting Star travel-inspired collection in collaboration with Hoomanwear!

Maati

Maati, founded by Neha Kabra, works with a community in Rajasthan to create unique clothing with traditional Indian printing techniques. A part of the fabric is upcycled, the dyes and print colours are borrowed from nature (not animals) and the packaging is plastic-free. 

PANI Swimwear

I was surprised to learn that most swimsuits leach microfibers into the ocean. And amazed to discover PANI Swimwear, founded by Leila, an international development professional from Mauritius who now calls Mumbai home. PANI makes body-positive swimsuits catered to a wide range of body types, designed from recycled fishing nets! Unfortunately the microfiber leaching persists with these, but atleast they’re part of a circular economy until something better comes along.

No Nasties

No Nasties is Goa’s first organic clothing brand and a pioneer of sustainable fashion in India, founded by Apurva Kothari. They use organic cotton seeds on fair trade farms. Synthetic pesticides and GMOs are a strict no. The entire seeds to clothes process is eco-friendly and ethical, right down to the inks being used (made without any animal ingredients).

no nasties
Wearing a skirt from No Nasties – affordable sustainable clothing India. Photo: Parita Bhansali.

Increscent

Founded by 24-year-old Anya Gupta, Increscent offers affordable vintage clothing (dresses, tops, skirts etc), crafted in small batches by a community in Rajasthan. 60% of the fabrics they use are recycled from the dead stock of various export houses!

Brown Boy

22-year-old Prateek Kayan quit his banking job in New York to start one of the few fashion brands exclusively for men, based out of Kolkata. Brown Boy is all about organic, fair trade cotton and animal-friendly printing – creating sustainable t-shirts in India alongside other smart casuals.

Renge

Founded by animal lover Sheena Uppal, Renge sources surplus fabric from warehouses to produce unique, limited edition designs for women. Proceeds from Renge are also used to support animal sanctuaries in India.

Hemp Kari

The latest addition to India’s growing hemp movement is the homegrown brand Hemp Kari. They offer natural hemp-based fabrics with traditional hand embroidery done by local artisans in Lucknow and nearby villages. The tops are delivered in plastic-free packaging, and use tags / labels made of hemp paper.

Also read: The Shooting Star Collection: Travel Inspired Clothing for a Cause

High-end sustainable fashion brands in India

Ka Sha

Karishma Shahani Khan created a clothing line from plastic gunny sacks, old chandeliers and second-hand sneakers while studying in London. Now based out of Pune, her Ka Sha label explores natural fabrics and works closely with artisans across the country. Her zero waste “Heart to Haat” collection focuses on upcycling discarded clothing.

Nicobar

Nicobar is the slow fashion brainchild of Simran Lal and Raul Rai, inspired by tropical living. They’re bigger than most brands mentioned in this guide, with physical stores across the country. That only means more responsibility.

Their core line uses only organic cotton, along with natural fabrics like bamboo. Their woolen collection uses recycled wool, and the kidswear is made entirely from leftover fabric. Most of their products come in plastic free packaging.

Also read: Responsible Travel Tips for Authentic, Meaningful Experience on the Road

Eco-friendly winter clothing

Himalayan Blooms

Bangalore resident Pratibha Krishnaiah quit her corporate job to work as a Youth for India fellow in rural Uttarakhand. After the fellowship, she decided to stay on in the remote village of Kheti Khan, and began Himalayan Blooms – a social enterprise that seeks to create financial independence for local women. Using acrylic yarn and cotton (no wool), they hand-knit the most gorgeous ponchos, sweaters, scarfs and neck warmers – available for India wide delivery right from the heart of the Himalayas!

Save the Duck

Save the Duck is an American brand that specializes in animal-free, high tech winter wear. Their jackets are made from recycled plastic bottles and hoodies from recycled fishing nets. And yet their winter collection is warm enough to successfully put a vegan mountaineer on Mount Everest!

Unfortunately India doesn’t yet to seem to have its own ethical and eco-friendly winter sports brand. Wool and down feather-free jackets are available at Decathlon, made with polyester or other synthetic materials, but not exactly eco-friendly.

Also read: How to Travel as a Vegan and Find Delicious Food Anywhere in the World

Ethical, vegan and cruelty free cosmetics in India

It is shocking that several animal ingredients are hidden away in our daily toiletries and cosmetics. Some of these include: Honey, the food of bees. Beeswax, derived by destroying their painstakingly created combs used to house their young and store honey. Gelatin, extracted from the skins, bones and tissues of animals.

In 2020, despite being well-versed with what works on the human skin and scalp, some (big) brands like Maybelline, Estee Lauder and Clinique still test on animals!

Here are some sustainable beauty brands in India that support local entrepreneurs, source ethical ingredients and do not test on animals:

Disguise Cosmetics

Disguise Cosmetics is an Indian brand which believes in setting an honest, ethical and pocket-friendly beauty standard for our skin. All their cosmetics are free from animal oils, fats, pigments, secretions and proteins. Their matte lipsticks and all-day gel kajals are all the rage!

The Switch Fix

I cannot stress how much I love this brand. The Switch Fix is everything I could wish for: No plastic, no palm oil, cruelty-free, vegan, plant-based, water-saving and non-polluting!

From shampoo bars (no spill, no issues while checking in, last up to 50 washes) to bamboo toothbrushes, they have all our personal care needs covered.

Plum Goodness

Homegrown brand Plum offers a wide range of vegan and paraben-free hair, face, body and skincare products. They also recycle your empty plum plastic bottles with a gift voucher of Rs 50 for future use!

Veganology

A young brand nurtured with love and compassion, Veganology uses essential oils to create moisturizing soap bars, body butters, lip balms and even a vegan, chemical-free talcum powder.

FAE

FAE, which stands for Free And Equal, is an Indian start-up trying to challenge conventional, biased notions of beauty. Their wide range of lipsticks is vegan, cruelty-free and paraben-free.

 sustainable fashion brands in india
The real fashion statement.

Kay by Katrina

India’s first celebrity cosmetic brand Kay was launched last year by Katrina Kaif – and it’s reported to be vegan and cruelty-free! She said she wanted to create products that would spark a vegan cosmetics revolution in India – and I think she’s on her way.  

Colorbar

Colorbar is India’s third largest cosmetic brand. It is cruelty free, with a wide range of vegan products, well-labelled on the website.

Khadi Essentials

The homegrown Khadi Essentials brand is based on the principles of Ayurveda. Most of their personal care products are vegan, cruelty-free and paraben free.

Lotus Herbals

Lotus Herbals is hardly a stranger to Indian consumers. This local brand commits to nature’s wealth in tandem with being compassionate to all. No chemicals, nothing synthetic, no animal ingredients and no animal testing.

Himalaya

Back in the early 1900s, Mr Manal was travelling in Myanmar (then Burma), when he stumbled upon locals feeding the roots of a local herb to calm a herd of agitated elephants. His curiosity led him to start a revolution out of Dehradun in 1934, to develop all-natural personal care resources based on Ayurveda, science and nature. Himalaya continues to be a game changer for sustainable living everywhere! The Himalaya toothpaste and wide range of products make it much easier to be vegan in India and elsewhere.

Vicco

I guess we all remember the Vicco Vajradanti commercial from our childhood in India! Sounds old school, but Vicco is actually a pioneer of vegan and natural products in the country.

The Body Shop

British brand, The Body Shop, pioneered the cruelty free movement but some of their products still contain animal ingredients like milk, honey, beeswax, etc. The vegan products are well-labelled though. They mostly come in plastic but The Body Shop has recently started an initiative to engage women in local communities to make recycled bottles.

Also read: Offbeat, Incredible and Sustainable – Travel Companies Changing the Way We Experience India

Sustainable fashion bloggers India

View this post on Instagram

Ya local textile fanatic found a new fashion fiber: Ramie 🌾⁣ ⁣ #Ramie is one of the oldest fiber crops, having been used for at least 6,000 years. It’s older than cotton and uses less water to grow. It’s very similar to linen, looks like silk, and even more absorbent than cotton— all while being incredibly easy to naturally dye because it’s so highly absorbent. ⁣ ⁣ In the words of @AjaBarber, “Now is a great time to remind you that the fashion industry is quietly keeping the fossil fuel industry plugging along. Polyester, spandex, Lycra, acrylic… are all synthetic fibers made from fossil fuels.⁣”⁣ ⁣ Sustainable fashion isn’t about reinventing the wheel, it’s about returning to ancestral + indigenous wisdom— especially when it comes to fashion fibers + fabrics. ⁣ ⁣ Historically, fashion fibers used to be grown locally and often used to be byproducts of food production— whereas now, over 60% of fashion is synthetic. @fibershed_ is one of my favorite leaders in the “farm-to-closet” movement, which challenges people to think locally + regeneratively when it comes to fashion.⁣ ⁣ [dress via @savannahmorrowthelabel in ramie, naturally dyed]

A post shared by ADITI MAYER • ADIMAY.com (@aditimayer) on

A couple of bloggers / Instagrammers you can take inspiration from, as you learn about ethical, fair-trade, cruelty free and sustainable fashion in India:

Anya Gupta

Anya Gupta is a fashion and lifestyle influencer who makes DIY products like detergent, toothpaste etc look uber cool! And damn, her clothing and cosmetics recommendations are super inspiring.

Aditi Mayer

Aditi Mayer is all about sustainable fashion and social justice – two topics that rarely meet each other. Her profile focuses on South Asian fashion, and is one of the rare ones that deeply explore ethics and eco-friendly living.

Also read: Why Long Term Travel is Less Like Instagram and More Like Real Life

Your questions

minimalism
Own experiences, not things. Photo by Henry Gillis

Thanks for sharing your questions around sustainable fashion. Those not directly answered in the post above are included below.

If you have more questions, please ask them in the comments to this post.

What are some unique sustainable fashion brands in Mumbai?

Some sustainable fashion brands born in Mumbai include Nicobar, Inaaya and Co, and Bhumika & Jyoti.

What does ethical clothing mean?

“Ethical” encapsulates anything that is kind to people, animals and the environment. Typically, ethical clothing is made with natural materials like organic cotton, hemp or bamboo. The artisans involved in crafting it work in respectable working conditions and are paid fairly. No animals are harmed in the making of the products, neither by making use of animal-derived ingredients nor by testing on animals.

Where to find eco-friendly clothing in Pune?

Pune’s homegrown sustainable labels include the Ka Sha boutique and Outliers Clothing Co.

Bangalore’s SwapStitched clothes swap events are one of a kind!

Bangalore’s sustainable fashion options include House of Primes, Ethic Attic and Kaiyare.

Do you think about slow, eco-friendly fashion? What steps have you taken (or will take) towards it? What are your favorite sustainable fashion brands in India?

*Note: This article does not endorse or represent any of the brands mentioned. Views and opinions are entirely the author’s own.

If you’d like to contribute a guest post to The Shooting Star, please see guidelines here.

sustainable fashion india
PIN this guide to make better fashion choices.

About the guest author:

Parita Bhansali is a curious traveller and a corporate sales professional. She has loved animals since she was a child and gradually turned vegan after reading about the inhumane treatment of voiceless animals to satiate human greed. After a brief stint at Loreal, she began transitioning towards environmentally conscious and animal friendly products. She believes there is loads to be done to protect her only home – Planet Earth. Connect with her on: Pinterest Blog Instagram YouTube Twitter 

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16 Comments

  1. Anu Krishnan says

    I never knew there were so many sustainable and affordable brands in India. Next time around will definitely source from them. Thanks for sharing such a well researched article.

    • Shivya Nath says

      Same here Anu! So proud of these Indian brands to be leading the way.

  2. Divya Hasti says

    I was recently thinking about making my way to Slow Fashion, and was looking for a wholesome guide. I’m glad this blog dropped in today.
    Thank you.

  3. Jenna says

    What a lovely guide this is! Such a great resource for avoiding fast fashion and reducing your impact 🙂 Thanks for sharing!
    Jenna ♥
    Stay in touch?

    • Shivya Nath says

      Thanks Jenna! Parita did a great job at putting these resources together!

  4. Archi Choudhary says

    Wow. Loved it !!
    There’s so much of unawareness amongst we humans. Realized reading this article.

    Definitely gonna check out these mentioned brands and use it in my regular life !!

    Are those clothing brands available on Amazon/Flipkart if anyone wishes to buy ?

    • Shivya Nath says

      Exactly! I believe some of these are on amazon, but all deliver online from their website / Instagram 🙂

  5. Vinita says

    What a beautiful, informative and detailed post! ❤️ Thank you for doing this and making it easy for me to use a guide made for India specifically that I can easily share with my friends and also keep as a reference 🙂

    • Shivya Nath says

      So glad you found this useful, Vinita! So proud of all these homegrown brands making it so much easier to embrace sustainability in India 🙂

  6. Samantha says

    It’s almost as if Sustainable fashion us bot affordable for the great Indian middle-class. While upcycling everything is in our genes (economic reasons) I am not sure how many would want to buy an expensive pair of pants just because they are eco-friendly.

    • Shivya Nath says

      That’s the beauty of slow, sustainable fashion. Buying much, much less and saving that money to invest in something that is good for us and good for the planet.

  7. Wow interesting. I have read few of your posts and I have to admit, each of them are truly inspiring. Your novel is in my wishlist and I would love to buy and read it soon.
    Coming to this post, the thought towards shifting to sustainable fashion is provoking and I would love to try it, and become the change our society needs. It needs time though. Thanks for the guide.

  8. Very informative post! ❤️ Thank you for sharing this and making easy for me.
    I will definitely check out the given products.
    It is really good that now people are moving to organic and sustainable products rather than using synthetics.

  9. This is really a very good post, providing all the information that is necessary for everyone to know. Sustainable fashion is something everyone must know and adopt the fashion trend accordingly.
    You have mentioned the name of all the great fashion brands and people doing the great work in the field. Good to know that things are going at a great pace.

    I am also running a sustainable fashion brand Amar Kosa in Bangalore.

    If some of you reading here interested to see our collection can visit us at our fashion studio in Bangalore or http://www.amarkosa.com

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