Photos by Bevan Ofosu Agyemang
Think of India and bright colors, delicate embroidery, and beautiful fabrics will undoubtedly flash in your mind’s eye. Indian textiles and craftsmanship (embroidery, brocade, hand-painting) are not only a vital part of the vast country’s culture, history, and social identity, but they also play an indelible role in the story of garments all over the world. Over 40 percent of fashion in the U.K., for instance, has at some point in its production been worked on in India. In response, the Centre for Sustainable Fashion (run by London College of Fashion) has launched Shared Talent India, an initiative designed to create a dialogue about sourcing sustainably in a nation where textiles and culture are intertwined—and nearly a third of its people live below the poverty line.
Shared Talent India had its genesis in early 2009, when 12 designers from the London College of Fashion, Pearl Academy of Fashion in Delhi, and the Amsterdam Fashion Institute worked collaboratively through a series of workshops online. That summer, they traveled to India to work with local vendors on special pieces that were later displayed at Estethica as part of London Fashion Week.
The website is a dedicated online space for discussing key issues related to sustainable sourcing in India.
The Shared Talent India website, which evolved from that first meeting of minds, is a dedicated online space for discussing key issues relating to sustainable sourcing in the subcontinent. “India is a very important sourcing destination for the fashion industry but there are many social, environmental, and cultural challenges in the way fashion operates,” says Alex McIntosh, business support manager at the Centre for Sustainable Fashion. “We felt we needed to find ways of encouraging designers and buyers to think differently about how they source from India.”
India has some of the most innovative sustainable suppliers, such as Aura Herbal Textiles, an “herbal-wear” label that uses only medicinally potent herbs, flowers, and roots to dye its garments. Even its factory roof is eco-friendly: Recycled Tetra Paks keep it cool and dry despite the humid climate.
Being part of the fashion industry is vital for India as many communities rely on this work.
Being part of the fashion industry is vital for India as many communities, both urban and rural, rely on this work. On the flip side, the nation’s artisanal skills are of great value to fashion producers all over the world. Working in India is not without its challenges, but a shared conversation throughout the industry can help alleviate some of them. Watch the video above to hear several leading British designers and sourcing specialists, including Katharine Hamnett, share their experiences of working with India.