Mindfulness and Awareness to Fight Fashion Inequalities
words by Vedika Hinduja
November 13, 2020
Namrata Zakaria is a journalist and columnist in India for the last twenty years. Her main areas of focus are fashion as well as topics that would interest readers outside the fashion community: so retail and business stories, socio-anthropological approaches to fashion, gender and clothing, environmental and economic sustainability stories.
Upon asking Namrata what led her to become passionate about sustainability, she responded that it stems from a habit of ‘asking too many questions’. Her work has revolved on interviewing key designers, fashion brands and people in the fashion industry. While this involves its share of glitz and glam through extravagant shows and parties, Namrata highlights how the most ‘gorgeous’ aspect of the industry in India is the traditional heritage of embroidery and textiles that are so unique to the subcontinent. However, the real dichotomy lies with the fact that the people who are the creators of the fabric, textile and crafts are more often than not, impoverished. Namrata elucidates how she could not understand or accept the ‘gaping economic divide’ between the ‘designer of the clothing item and the creator of the cloth.’
The conception of the Baradari project thus was triggered by this realisation and drive to address the wide economic injustice in the fashion industry. Namrata highlights how India’s artisans are at the bottom of the fashion food supply chain despite the fact that ‘major labels and companies are built on the dint of their skills.’ The Covid-19 pandemic further heightened these injustices where levels of income and demand for work has fallen more than ever before. Namrata shares some insight into the brutalities of poverty in India, “poverty indices keep changing- from under $2 a day income, to consumption of 2000 calories a day, we keep setting confusing benchmarks to measure poverty”. While the number of billionaires in the country continues to grow, the “truth is that ⅔ of India, more than 800 million people- are chronically poor.” The pandemic triggered a mass reverse migration of millions of workers from cities back to villages as they could no longer afford food or find employment during the lockdown, the visuals of which brought “unspeakable sadness”. As a journalist, Namrata came to the conclusion that writing about issues was not enough and she wanted to walk the talk.
The Baradari project relies upon large designers in India donating some of their signature pieces, which were sold on an ecommerce platform, and the full proceeds from the sales would be donated to artisan clusters suffering due to the pandemic. Due to Namrata’s extensive network, hundreds of India’s prominent luxury designers (including Sabyasachi, Tarun Tahiliani, Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla, Manish Malhotra, Anamika Khanna, Ritu Kumar, Rahul Mishra, Pero, Raw Mango) participated and discussed the importance of Baradari as India’s largest fashion fundraiser at this particular time of hardship for India’s creators. To raise awareness of the cause, Namrata highlights how she needed a “well-known face and intelligent voice” who would speak to the Indian consumers and encourage them to question the brands they were shopping from, and how much from the price tag is paid to the back end. The famed Bollywood actress, Kareena Kapoor Khan was thus instrumental in reaching the population and spreading awareness of this paramount cause.
“Is social injustice an Indian problem? It certainly isn’t, as we have seen every country grapple with race, poverty, welfare in some form or the other. But India begs the question why we haven’t been able to tackle hunger and poverty 73 years since our Independence. It’s the first question we must ask of our governments, and consistently so, these are Indian citizens after all.”
Sustainability in the West tends to follow an environmental narrative and the problem of fast fashion causes issues of waste and environmental degradation. For India, the matter is different, as “sustainability must be addressed in economic terms- fair wages as the most important first step.” The money raised through Baradari therefore was divided between five beneficiaries and acted as seed capital to facilitate the transformation of artisans into entrepreneurs allowing them to pay off loans and invest in elements that would help their work become more resilient as a micro business.
“The idea behind Baradari was to talk about economic sustainability. It’s language simply was to focus on monetary equality. Is the difference between a ‘designer’ and an ‘artisan’ only an accident of birth? Is a designer one because he is born in an upper class family, with access to an education and an office? Is an artisan an artisan because he has no network, no refinement in design—all of which come with education, which in turn comes with money?” These are important questions that make us all question these deeply entrenched monetary inequalities between stakeholders in the same industry, powering the consumption of the Indian economy.
Interestingly, Namrata mentions how Indians are culturally “not wasters”, when it comes to clothes, hand-me downs are commonplace and “heirlooms are revered.” However, globalisation and the growth of international brands have created a “new retail-scape” of fast fashion, where communication on conscious purchasing becomes essential. According to Namrata, India is witnessing a rise in younger designers-cum social entrepreneurs who work directly with artisans and hold more conscious supply chains while supporting crucial causes India’s primary struggle lies in “keeping its crafts alive but at the same time ensuring its financially viable for the craftsman to continue his tradition.” Therefore, Namrata emphasises that now is the time for the Indian population to “consume as close to source as possible, eliminating often unnecessary middle rungs of the supply chain. Shop from labels that are genuinely ethical in sustaining rural communities. Slow fashion is what real luxury is, and in India it is very easily possible.” Namrata underscores how homegrown labels can “rival any international counterpart” and now is the time for “local luxury”.
Another problem Namrata highlights is that the Indian culture at the core involves a penchant for “value for money”, as the population are constantly “looking for cheaper clothes, cheaper food, cheaper labour, cheaper ways of consuming news” to name a few.
“As many items are available to us at such pocket-friendly price points, our small compromises lead to major losses for others.”
Thus Namrata emphasizes that consumers need to understand that if we pay a little bit more for a special product, it will put the respect back into the making of it.
The Baradari scheme is just one example of how key stakeholders in the fashion industry can use their network and influence to spread awareness of the inequality perpetrated in the industry and set trends for collective mindful consumption throughout the country.
Namrata’s Tip to Consumers:
Fast fashion is fun and easy for a quick makeover. But it needs to go out of style. To wear Fast Fashion is not considered ‘cool’ any more. We just need to consume much, much less cheap and chic clothes. Real style is in being an intelligent and ethical shopper.