FROM his studio nestled in the heart of Auroville, Puducherry, to the corridors of Somerset House, London, where he is exhibiting as part of the annual International Fashion Showcase (IFS) during London Fashion Week till February 24 — Naushad Ali’s eponymous label has received a jump-start that even he couldn’t have possibly imagined. The theme for this year’s IFS biennale is sustainability and Ali, 33, who is among 16 designers chosen from across the world, couldn’t have asked for a better platform to present his work. Since the NIFT (Chennai) graduate launched his label in 2014, Ali has steadily risen to join the ranks of a new wave of Indian designers, which is leading the charge for slow fashion and mindful creation in the face of a throw-and-use economy.
Presented by IMG Reliance, the fashion installation at IFS quotes Mahatma Gandhi’s — ‘The world has enough for everyone’s needs, but not enough for everyone’s greed’ — words of wisdom that Ali holds close to his heart. After all, sustainability is not a buzzword for Ali, rather it is a way of life, work and his label’s design philosophy — “from the economic sustainability of handloom weaving, the commercial sustainability of a small-batch production unit or the ecological sustainability of the way we work,” he specifies. “Our studio is nestled in Auroville, one of the most eco-conscious communities in India, and in every choice, from where we work to how we work, is a conscious effort to use less and do more,” he adds.
His belief in the circular economy drives his business and is reflected clearly in his installation at the IFS. “For us, it all starts with the conscious choice of material and how one values and respects the resources. Indians have a simple philosophy – ‘Namaste, The energy in me respects the energy in you’. The label, from its very inception, is built on this same philosophy,” he says.
For the installation and collection titled GARB, Ali has used a special fabric created using production waste from his studio. “The installation illustrates sustainable fashion — from the conscious choice of materials; from the yarn and indigo dye, to the construction materials that house the installation — through the minimum-waste design and manufacture process, to create a beautiful 100 per cent biodegradable garment. It takes inspiration from small communities in India, where sustainability is rooted in the way of life, and the human-nature connect is alive,” explains Ali.
The son of a textile trader, it’s only natural that Ali has a deep appreciation and connection with woven fabrics and has worked with weaving clusters from West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, over the years, taking traditional Indian weaves and lending them minimalistic, contemporary cuts. “The whole process of creating the textiles, working with different artisans/ weavers every season, and learning from them is the most fascinating thing for me. When some efforts go into each fabric we create with these craftsmen, we value every bit of it,” he says.
Here, too, Ali works with his favourite natural indigo dye and showcases different stages of creation — from the yarn and dye state, to the dyed fabric, the upcycled, patchwork fabric and the artisanal fabric stage to the final semi-decomposed or worn-out fabric. “The scraps that fall on the floor in our production line are carefully segregated into fabric type, colour, and size as a daily practice. These cast-offs are then patched together and used to make a garment. The cast-offs are also torn into smaller stripes and twisted into ropes, which are woven into beautiful fabric, used for the final piece,” he explains. The materials used in putting together the installation, too, are 100 per cent upcycled materials from Somerset House itself. “The aim is to not create more waste in the process of making this installation. Waste is a design flaw, and that’s our core message,” says Ali.
As for his dreams of global domination, the IFS stint seems to have put him on the right trajectory. “The idea is to show the world the skills we have as a country and bridge the gaps. This will introduce our craftsmanship to the designers around the world and can open up new opportunities,” says Ali.