Don’t know what to term this unfortunate situation as …evolution or extermination? From Sunder Nagri to the neighbouring towns of Delhi, Ashita Singhal of Paiwand – a fresh fashion design graduate combed for weavers late last year and realized that the community was on the brink of extinction. Their derelict units brought tears to her eyes. She sat there listening to the sordid stories of their existence. They were willing to do anything to survive. Rs.80 was the meager income they earned despite weaving a good amount everyday.
Their plight strengthened her resolve to provide dignity of labour to many such weavers who knew no other craft to earn a living. Her up-cycling fabric venture was actually a final year post-graduation project. She won the 2018 the Global James McGuire Business Plan Competition for sustainable fashion waste management. In it, upcycle textile waste from fashion designers is turned into designer fabric. With a grant of 25k US dollars an ambitious business was set up.
The 24 year old budding designer does realize being ethical is difficult for the final product cost goes up but it is the need of the hour. And agrees to rampant green washing being done in the name of sustainability by many in her industry. But speaks of it as a long-term structural shift with the goal of reducing environmental and resource consumption for the sake of our future generations.
Driven for more cause worthy quality products, despite the scorching sun shining on my head, few days ago we met at her well-lit studio in Noida’s industrial hub. There she sat pretty answering questions and proudly showing me around.
MD: You mentioned switching from B.com to fashion design. What made you do so?
AS: Initially my love for commerce and fashion started as two separate interests. I began with B.com but after studying it for a while, realized calculations and numbers was not my game. Fashion design, on the other hand, fueled my curiosity. My first year at Pearl Academy was a bit confusing since I was coping with information overload. I had never questioned anything as much as I did while studying design. That helped to channelize my creative energies.
MD: What would your dream project be?
AS: I think I have already taken a step towards to my dream project. Had always aspired to work in collaboration with designers and artisans. And now wish to make Paiwand one-stop shop of up-cycling solutions for designers. We aim to work as catalysts in the process of reducing the pre/post consumer textile scrap and add value to their end product. Ours is a team of a designer, artists and skilled labour, creating textiles which are not only beautiful but also serve a purpose.
Meanwhile, being in tandem with established names like Injiri, Amrich, House of Wandering Silk and more, has been an enriching experience in itself.
And ever since our inception five months ago, we have reworked approximately 120-130 kgs of textile scrap. Yet, our dream project would ideally be up-cycling the same amount on any given day.
MD: Who are the creatives you look up to and why?
AS: Anni Albers has been my biggest source of inspiration. As quoted by Tate Modern, London, “She is an artist who changed weaving and a weaver who changed art.” Having studied at Bahaus – German art school operational from 1919 – 1933 which combined crafts and fine arts, and was famous for its radical approach to design. Because women were encouraged to learn weaving, tapestry while the men took up architecture. In the 1920s, Annie was known to be a voice for her peers – female artists and designers.
Have also learnt a lot from my design contemporaries. For instance – Wajahat Rather who owns a label called Raffughar, is our consultant. Infact, we share our workspace. He is an artist, textile designer and an academician. And my other industry mentors are designers of the label Amrich – Amit Vijaya and Richard Pandav where I interned. They helped to broaden my knowledge of textiles and silhouettes.
MD: What keeps you creatively inspired?
AS: As a designer, even few words of appreciation motivate me. I remember, when I started working on this project, the weavers and other artisans thought of this process as my hobby so they showed little interest in being a part of a bigger picture. Few months down the line, after producing more than 300 metres of up-cycled fabric, I see hope, motivation and confidence in our entire team.
The process itself is an inspiration. With new collaborations, we’ve been imbibing different design sensibilities. From sorting the waste to creating yardage from it, the whole journey is empowering.
“Conscious designers do not like to contribute to any landfill. They treat their fabric waste as treasure. Paiwand started with spinning the yarn on Gandhiji’s ‘Charkha’ and weaving on a paddle loom. Later we introduced handknitting and patchwork to a slow living line of home textiles and clothing. Herein, we are not imitating the Panipat model of making dhurries and blankets with global high-street mutilated fashion surplus for poverty stricken Africa or to be distributed during natural disasters. Ours is strictly a design outfit making weaves and patterns, building a vocabulary of sorts to reckon with,” Ashita clearly defines her intentions. She explains what they bring to the table distinguishing her work from other ‘Chindi’ (fragmenting scrap into smaller pieces to re-purpose it) factories.
FYI – Paiwand is an Urdu word for patching or mending. ‘Paiwand lagana’ is a term used for the same on a garment. It also implies hybridization or connection on a deeper level.