As interest in sustainable and fair practices within the textile and fashion industries continues to rise, a raft of eco-conscious companies are finding success matching traditional craftsman techniques with modern business savvy.
Sweatshop labor is unfortunately still not a thing of the past, yet more and more companies in both developed and developing countries are turning the clock back and rejecting the currently accepted method of mass-produced, cheaply made garments that have a short lifespan, opting for more traditional methods of garment making. At the same time, companies are using technology and innovative techniques to minimize environmental impact and (perhaps most importantly) pay the craftsman appropriately and fairly for their work.
Created in May 2010 by a team of designers and based in Madrid, the IOU Project essentially “re-humanizes” the garment making process. Before the company’s launch, the team behind IOU set about procuring quality, handwoven materials that would last, immediately establishing a working relationship with 246 artisan families in India, while simultaneously developing a business model that focused on fair wages for artisans and minimal impact on the environment.
The result is its eponymous domain, where it sells exclusively designed garments to people worldwide. More interested in the individuality yielded from handweaving as opposed to the carbon-copy effect of machine manufacturing, the IOU team met with each of the 246 families personally to help establish fair working conditions and, above all, determine suitable wages.
Each piece comes with a story, telling the customer who made the cloth, who dyed it, who designed the garment and who sewed it together. The entire manufacturing process is completely traceable and transparent and ensures no scraps are left on the cutting-room floor, with leftover madras being used to embellish jeans and chinos. Check out their video below for a peek behind their philosophy.
Another company blazing a creative trail on the local front is Ananafit, who look to the local environment when seeking fibers to make textiles or garments. Focusing on producing clothes that have minimal impact on the environment, the team at Ananafit let their imagination have all the fun, making t-shirts from the fiber of banana stems and sandals made from palm leaf strands.
The use of banana fiber has been the cornerstone of the business and is used to create richly colorful cloths which are then turned into all manner of clothes including saris. A simple bleaching method cleans the raw fiber before the fat content is removed. Each strand of fiber is then individually taken out and dyed and woven on a handloom to construct the material.
Banana fiber is especially noted for its lack of heat absorption while the emphasis on handweaving means that production of each garment poses little to no threat to the environment. Located in Anakaputhur, near Chennai, the weavers also employ a range of other natural fibers in their work including pineapple, bamboo, jute and aloe vera and this new approach to using organic fibers has helped revitalize this once-booming handweaving district, which had been slowly declining due to lack of demand and competition from machine manufacturing.
But surely such a labor-intensive process means a hefty price tag for the finished product, you ask? Not so. T-shirts made entirely from banana fiber come in at around 450 Rs while saris generally cost between 700 – 2,500 Rs. Check out their website for more information.