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"Dig deeper into the conversation about sustainable fashion" - Kriti Tula

When one thinks of ethical fashion in India, one of the first names that comes to mind is Doodlage. It is fascinating to see how one man’s waste can become another man’s treasure. Exemplifying this notion, every Doodlage product is unique, created from recycled garments and industrial waste fabric.

Upcycling, fair wages, better working conditions, and a vision to change the narrative about eco-conscious clothing in India are what drive Kriti Tula, founder and creative director of Doodlage. Kriti talks to Rohini Kejriwal about the designing process, vision for the brand, ethical fashion in India and the missing links that need to be addressed:

Kriti Tula

Was upcycling something you envisioned from the start?

From the beginning, we’ve wanted to work towards achieving better pays for people who work to create fashion. Finding ways to reduce the impact of fashion, communicating the impact of fashion and working to make fashion circular was always the vision we had for Doodlage. In the last four years, we have connected with several like-minded people to collaborate on achieving this vision together.

Do you look at scraps of fabric and make mental collages, or do you physically put them next to each other to mix and match? Take us through the ideation and design process.

There is no one way of going about working with scraps. Based on the budget, we pick up whatever we can in one go because it’s a known fact that scraps are discarded too fast. So we need to take quicker decisions with the same. We source factory waste, which includes rejected surplus and post-cutting waste. Once all the scraps are sourced, we sit to think about the designs to bring all these scraps sourced from everywhere together in one collection. We usually do this through embroideries, prints or patches. The factory waste is converted into garments, while bigger panels that are left post-cutting are patched together to make new styles.

With every collection that we design, we also try to build new textures so that we use every little bit of waste in our post-production processes. So whatever is left over is separated into dark and light colour stories. The darker scraps are made into textured fabrics for our bags and accessories and the lighter scraps are made into paper and stationery.

Let’s talk about spaces. Where does most of your creating happen?

Most things happen as samples in the studio. There are no designated areas for creativity in the studio, it's all very need-based within the space. Sometimes you'll see me on the machine stitching, and other times sitting with various team members to create something.

Could you talk a little more about your routine?

My mornings start at 5.45 am. Waking up early gives me enough time to get up and work out (I plan boxing, yoga, swimming, HIIT routines through the week). I feel disoriented without my workout.

Getting to work starts with planning the day with each team member and having brainstorming sessions. Days when we’re sourcing, designing or planning events/campaign shoots are messy but fun. Most days, everyone wraps up between 6-7 pm. On Saturdays, we have a team lunch where we discuss new ideas, eco fashion around the globe, and more.

Do you like your workspace to be messy or tidy?

I like it messy by day, organized by night, if that's a thing. I like a fresh, clean start and prefer things to be in order when I wrap up every day. It’s a part of my routine.

How does travel and visiting new places inform your work?

I always try to sign up to learn something new while I travel. It could be a paper making workshop or climbing a volcanic peak. But I believe that every experience adds to the work you do. The last place I visited was Vietnam. I lived with a Hmong family to learn age-old techniques of indigo dyeing. I travelled around the country for 10 days to know more about their history, culture, people, wines and beaches!

"Find ways to reuse and recycle as much as possible as try and buy products that can biodegrade like your natural materials. If you are choosing to buy polyester, try and invest in recycled polyester. As a consumer, you have the power to invest in the right products. People need to remember this!"

Collaborations and storytelling seem to be a big part of Doodlage's identity. Tell us about some past and upcoming collaborations.

There are many collaborations that we work with simultaneously. Like you said, it’s part of our DNA. It allows us to make other brands more sustainable and help us spread the word about the need for what we do.

One of our first collaborations at a very young stage of Doodlage was with Fab India. I used to live in London for my Masters during this time and the full collection was put together over Skype conversations with my team in India. It taught us a lot and gave us the patience to keep doing what we were getting into. We upcycled tonnes of fabric waste from Fab India vendors back into tunics and jackets.

Another interesting collaboration we did was with Tencel India, which sent us panels of fabric waste equivalent to 900m. This was fixed, patched and panelled to create our summer collection. Upcycling reduces the impact on natural resources to produce more, and also reduces carbon emissions that would have been released from the fabric if it ended up in a landfill. By upcycling all that fabric, we gave it a new, extended life of a good 20-30 years. The collection was showcased at Lakme Fashion Week SS ‘19 on Sustainable Fashion Day. All the pieces from this collection are now sold out!

Since then, we’ve done many collaborations - from green packaging and corporate gifting to brand collaborations for small collections.

This culture of creating and wasting goes hand-in-hand with consumerism. How has Doodlage shifted this narrative, and enabled people to consider the alternative?

The shift of narrative is created with conversation. The problem is created by each one of us and many of us are trying to figure out ways to work around the problem. At Doodlage, we have started working towards building a community. A community of people who want to buy consciously made good-looking clothes. All our pieces are created by like-minded social enterprises, fair wage units or all-women production houses. Everything we create is packaged in starch bags and recycled paper. It's all these little things that help us move closer to our goal of circular fashion. We try to make it accessible to everyone, and communicate the need to shift the narrative and focus on maintaining our aesthetic.

This year, we plan to conduct several events to indulge people in alternate experiences like clothes swaps, thrift shopping, fashion clinics (where they can learn to fix clothes) and finally, collection drives that allow people to send back garments to us. We are finding ways to send these collected garments to recycling units that we procure fabrics from or upcycle with, so that those social enterprises can use their talented craftsmen to create accessories out of them.

What’s the latest collection the brand is working on?

We are working on introducing hand-woven recycled fabrics to our collection. And there are many more interesting products in the pipeline. We are also working to make our collection drives bigger this year, allowing us to collect more garments to recycle, upcycle or resell.

What do you think is the future of ethical fashion in India?

Ethical production, and not just in the fashion industry, is the necessary next step. We have to find ways to do things that don’t harm the people who make it or the ones who consume it. It's important to think about the ways of disposing it too, and what happens at the end of the life for this product.

We work with many social enterprises to create our fabric, garments and products. We have women-run workshops to give artisans fair wages. All this adds a cost to our pieces. But we don’t see fashion as a need anymore because we have produced enough around the world to sustain mankind for decades. We believe it’s important to support the millions of people associated with fashion. We are working on creating parallel economies for them, and to give them better wages and working environments. Ultimately, we hope to raise funds to scale our ideas and make our products more accessible to a mass audience.

"I always try to sign up to learn something new while I travel. It could be a paper making workshop or climbing a volcanic peak. But I believe that every experience adds to the work you do."

Stemming from this, how can each of us do our bit to be better consumers?

Start asking questions, read more, know what's happening and dig deeper into the conversation about sustainable fashion. It’s not just your little back dress or your basic white t-shirt. Find social entrepreneurs who are selling more than just the product but supporting everyone who is involved in the making of your product at a fair wage.

Find ways to reuse and recycle as much as possible as try and buy products that can biodegrade like your natural materials. If you are choosing to buy polyester, try and invest in recycled polyester. As a consumer, you have the power to invest in the right products. People need to remember this!

We'd love to know your thoughts on how one's ecosystem and the company you keep affects your work.

My support system starts with my mother, father, sister - I know everything is alright when they are around. Then there are childhood friends with whom I have nothing in common but they are my dysfunctional chosen family I can't do without. And there’s business partners and friends who have advised me or whom I bounce ideas off, and people I’m happy to see every day. After a certain age, your ecosystem is what you choose and build over time; it defines what supports you. By this time, you have a go-to person for everything.

All the images have been provided by Doodlage.