All for Sustainable Fashion: Niharika Elety
"I believe people are looking for fashion that is fun, colorful, expressive and it just happens to be sustainably made." ~ Niharika Elety
What does sustainable fashion mean to you?
I lived half my life in India and half in the US and while living in India “sustainable fashion” to me was just fashion because the production of textiles was inherently sustainable. Most consumers are aware of and participate in the process of creating their garments. India has a massive variety of regional textiles that use fibers like jute, cotton, and linen etc that are natural to the region as the product of regenerative agriculture. These fibers are then woven by weavers on a machine or handloom and dyed and printed/embroidered by artisans. Many consumers buy their fabrics and get them stitched by a local tailor, which supports local economies and doesn’t exploit labor. The definition of slow and transparent fashion. With the rise of colonialism and the Industrial Revolution, our relationships with labor and the planet were cut and we became dissociated. Growing up surrounded by rich South Asian textiles, fashion was a medium for not only self expression but a relationship with my culture as well.
To me sustainable fashion is a powerful lens to explore the gaps in our system and that goes deeper than just environmental friendly fabrics and fair wages. We need to focus the conversation around its effects on black and brown bodies, who holds power, creating localized economies, thinking of fashion as a product of agriculture, focusing on regenerative agriculture, embracing colorful and cultural designs and reviving/centering indigenous craft and knowledge as the means to move forward.
We don’t need to go crazy looking for new systems and inventions. Places like South Asia and other indigenous communities around the world are thriving systems to take inspiration from. It’s not enough to just reduce negative impacts, rather we need to give back more than we take. Follow the lead of BIPOC communities, the future of sustainable fashion is going back to our roots.
How did you get into sustainable fashion?
I was exposed to sustainable fashion after moving to India at the age of 11. Here I was constantly surrounded by artisanal crafts and rich regional textiles. It surprised me how much access consumers had in India to buying fabrics from weavers and getting them stitched and dyed. I got much deeper into the sustainable fashion scene in college when I learned how exploitative the fashion industry was by outsourcing their work to the Global South, paying unlivable wages, and creating immense pollution and wastage. I hadn’t realized that sustainability was something BIPOC communities had been living for thousands of years but just given a trendy name.
What are some things customers searching to buy from an ethical brand look out for?
I can’t speak for all consumers but a lot of people look for more than just transparency. Don’t just tell us you are being ethical but show us, have it central to your ethos, and involve everyone in the supply chain and celebrate their work.
I do think western sustainability has been washed with a certain “ basic look” associated with them. You probably visualize minimal closets full of beige, white, black, and some earth tones. Sustainable/ethical products have a certain aesthetic associated with it, almost sacrificing people’s sense of style (a reason why people don’t shop sustainable brands). This leaves people of color feeling excluded. For BIPOC communities color, pattern, and embroidery are integral to culture, freedom, and self expression. The process of creating these fabrics are traditionally already ethical/sustainable crafted by skilled artisans on handlooms using natural farmed fibers.
What do you love about Xaura?
I love that Xaura emphasizes and celebrates South Asian culture and craftsmanship by showcasing handwork like block printing and embroidery. It is clear that slow fashion, empowering artisans and sustaining heritage are integral to Xaura’s ethos. The designs are colorful, rich, yet extremely wearable all year round. Overall I love the energy I feel when I am in a Xaura piece.
To learn more about sustainable and ethical practices, you can reach Niha on www.tegacollective.com and www.eletbyniha.com. IG @Nihaelety