Fashion industry can learn a great deal from ancient Indians

Why is the West looking at India for solutions? For well-being it’s Yoga; for inner-tranquility it’s is meditation. Now, even for fashion, the world is looking at the Vedic culture and its holistic sustainable systems. As Krishna Sehgal, in his book Vedic Management: The Dharmic and Yogic Way, writes, “There is a merit in studying the non-western system of sustainability like Vedic system.” The golden time when the cultural, value and belief systems enabled societies to use every resource at its optimum and wastage was considered a sin.

Our planet is grappling with the waste that the fashion industry is creating. Eileen Fisher the recipient of an environmental award said, “The clothing industry is the second largest polluter in the world, second only to oil.” Garments produced out of western systems produce tonnes of wasted fabrics in the cutting process. All this waste ends up in the landfill. Fashion designer Stella McCartney condemned her industry as “incredibly wasteful and harmful to the environment”.

Where billions of dollars have been spent in creating awareness about the issue and creating new systems that are sustainable, many scientists are researching on ancient Indian wisdom for relevant sustainable systems.

The European designers are using advanced mathematics to create “zero wastage” garments. This is a very complicated process and almost unattainable but quite ironically the fashion system in ancient Indian culture was developed on this simple “zero wastage” principle. According to Aditi Ranjan, author of Handmade in India: A Geographic Encyclopedia of Indian Handicrafts, “A single centimetre of fabric was never wasted in Vedic garment making. Indian fashion was formulated on draped garments which did not need any cutting and wasting fabrics”.

To visualize the ingenuity of this zero-wastage system, think of any traditional Indian outfit, like saree, dhoti or turban. These drapes were designed with multi-functional utility. For men dhoti, the scarf or uttariya and turban and for women dhoti or the saree as the lower garment combined with stanapatta or breast-band covering the breast form a basic ensemble where the garments do not have to be stitched and the breast-garment is simply fastened in a knot at the back. The ingenious Indian knew about needle usage from the very beginning of the historical periods and art of sewing was practiced but analyzing the aftermath of stitched garments, fabric wastage and environmental sustainability, that sewing was considered inauspicious. The religious significance of sewing being inauspicious is followed during puja ceremony and the puja performer wears an unstitched garment.

Fastest Fashion: Ancient India

The western fashion industry initiated by creating a new offering to the customer every six months according to the season. With increased demand and need for more supply, these collection rose to six per year. The start of fast fashion brands happened by 1990, when the New York Times used the term “fast fashion” for Zara, seeing the brand’s ability to produce many collections per year.

It is interesting to know that the ancient Indian system had even faster fashion churn out than these modern technology-embedded global brands. John Forbes Watson, the reporter for the products of India stated of Indian clothing as “garments that leave the loom and ready to wear“. This was the simplest, sustainable and most stable fashion-framework that could have ever been perceived.

Mahatma Gandhi was one of the strongest modern promoters of wearing Vedic Indian clothing. He would always be remembered for his iconic draped ensemble. It was Gandhi and his principles that made India free from the western countries and today, his principles might save the whole world from the disaster that the fashion industries are causing. He said, “There is no beauty in the finest cloth if it makes hunger and unhappiness.”

Gaurav Mandal is a fashion designer and recipient of two national awards