Several Nepali brands are taking an environment-conscious route to take fashion forward.
--BY CLARISSA KARKI
With trendy words such as ‘sustainability’, ‘conscious consumerism’ and ‘zero waste movement’ looming over the fashion market, it is easy to get confused about the meanings and technicalities behind such words. We live in a world full of ever-changing trends and fashion trends change by the season. What once was seen as chic and aesthetic may be perceived as ugly and stale after another season. In such circumstances, ‘fast fashion’, a trend in which apparel designs move quickly from ramps to showrooms, has taken over the global fashion market.
Fast fashion focuses on speed and low costs to deliver the latest and trendy collections inspired by runway and celebrity styles. However, it has severe detrimental impacts on the environment, as pressure to reduce cost and time comes at the expense of environmental damage.
Now, you may ask how? In the process of producing clothes fast and at low prices, the fast fashion industry afflicts several negative impacts on the environment, including water pollution, air pollution, and increasing levels of textile waste. Its implications when it comes to the use of natural resources, pesticides, chemicals, and labour is intense on the environment, demonstrated by the fact that the fashion industry produces 20 percent of the global waste and contribute to 10 percent of the worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. It is the second most polluting industry in the world after the oil industry.
Due to these extensively damaging consequences of fast fashion, many brands have approached an environment-friendly and sustainable approach to fashion. International brands like Stella McCartney and Patagonia promote sustainability using re-engineered cashmere and ethically-sourced wool, organic cotton, hemp, and recycled textiles to reduce their carbon footprint. Inspired by people’s interest in sustainability, sportswear manufacturing giants like Adidas have also launched new shoes made of recycled ocean plastic. This sustainability trend has reached Nepal as well.
With the school strikes of Greta Thunberg highlighting the climate crisis and social media trends like #trashtag challenge going viral over the internet, a large part of the Nepali population, especially the youth, have become more concerned about the environment.
Additionally, ethical and sustainable brands based in Nepal that exclusively exported their products to Europe and America formerly, report a rising demand for their products by the Nepali youths in recent times. New Business Age has profiled some Nepali fashion brands that follow the principles of sustainability.
If you are looking for natural, timeless, and comfortable Nepal-made clothing options, Ekadesma may be the perfect place for you. Located in Thamel, Ekadesma produces clothes made from 100 percent natural fabrics, which are biodegradable and environment-friendly. Anuza Rajbhandari Shrestha, CEO of Ekadesma says “We work with natural Nepali textiles, woven by small-scale female weavers of Kathmandu and focus on giving identity to such textile. We combine this with the artisanal process of dyeing and weaving by using the vegetable hand dyeing process. Minimising waste has allowed us to become more creative”.
From production to packaging, Ekadesma remains true to its philosophy of being eco-friendly. When customers shop from their store, they get their purchases in handmade recycled newspaper bags. Even their hand tags and visiting cards are made with recycled paper. Their main products include organic cotton t-shirts, hand-woven bamboo shirts, skirts, shawls, dresses, jackets, and bags. Similarly, they also sell various handcrafted Nepali handicrafts. Their products are available at prices ranging from Rs 700 to Rs 5,000.
When asked if she saw the sustainable fashion industry ever outcompeting the fast fashion, Anuza replied, “Designs for fast fashion is created on-demand, changing based on the current trend. Whereas our designs do not die seasonally, they last forever”.
Established in 2017 to minimise fashion waste and promote women empowerment, Hattihatti creates clothes and accessories by upcycling vintage sarees. Hattihatti also empowers women from marginalised communities by providing them with education and practical training.
The brand is focused on spreading awareness about sustainability and fair trade by promoting upcycled products. “Let’s take an example of a saree. We wear it only once or twice; then it lies in our cupboards for years, and ultimately ends up in landfills polluting the environment. Millions of clothes like these collectively take thousands of years to decompose and emit harmful greenhouse gases responsible for climate change.” Sunaina Singh Shrestha, the marketing director of Hattihatti explained.
Hattihatti specialises in scrunchies, headbands, tote bags, kimonos, crop kimonos, outers, wrap pants, skirts, and jumpsuits which are typically preferred by expats. Nevertheless, with growing concerns about the environment, many of the Nepali youths have started buying their products as well.Shrestha shares, “I think that the demand for sustainable Nepali products is increasing slowly, and it seems possible that the future of Nepal could be sustainable. If we analyse the market record, people are buying more Nepali made products than they used to in the past. However, we have a long way to go.”
The price of Hattihatti products in the Nepali market ranges from Rs 75 to Rs 3,000. Shrestha informed that most of their clients are from Australia, Sweden, Scotland, Finland, the Netherlands, and the US. Similarly, the company also sells its products in different local markets like the Patan-based Timro Concept Store, and the Local Project Nepal.
Mingma Sherpa started Paila in 2015 when Kathmandu was affected by power cuts. She knew from the very beginning that the brand needed to be sustainable without being entirely dependent on energy sources, such as electricity or petrol. Therefore, she decided to make handmade shoes with hand-loomed fabrics.
“The shoe market in Nepal has been invaded by cheap, and plastic made Chinese shoes and flip-flops, which is why we wanted to do something different, something moving in a diverse direction,” says Mingma Sherpa, the CEO and Founder of Paila Shoes.
The key material that Sherpa is working on is “Himalayan Giant Nettle”, commonly known as Allo in Nepali. The plant is grown naturally in the forest which means that no trees need to be cut to clear land for the cultivation of nettle. It does not require pesticides and does not consume a lot of water which contributes to the saving of resources.
However, talking about the challenges and the future of sustainability, Sherpa admitted that coming up with designs and colour options with limited resources has been a struggle and a time-intensive process. Nevertheless, Sherpa explained that if farmers are supported for the production of certain natural fabrics (such as nettle plan, hemp, banana) by the government or private sectors, the future of apparel can go green. Sherpa revealed that her products range from Rs 2,500 to Rs 3,500 and that the majority of her clients are women aged between 30 to 50 years. International clients of Paila include European, American, Japanese, Korean, and Indian clients. Paila prioritises zero waste designs, makes accessories with leftover fabrics, uses recycled soles, and use of organic natural material that is produced locally. It also adds to the least consumption of electrical energy as most of the steps are done manually. Besides, they deliver their products using KTM courier, an innovative start-up guided by green principles, using cyclists to deliver goods in Kathmandu.