How Rajesh Pratap Singh Walked the Mile on Sustainability Long Before it Became Cool

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We have always loved Rajesh Pratap Singh, his work, his ideologies and the ethics he brings along. Whether Sustainable Fashion should be a thing for the crème de la crème or should it be made available to all across the demographics is a question I’ve personally been after. When you compare Sustainable brands in India with those abroad, there is a distinct difference. Most of Indian brands or even some designers (big or small) tend to look at ‘Sustainability’ through the ‘Indian Textiles’ glasses alone. Hence, we end up seeing so much of handloom and traditional textiles that do not necessarily go with every silhouette. Not just that, these textiles make the final products exorbitant, hence catering only to the crème de la crème!

On the other hand, we do have brands like No Nasties or Brown Boy, who are equally sustainable, choosing the right textiles, following Fair Trade policies and offer wearable and affordable clothing. The more brands I meet, the more I discover the uncertainty around ‘Sustainability.’ There are brands who make really simple clothing, with not so exotic fabrics, wearable only for a certain sensibility of style and are yet super-expensive. When I asked such brands about their pricing, they said, “Well, it’s Ethically Made!” But my question is,

Is it fair pricing to the consumer? Are brands simply charging too much of a premium because “Sustainbility is cool?”

Also, I feel all these things create too many barriers to a conventional fashion consumer to convert to a conscious one. First, we tell them.. ‘Hey! You’ve been shopping too much all your life & this is the damage you’ve caused to so many workers & the planet!’. Next, we go and say, ‘But don’t worry! We’ve got some Sustainable options for you to buy from!’ And lastly, ‘And guess what! They’re all kinda expensive and of a certain style. So you will now have to change your shopping budget & style too.’

Following is an article from GQ, do take a look at what Rajesh Pratap Singh has to say!

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The clothing industry is the world’s second-largest polluter – with only Big Oil a worse offender. And fast fashion, which focuses on high volumes and low prices, plays a significant role here. From the scarring environmental effects of polyester, a dominant fibre loved by the industry and consumers, to the impact on soil and water systems from landfills where many garments are finally laid to rest, the need for sustainable fashion and consumer sensitisation about the issue has never been more urgent – especially as hundreds of millions of Indians join the ranks of the middle class, and begin to express themselves through clothes.

At the second edition of VH+GQ Fashion Nights – India’s leading menswear platform – Rajesh Pratap Singh made a powerful statement. The brief was to present a conceptual collection. While the clothes he showed were critically lauded – including deconstructed silhouettes inspired by small-town India, yet international in aesthetic – every model sported oversized gas masks, dramatically spotlighting the issue of urban pollution levels, most alarmingly felt in Delhi, where he lives. In the front row was India’s most cerebral actor Aamir Khan, who applauded through the show.

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Image Courtesy: GQ India

Fast vs slow fashion is an ongoing industry debate. What’s your take?
Slow fashion is great, but it will be limited. The mass producers will always exist because there is a mass need. Also, a guy from Gwalior is not going to wear a shirt for ₹40,000 produced by a small-batch label; he will go to a big brand. And rightfully so. What should be questioned is the design process, the fibres used, and the method by which these clothes are made – wherever they come from. I’m far from a snoot. A T-shirt from a high-street label with an eco-conscious footprint is just as good as one manufactured by a luxury fashion label that promotes sustainability.

Do you see technology and tradition in conflict?
We need technology. It’s a good thing. Used positively, it can be the solution to ensuring sustainability – more than some method or craft that’s been around for 200 years. Each of us should work out sustainable solutions in our private spheres and businesses. What’s important is to be motivated and to make a conscious choice. We shouldn’t be waiting for some silver bullet or government mandate because that won’t be enough – the change has to be personal.

Is this personal ethos what’s driven your collaboration with Lenzing, one of Europe’s leading textile manufacturers?
I was interested in using an innovative wood-based fibre called Tencel, which this amazing company supplies. Tencel is more absorbent than cotton and cooler than linen. Everybody should use it. The key to promoting sustainability in fashion is to ensure that information on fibres like this is shared freely. It shouldn’t be about hiding designs from each other or using the word as a marketing gimmick. We need to have a broader perspective on this crucial issue.

How do you continue to explore sustainability?
I’m involved in every step, from production to the final product. And I’m constantly researching and learning. Fifteen years ago, people thought that if you just used natural dyes you were being conscious, which isn’t accurate. These days, we use a variety of processes to get the optimum result, from handloom to air-jet loom, and working with the mills themselves – big ones and small.

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Moodboard: Rajesh Pratap Singh’s tribesmen (PC:GQ)

What about the weaver communities you work with?
The Bhutti weavers in Kullu are brilliant craftspeople, as well as a very warm, kind community. It’s an association that I’m deeply passionate about. I also work with Sally Holkar’s Women Weave Charitable Trust and Mukti Datta’s Panchachuli Women Weavers’ Cooperative – initiatives in Maheshwar and Kumaon respectively – that promote sustainability and empower women.

What’s the biggest misconception about eco-friendly clothes?
Most people think that they’re in drab colours made from vegetable dyes, and have a generally cheap vibe. But it’s far from the truth, as the work we and other designers produce shows.

How bad is the environmental damage?
It’s when you take a look at the landscape in industrial towns that you really see the damage. The residue coming out of plants is shocking. Over the years, I’ve even seen mountains change. I’ve seen my home state of Rajasthan change. It’s visible to everybody.

There! Enjoy Rajesh Pratap Singh’s LFW 2018’s collection in partnership with Tencel:

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