Anshu Bahanda: Welcome to another episode of Wellness Curated. This is your host, Anshu Bahanda, and this season is all about environmental well being. Today we’re talking about yet another topic that’s very close to my heart: sustainable fashion. It’s a growing movement all over the world. Today, we have two really interesting speakers. One of them is Dr Amanda Parkes. She’s a trailblazing fashion technologist, and she’s the Chief Innovation Officer at Fashion Tech Labs and Pangaia. Her background is biomedia design and tangible media. And Dr Parkes pioneers high tech textiles and wearable technology businesses. And she really is at the forefront of fashion technology and sustainability. And joining her today is Mahima Gujral. She’s the founder of SUI. It’s a conscious fashion label based in India and Singapore. ‘SUI’ means needle in Hindi, and it literally represents the essence of the connection between the cloth and the thread. And Mahima’s goal is to use the connection of the threads of nature with fashion, crafting really beautiful and sustainable clothing. As a conscious fashion advocate, she wants to use fashion as a force for good contributing towards a greener and more ethical fashion system. Thank you for joining us.
Mahima Gujral: Very excited to be here.
AB: So, Mahima, let me start with a question for you. So, fashion is regarded in a lot of ways as wasteful, and it’s an environmentally damaging industry. And there is this sense that there is a take, make, dispose attitude from growing the raw material to dying to manufacturing. There is all this waste because it is assumed that a lot of water and energy are required. So tell me something. Who would you blame for something like this? Would you blame the consumer? Would you blame the brands?
MG: Hi. Again, thank you for having me on here so quickly. I am Mahima, the founder of SUI, and we’re just a brand that’s hoping to bring slow fashion to many more women’s wardrobes. What you’re asking me is a very interesting question, and I feel like it’s a chicken and egg situation because we have gone through years and years of industrialisation, which really took off after, say, World War II. And what that’s done is, I feel, really changed human behavior, changed the way that we think, and changed the way that we do things. And it’s also sort of brought so much advancement into our world that we were probably never prepared for before. So the change that we’ve seen in the past many years is something that the world went through so rapidly that I feel like you can’t blame just one thing; you can blame human behavior, but at the same time, you can blame the system that’s changed all over the years. And it’s such a good question because, in 2020, while we were on lockdown, I read this book called Small is Beautiful. And this is exactly what the author talks about. He talks about the fact that we change so rapidly that we sort of forget that nature is actually a part of us. And we started treating nature as a force that was outside of us. And now, because of all these changes, whatever we do, we’ve sort of built ourselves this way. And I feel like the reason why it’s so hard for us to change is because it’s just been years of conditioning that’s gotten us here. And what that now requires is a mindset shift. We need to start doing better.
AB: Thank you. So, Amanda, as you can see, I’m wearing Pangaia clothes in honor of having you on our show. I wanted to ask you, how does sustainable fashion contribute to our overall well-being as a race? And what are some of the key aspects that people should consider when making sustainable fashion choices?
Dr Amanda Parkes: So I think there are two ways to look at it. I mean, textiles are such an immediate and intimate part of our lives, right? There’s this idea of the things that are touching your skin and the things that you interact with daily—your clothing, but also the textiles around you in your house, just out in the world. It’s a very big part of what we think about in terms of our synesthesia—what we touch, how we feel. So that part of it, I think, is something that’s not as sort of targeted, but I find, as someone who is really obsessive about textiles, that it’s something that just really kind of affects our mood in a way that we’re not really acknowledging. So that’s not directly tied to sustainability, but in that sense, we are generally made of natural fibers. And fibers that have been kind of engineered from natural materials do have a better kind of physical response for us inherently. But the bigger part is, of course, where it’s a few steps backwards in the sense that we’re looking at— basically dealing with fossil fuel petrochemical inputs, which obviously affect not just our own health but the health of the planet, biodiversity, and all of that. What we’re really thinking about is this longer-term effect of how we tie information and data about science together to kind of get people to realise that we’re very much tied to nature, a little bit like you were just talking about, that there is this inherent connection, even if it’s a few steps removed, that we’re not seeing and touching. Meaning that we’re not going to notice that biodiversity is potentially down in our daily lives. But it’s this long term effect that we’re going to notice through climate change and all the things that we’re seeing very, very actively. New York City just came out of another round of wildfire smoke from Canada. Right. These are very tangible things, and I think it’s about setting up this connection between them that is directly related to what we’re doing to our environment with excess carbon. And textiles are one way that we do have this very intimate connection to that when we think about natural materials. So we’re trying to kind of bring that.
AB: Thank you for that. Mahima, can you tell me about some of the sustainable practices implemented by your company SUI? And can you shed some light on the concept of a circular economy and how SUI is closing the loop through its production and design processes?
MG: Sure. So we say this one thing at SUI, and it says that whatever we do, we do it with a green heart. And a green heart is a heart that, as we say, respects nature and the people on our planet. In our case, of course, the people who make our clothes and the people who wear our clothes and we sort of use that threat in everything that we do. So whether it’s our design, our textiles, or the way that we create, we kind of make sure that we’re sticking to that one principle, and we kind of break that down into a few pillars at SUI that touch upon all of these aspects. So the very first thing is, of course, that whenever we do design, we do it very mindfully. We make sure that whatever we’re creating is something that we see our customers wearing on a day-to-day basis versus a one-time basis. So that’s something timeless they’re taking with them. But apart from that, our pillars are our responsibility towards the planet. So whatever textiles we’re choosing and whatever dyes we’re working with are sustainable. So now, in our case, they’re often either organic cotton, so machine-made organic cotton, or tencel, or often handmade fabric, something I’m a huge advocate for when it comes to crafts in India.
So while working with handlooms made out of organic cotton or often indigenous cotton from India, we make sure that our textiles sort of fall into that form when they’re handmade. They often have lower carbon emissions. We all know that. and, of course, supports crafts as well. We try to work with dyes that are either azo-free or herbal dyes. We’ve had a lot of challenges with plant-based dyes on our end as a small business, but it’s something that we’re working towards. At the same time, we talk about supporting craft and community, as I mentioned. So we work with handmade crafts because we know that it is good for the planet and, at the same time, supports craft and community, making sure we produce everything ethically. So we have our own workshop where we have our own tailors. We hire them. They are hired by our company. We pay them a full salary, look after their well-being, and then finally, coming to the whole circular economy question, is our kind of goal to reach zero waste? I wouldn’t say we’re a zero-waste brand, but I would say, of course, that we strive to be as low waste as possible. So in our case, when you’re talking about a circular economy, what it means is that you’re not throwing away post production waste or the end product. And if you go to a deeper level, you’re also thinking about where the clothes that you produce, that have gone to your customers, end up going. But in our case, what we do is, first, create everything made to order. So that means that most of our products are often made after our customer places the order, which helps with lowering our impact in terms of post-production but also all the scraps that we collect from our production. We save our leftover fabrics or scraps and sort of create upcycled items with them. So fanny bags, makeup pouches, little pouches—we just try to see what we can do so that even the scraps that we’re collecting sort of get used within the cycle and sort of get a second life. So those are just little things we’re experimenting with. And I think, finally, that the one thing that we do in terms of educating about everything that we do is really just talking about this and sharing this information with our customers.
AB: I learned so much from you young people, actually. The person who first taught me about sustainability was my daughter, who was born a decade ago, and she wears clothes till they’re ripped to shreds. And I don’t know if you see that, Amanda, if you see a lot of young people kind of really driving forward.
Dr AP: Yeah, we do, and that’s encouraging to us. It’s a combination of making secondhand and vintage shopping cool again, because I remember when I was growing up, we would always go through all the crazy secondhand stores. I grew up in Los Angeles looking for Levi’s from the 70s, some of which I still have, by the way. But now it’s kind of come back. And I believe that teenage girls will be the ones who will kill fast fashion, and I love that they need to use their power, right? Because if they’re like: you can have a million conversations about economics and this and that, but if the teenage girls don’t go to the store, it’s going to die.
AB: So the interesting thing was that my younger daughter, who initially didn’t understand sustainability because she was very young, now has grown up seeing her sister. So she’s a real clothes person, but she will wear those torn clothes because she’s like, Mama, we’re hurting the planet.
Dr AP: Potentially about the way we design clothing, because with Pangaia, there are certain things that you may need to have new or a few things. It’s about having fewer things that are better, but also those things that can really be worn. And it’s about the feeling that you could feel in your sweatsuit; it feels even better after it’s been worn and washed, and it looks better. And that’s the idea of the perfect pair of worn jeans. So this idea that wear and tear actually makes things kind of more loved is a very beautiful notion for the right kinds of clothing. And then I believe there’s the other side of things where, with fashion, it’s an art form. It’s a form of personal expression. And there’s a way to start: if we want to have something special, like a dress for an occasion or something, we can do it in a way that we have different models, like rental, shared, or secondhand. And this idea that fashion is not just about consumerism—having to buy and keep—but about sharing an experience…
AB: Fashion being an art form makes me think of the Japanese concept of Kinsutgi, which I love and which they’ve been doing for, like, centuries, where repairing something with gold actually makes it more valuable than initially. Amanda, I want to ask you, as a fashion technologist and as a scientist, what are some of the innovative technologies and materials that you’re coming across that are making a huge impact on the industry?
Dr AP: It’s super exciting because, over my sort of 20 year career, I’ve been in the thick of it, watching materials appear in labs and not make it into commercial products. This is one of the reasons that we started Pangaia: to translate the technologies that we’re seeing across labs and startups into real collections and have the fashion industry kind of meet the technology industry halfway. So what’s exciting is that there’s innovation in basically everything. So we’re looking at alternatives to cotton, things like that, not that there’s anything inherently wrong with cotton because it’s an amazing fibre. We’ve just over industrialised it. So we’re looking at new regenerative practises for cotton, and we want to keep it in the loop, but then we want to look at all the other amazing plants in the world and think about what we can do with them. So making textiles from agricultural waste—say, pineapple leaves, banana leaves, bamboo, seaweed—these are all great forms of fibre. Himalayan nettle—we’ve incorporated that into our denim. It’s incredibly strong—like, even stronger than hemp, which is also an incredible fibre. So as we sort of set up new supply chains across the natural world, what we can do is not have one plant that is right for everything we do, like what nature does, which is to have biodiversity.
Different things are right in different places and for different functions, and try to combine those in the space of leather. Looking at all the plant- and bio-based alternatives, such as mycelium-cell-based bacterial nanocellulose, that’s an incredibly exciting space. As we kind of move more and more into 100% bio-based content. And there are some ways that these alternatives will absolutely mimic leather. There’s also another exciting space where there’s a whole kind of in-between category where it’s not leather or plastic. We have this whole other category that we don’t have a name for yet. It’s just exciting, right? And then, also across packaging, we should just have bioplastic packaging. We’re there, we know how to do it, we have all the materials to do it, and we need to stop subsidising petrochemicals and fossil fuels. And so the price points will start to match. Yeah, so in every space we also have our first patented technology, which is an alternative to animal downs that is 100% bio-based. So it’s made of waste wealth, wildflower cellulose aerogel, and biopolymer. And that is an alternative to animal down that also doesn’t have any synthetics, which is one of the things that can always become an issue, where if you have an animal product, then the usual way to replace it is with a petrochemical, which we’re absolutely not in favour of. So, yeah, it’s an exciting time. And also in terms of dyes, as you mentioned, the problem with natural dyes is their colour, fastness, material, how long they last, and how deep the dye can get. So it’s about looking at sustainable chemistry add-ons to expand those natural dyes to make them last longer, as well as things like how we work with bacterial dyes. So in the whole realm of synthetic biology, where we can start to grow things in a laboratory by taking the DNA from a natural source and putting it into a yeast cell, you use a whole lot fewer resources. Land, water, et cetera, fertilisers—these are the new, really high-tech production methods that we’re exploring as well.
AB: That sounds fascinating. We did a podcast on food recently. It’s pretty much what’s happening in labs in food as well.
Dr AP: It’s actually very similar, and we should be sidelining the two industries. We’re trying to do that. My first company I started was around algae biofuels, and we were growing microalgae to actually use the lipid part of the organism for the fuel. But what we were getting rid of was the cellulose, which, ironically, is now what we’re using for the fibres. And there’s also protein, which is going into food. So you’re looking at, kind of, if you can break up organisms properly to save all the components, we can have massive levels of efficiency in terms of growing as well as, yeah, materials, food, and energy. They’re all tied in the centre to biomass, and everything goes in and out of that cycle.
AB: And you did a pop up at Selfridges. Pangaia did a pop up at Selfridges, which I went to, and it was fascinating. I mean, some of the stuff that stuck, I think one was about denim and how much less energy and water you use to use nettle and seaweed for the denim. The other was grapes to make shoes.
Dr AP: Yes. Grape leather. Yes. So there’s every kind of waste. I mean, you can basically use anything if you know how to process it. And I think part of the point, and you talked about this a little bit, is opening up communication. And what we did originally at Selfridges was that I have a background in museum exhibition design for science exhibits, so I was thinking about informal science education. So we sort of did these displays. There was like a compost pile in the middle of the show, like, trying to show the natural materials of what the clothing is made of around them. To kind of inspire, and we’re not teaching science like a textbook, but we’re saying, Look, here’s this connection to the natural world; here’s how things actually work. And then, yes, some statistics on carbon bring it all home. To be honest, this really does matter. And so it’s a story about the planet and the people who are producing it. Also, we cannot forget about art, of course. Huge. And then what’s the longer term? How do we do this scientific analysis right now? We’re permanently in Selfridges as well.
MG: Yes. I came across the brand, like, in 2020, and I’ve been fascinated. I probably went through the entire website, read everything, and then eventually ended up ordering something. So, I mean, it’s really interesting to hear it in person.
Dr AP: We’re glad to hear that because we go back and forth on wanting to make the highest level of science accessible to the people that care and explain it very clearly, et cetera. But we don’t want to knock people over the head and make them feel like they have to read all this before they buy something.
Dr AP: We’re constantly evolving and working through the strategy of where to put the information, how to talk about it, and at what level, and that’s actually a big part of our brand. And what we do is that our comms and science and our R and D department is actually very tied together, which I think is quite rare. And about 30% of the job is communications, like doing interviews, talking to the press, and then writing about all the science and everything. So, yeah, it’s an important part, I think, especially where we are within the industry.
AB: But at the Selfridges show, it really came across that the way you communicated what you said about not wanting to make it sound like all science and scary to people, you managed to communicate that really well. Buzzing with talks about it.
Dr AP: No, you felt like, Well, because it’s also just something different that you don’t associate with department stores. I think that there can be a great deal of overlap between retail spaces and what they can be for us. It doesn’t have to be just about commerce again, right? If they are in some way educational or experiential, that also justifies having the carbon footprint of a store. We’ve been very careful about physical retail because of its carbon footprint. So it’s not just about having massive amounts of clothing in the space. It’s what makes it special. People can feel and experience the clothes. And how do we kind of create more of a relationship with our audience.
AB: Yes. So, Mahima, tell me about SUI, because you know what I find, and I’m sure you both find that as well, sometimes sustainable fashion can be fairly expensive. So how do you kind of make it more desirable and affordable for people?
MG: Okay, I love this question because I often like to say that I feel like we live in a world, of the past 10-15 years, we’ve just been made to believe that fashion is cheap, that it’s meant to be cheap, and that it’s supposed to cost, like, under $50. Well, that’s not true. The reason why many brands that we see today are able to offer you something at a lower price is because of the materials they use, because they do not pay their labour fair wages, and so on and so forth. So the one thing that we’ve always tried to do is sort of find different ways to tell that story and talk about the journey of a garment. So that’s the first thing that I would love to address: to say that, in fact, it is not expensive. I feel like it’s a mindset and a perception, and it’s exactly the way that you look at it. You can buy five items for a certain amount of money or you can buy one or two really good ones that are really going to last in your wardrobe. Apart from that, of course, what we really do is try to make sustainable clothing exciting. The reason I started doing this was because I had a lot of people ask me, ‘do you really want to do this eco-friendly clothing? It’s boring, it’s hippie’— and I’m talking about back in 2016, 2017. And I’m like, if you think about the right design and if you use the right materials and you do it the right way and you create an identity for yourself, of course, within it, sustainable clothing can be as cool as it can be stylish, and that’s how we sort of advocate for it. But also, as Amanda said, finding unique ways to communicate with the customer—talking to them about sustainability in a way that doesn’t scare them away—I think that’s extremely important. So I truly believe that fashion is, of course, close to identity, but the storytelling behind it means that if you can connect with your customer, you can connect with your consumer with that emotion, that’s one way that you can really shift the conversation.
AB: Thank you. And Amanda, would you like to comment on this because you see this on a global scale.
Dr AP: Yeah. And I think it’s interesting because I agree with you about a certain percentage of our customers, maybe 30%. But I also like to say there’s the flip side, where the most sustainable clothing is the one that people don’t know is sustainable but want anyway. So making a good product is important, and that goes for any product.
Dr AP: We have to address both of those markets. We absolutely want people to be more informed, and we want them to buy the clothes because of where they’re coming from and what it means. But at the same time, if you create clothing that people want anyway… We can talk endlessly about science, but there’s nothing more powerful than when Justin Bieber or Harry Styles are wearing our stuff in a paparazzi photo. And it’s sort of to say that about culture like that, there is the idea of it being cool and also being a more sustainable option, which is a huge way to break through to a different part of the audience. And the other thing that is really interesting is that I totally support your point that it’s so arbitrary. Within the last, say, 20 years, that clothing has been this cheap, and the whole attitude around it,
Dr AP: We now have the next generation coming up and sort of realising that that’s not how things should be. And so the other thing that’s interesting is that the price of clothing is not necessarily tied to its quality. Right. So you can have very expensive, let’s say, luxury brands, but just expensive brand names that are made of the same stuff or the same quality as stuff that’s in fashion. And so you’re paying for the name on certain things. And we have to set up a different kind of infrastructure where you can understand that the reason that this is more expensive is because of quality materials that will last or because people have gotten paid the appropriate amount for making it versus something that is just like, ‘Oh, we put a label on this, but it may not last.’ I think that right now, people don’t associate paying more for a piece of clothing with it being able to last longer. I know that I’ve done that in the past. Correlating directly. So establishing a kind of range of brands that really do bring that quality and tell you, like, you’re saying the transparency of this is what it’s made of; this is why it costs this much, is, I think, a big shift in those margins. We’re trying to scale up our supply chains to bring the cost of these new materials down, but we have no intention of ever hitting a fast fashion point. That’s not the goal. So we stay kind of mid-tier and then bring the supply chains up so that the smaller brands can afford them and have accessibility and stuff. Yeah. So the more that you want to educate but don’t want to have to over educate, I guess is the…
AB: I mean, while you were talking, my brain went back to this at the Venice Biennale one time when they showed the waste from some of these fast fashion brands and how they had polluted the coastline of their particular country. And I don’t want to name the brand, but when you saw that visually done by someone all over the room, it was actually horrifying. So Mahima, tell me, what is your vision for the future of the fashion industry?
MG: I think for me, it is definitely an industry where we’re not having to use the term sustainable fashion, we’ve just sort of made it the norm. We’re just in an industry where all of us together, no matter what the size of the brand, are sort of following the right processes and doing right by people by nature. I feel like that is the way that I look at it. That will be the industry that I hope to definitely work towards and be a part of.
AB: Lovely. And Amanda, you’ve talked about collaboration and innovation. So what are some of the key challenges and opportunities that you’re seeing today in scaling up sustainable fashion practises, for lack of a better word?
Dr AP: No, that makes sense. Yeah, we sometimes call it responsible, but yeah, that word has been co-opted in a way that doesn’t work anymore. The challenges are very much about how all innovation starts expensive. I mean, if we look at the tech industry where I come from, like the first iPhone, in order to develop such an amazing product, there’s a lot of research that goes into it, and there has to be an aggregation of that cost and time put into the price point, and then it will come down. As new things evolve and supply chains are better and there’s no difference in textiles, especially when we’re doing very high-tech things, that’s kind of the starting point where the biggest thing is if you establish a bigger and more reliable supply chain, and often if you’re sourcing waste, that’s setting up a whole new kind of collection mechanism. Especially with recycling all that. So those are different infrastructure components that have to be set up, as well as new infrastructure around biofabrication and manufacturing. So there are these key pieces that just take time and money, and that’s one of the biggest challenges of making those leaps where we’re dealing with how long we’ve been using cotton, especially industrialised cotton, right?
The fossil fuel industry has a big jump on us, the plastics industry. So it’s about establishing all those supply chains, which is, I think, a really big challenge that’s about price point, and then really just kind of working through all of the details. The fashion industry is notoriously averse to change for the better. because they’ve had these artisanal practises, which are beautiful. We’re not trying to change that art. So incorporating innovation into an artistic domain just takes communication and time. And how do we make all the practises better together? We definitely don’t want to kill the art of fashion. And then, on top of that, fighting what we’ve established with fast fashion, like really trying to roll back the last 20 years, The other issue is that the people with the smallest percentage point of margin are usually the manufacturers. And that’s where a lot of the innovation is needed in terms of factory equipment, traceability, and all that stuff. So the brands need to pick up some of that risk and really partner. We try to do that with our manufacturers so that there is a kind of give and take on where the profit margins go and where the investment goes. How do we upgrade systems? I think that’s a really big challenge, too. Whose responsibility is it to change those systems?
AB: And do you think AI is going to play a big role in sustainable fashion?
Dr AP: I mean, AI is going to play a big role in everything, but I think the biggest thing is that AI can help in ways that are maybe unexpected. Like when we’re doing biofabrication strain development, AI can help us determine which biological sequences are the most efficient. They can help us cut down just the labour on the front end. That’s probably not what you thought I was going to bring up.
AB: So you’re talking about helping with research?
Dr AP: Helping with research. Literally like cutting out… This is the best way to go. All the analysis that can happen on the back end is one area, but I think it can help with data processing, right? Like, where are things? How do you find the best material or sort through thinking about visual algorithms for finding secondhand clothing on the Internet? Right? Just thinking through that, just making information available at a rapid rate so, yeah, there’s going to be a million applications. But the thing is that with fashion, we are still talking about a physical form of production.
AB: I’m sure a lot of people would be happy to hear that. Mahima, tell me about your journey with SUI. What lessons have you learned?
MG: There are so many. I’ve been doing this for about five years now, but I feel like definitely one point that one needs to always remember as an entrepreneur is that you’ve got to be resilient, you’ve got to be patient, and you’ve got to really just keep your eye on the goal and keep going. And I’ve realised that everything—every movement, every change—sort of takes time. Where we were five years ago, we’ve come a long way from there. I feel like we were not even talking about a better way to fashion or fashion for good as much as we are today. Of course, it was going on. There were incredible brands five years ago as well. But the conversation is so much more, so I think to sort of have the patience and to believe in that is definitely something that is at the core of doing what we’re doing. Because of that, and with that, why do we keep going as well? So I feel like those would be two of my biggest lessons. And everything else I’m still trying to figure out. I feel like every single day I’m hit with a new challenge. Whether it’s a small thing or a big thing, whether it’s trying to convince a customer that what we’re giving them is something truly unique or different or telling our story, whether it’s talking to them about our pricing, whether it’s really dealing with our vendors. I mean, there are so many little things when you’re running a slow fashion business at the scale that we are. So I feel like I’m constantly learning.
AB: Thank you. And Amanda, you know, for people who are trying to move towards more sustainable fashion, are there any certifications or labels that they should look for? Because we don’t know who’s actually doing it and who’s claiming they’re sustainable.
Dr AP: Yeah, and this is a loaded question because there are some certifications out there, things like Ecotechs, that have become kind of industry norms. But at the same time, the problem with certifications is that they cost money. If you’re trying to pay for something to have a certification, do you do that, or do you put the money back into your brand? There are a lot of materials out there that are not certified but are actually better. I don’t want to call it a money-making scheme, but there’s an element to it that you have to decide to pay for these things. Which we have to kind of think about. And then the flip side of that is regulation, where you brought up the idea that it would be much better just to have everybody doing the right thing. And it’s not that regulation is perfect either, but if we start putting a kind of tax on the back end of the bad processes as opposed to making the people who are doing the right thing pay for a certification for the good, that’s a flip side of where I think that we are headed, especially in the EU and in the States. There’s a lot in the EU, especially tons of regulations that will be coming out in the next year, that are making brands change practices and even just track what they’re doing. Because sometimes it’s not about that they’re trying to do something bad. They just don’t understand their entire supply chain. Of course, we love organic; we love the future of regenerative farming, and we’re definitely tracking that. And we have what we call released in-conversion cotton, which is not a certification, but what we’re saying is that this is not yet certified as regenerative because it takes three to four years for the field to transition. But we want you to know that you’re buying cotton from a farm that is in the process of becoming a regenerative farm, which you want to support. And we’re really interested in the story because I also think there are ways to get around regulations, especially with carbon certification. It’s a bit murky still. And so we try to go above and beyond the certifications. Of course, there are some that we absolutely want, but I think that more detailed transparency, doing a life cycle assessment, and making things open are, I would consider, better practices than any single stamp you put on any garment.
MG: I have to agree. As a small business owner, I definitely have to agree, because even something like a Fair Trade certification, if you were to sort of get it on, it would automatically affect your pricing and make your price go higher, and that kind of just puts you in a fix. So I completely agree that you’d rather be transparent and that you’d rather sort of work out ways to talk about what you’re doing. For example, we work with a cotton called Kala Cotton, which is an indigenous cotton from Kachchh in India. And it’s actually sustainable because, you know, it’s rainfed, no pesticides. It’s not certified. It’s something that they’ve been doing for years, and there’s a whole community around it. They were doing it, and then they stopped it. The community called Khamir, they sort of lifted it back up. There’s no certification around it, but it’s something that’s so good for the planet. And also, it’s an incredible textile, at the same time, you know things like these exist without certifications.
Dr AP: And, I mean, also, the certifications haven’t necessarily caught up to the practises. And especially, we did a project where we worked with a company called Air-Ink, which is actually in India and was founded by a friend of mine from MIT who was Indian and moved back. And he collects pollution, like, literally, soot from factories, characterises it, and turns it into ink and dye.
Dr AP: Very pure carbon. What’s better than charcoal, basically, for a pure black?
Dr AP: And we were doing a collaboration. This was kind of early COVID days, and we were trying to bring the ink into our facility in Portugal to print, and just getting it came off in the first kind of paperwork of shipping that we were importing pollution from India to the EU, which is absolutely not what we were doing. To write the write-up. We had to break it down into each molecular component to get it through to be like, we’re not bringing the pollution part in, we’re bringing the carbon part in, and stuff like that. Like with materials, there are always these crazy stories about taxes on leather and non-leather. And so we need to get that part caught up as well.
AB: Thank you for that, ladies. So at the end of every session, I do a very quick, rapid fire round just to summarise the session. So Amanda, an innovation that’s making a significant impact on the sustainability of the fashion industry.
Dr AP: It’s like asking me to choose a favourite child. I think that just for this, I’m just going to have to go after a combination of agricultural waste, like how we start to process and sidestream waste, and then that combined with biofabrication. So that’s like a low-tech high tech, and those two things together can solve all of our problems around waste, crops, and how we’re thinking about plants across the globe. Those are the two areas that we’re focused on.
AB: Fabulous. Mahima: A challenge that sustainable fashion practices face?
MG: I think perception, in a way as well, and their abilities to sort of, you know, scale.
AB: Thank you. And Amanda, lastly, the first step towards adopting sustainable fashion into your life?
Dr AP: Educate, read, find out what’s out there, and then just commit to maybe buying a few things that you really, really love that may cost more. So there’s just a little bit of research and a little bit of commitment. And I think slowly you will start to find that you no longer crave fast fashion things. Once the quality goes up and you really start to feel connected to your garments, I think that needs to be a slow transition. Invest in one item that you’re excited about.
AB: Thank you so much. Thank you, ladies. That was an incredible chat and I hope lots of people listen to it. Thank you for your time.
Dr AP: Thank you so much for having me.
MG: Thank you.
Dr AP: Across continents. So hello from New York.
AB: Yes, three continents. Thank you for being here today. We hope you learned something new and we hope we brought you a little closer to leading a happier, healthier, more hopeful life. Please do press like if you enjoyed the episode. And I would love you to get your friends and family to subscribe to my channel and I would also love to hear from you. So please send me an email at email@example.com. See you next week. Thank you.