How Green are my Jeans

Written by Kimi Dangor | Updated: May 18 2014, 18:12pm hrs
For Designer Shani Himanshu, creative director of indie label 11.11/eleven eleven, jeans have always been a passion. Having worked as a consultant with brands like Diesel, Levis and Gas Jeans, it was his experience that led him to create a collection of handmade denim. Created in association with Arvind Mills, the range is completely hand-crafted, uses very little electricity and reinforces his firms commitment to sustainable fashion.

When Shani and design partner Mia Morikawa showcased this collection, 100% HANDMADE at Lakme Fashion Week in March, the message was clear wearing designer denim may be hip, but donning a pair of eco-friendly signature jeans is the epitome of cool.

We all wear denims. I think its good to wear something thats has soul and character, says Shani, of the unique line that celebrates the human touch, with its hand-spun yarn, hand-woven textile and a hand-stitched final product.

If you think the eco-friendly jeans movement is a passing fad, likely to fade faster than the indigo dye on your favourite pair of true blues, think again. Veteran designer Rajesh Pratap Singh has been making denim for export for a few years now. He married his love for khadi with denim over two years ago, and introduced his first khadi denim line.

What started as a partnership with Arvind Limited is today a dedicated collection, with Singh sourcing part of the raw material from Arvind and spinning, weaving and dyeing the rest at his weaving centre in Neemrana, Rajasthan. For us, its not just another fashion product. Khadi is an individualist fabric with a lot of history, a textile that is eco-friendly and innately Indian. And with this handmade, no-machine intervention line of jeans, we are creating a pure Indian product, says Singh.

Its this resurgence of the Indian identity that is proving to be a catalyst for the khadi denim movement, with manufacturers also throwing their weight behind the initiative. Both Singh and 11.11/eleven eleven participated in a fashion show in April, titled Denim India Made, organised by the Denim Manufacturers Association.

The primary focus was on authentic khadi denim. India has been manufacturing denim for companies all over the world, according to their specifications and needs, with nothing intrinsically Indian in the final product. Just as how Japanese, Italian and American denim have unique identities, we want to make something which is originally from India, says Rajesh Gupta, creative head, Arvind Limited, denim division.

With the support of the Khadi Board and its many institutions, Arvind is engaging with families of craftspeople who specialise in spinning, dyeing and weaving techniques. With minimal utilisation of power in the ginning process and fewer pollutants released thanks to the natural indigo dyeing process, the final product is extremely environment-friendly.

While khadi denim has found both creative and commercial clout, individual efforts like that of designer Deepika Govind are adding momentum to the cause. Bangalore-based Govinds line of organic jeans Denim Green was launched in 2012, after nearly four years of research and development. The range of hand-woven denim, dyed in pure indigo, remains her pet project and a testament to her commitment to all things natural.

It was during a stint at a huge denim manufacturing unit in Bangalore that I noticed that nearly 20 to 25 litres of water were wasted per pair from the beginning of the process till it reached the shelves, says Govind. She chose to source organic cotton, use plant-based dyes, eliminate the acid wash and weave her fabric on the handloom. Today, Denim Green sells in classic fits, comes with tea tree aroma wash, anti-bacterial wash and even retails with pure silver buttons.

Other efforts continue to better the product, much like designer Samant Chauhans, who, after working on a pilot handloom denim line with the Ministry of Textile and the Denim Club of India, is looking to launch his own collection. The handmade ideology resonates with our brand philosophy because handloom fabric has a very unique character, says Chauhan.

Like him, there are many who are discovering romance in the variable warp and weft of hand-spun denim. There are effects built into the fabric with loom stop marks and high and low of fabric. These features only add to the texture of the denim, says Gupta. And its these imperfections that Shani is counting on to lend individuality to his product.

Each 100% HANDMADE khadi denim is hand-stitched and realised by one craftsperson, who autographs the finished garment and adds a serial number. This kind of labour intensiveness that adds to the price of the product and nudges it into the premium segment. Apart from labour involved, there is a lot of expenditure that goes into research and development. This time and money could be earned back if there was a mass movement and costs could be controlled, says Govind.

And while the numbers might not add up yet Arvind Limited manufactures nearly 9 million metres of regular denim per month, in comparison to just 3,000 metres of khadi denim this does not deter Shani and Morikawa, who are experimenting with extra weft techniques and are working on making khadi denim from organic Kala Cotton. Singh is set to launch his 2014 edition of khadi denim in June.

This is not fast fashion. Its a timeless statement, something you can wear today in Delhi and 10 years from now in New York, says Singh.