NEW DELHI — Discarded packets of chips made it onto the runway last week in the form of sunglasses and jewelry after a series of treatments at Pune, India-based company Ashaya, bringing its brand Without and founder of the company Anish Malpani an award of 1.5 million rupees, or about $18,000.
A highlight and finale of the second day of Lakme Fashion Week in partnership with the Fashion Design Council of India, which ran Oct. 11 to 15, the Circularity Design Challenge upped its game in its fifth year. It went global for the first time this season, naming six finalists — one each from the U.K., the European Union and the Asia-Pacific region, as well as three from India.
“One of the things we wanted to achieve is to create a global competition out of India,” Jaspreet Chandok, group vice president at Reliance Brands Ltd., told WWD. “A lot of our partners were pleasantly surprised at the scaling of what we were able to achieve at fashion week in India. I think it adds heft to the Indian fashion industry and our place in the conversation on sustainability and circularity to have one of the leading awards on circularity in the world coming out of India — that is our ambition,” he said, while describing it as one of the “biggest sustainability platforms within the country.”
Going global has meant many paths and partnerships.
“Expanding internationally has indeed presented logistical challenges,” said Rakesh Bali, senior vice president and head of marketing at Reliance Industries Ltd. “Coordinating events in different countries, managing resources, and ensuring a consistent experience across locations has required meticulous planning. We had great partners in Redress Hong Kong, British Council U.K. and Istituto Marangoni Milan, who helped us disseminate information about CDC and its objectives very effectively in their respective geographies and attract global talent, designers and fashion enthusiasts.”
Reliance-owned R-Elan, which is a next-gen fabric brand, and the United Nations have been sponsors of the show since it launched five years ago. The event at the United Nations House saw each contestant outline their concepts.
Malpani’s models made a statement with their silver trenchcoats and sunglasses made from the recycled multilayered plastic packaging collected by waste-pickers.
“These trenchcoats were made from almost impossible-to-recycle plastic wrappers from the coffee industry. The shoes were from Thaely shoes, from recycled plastic — the look was genuinely circular,” he explained.
Having given up a job in corporate finance in New York, Malpani moved to India — as he puts it, “to make a difference.”
After close to three years of creative and technological processing to segregate, sort through and transform the waste material, his company dropped a video on social media revealing the sale of the unique sunglasses, which are also UV, polarized and durable.
“We didn’t do any advertising, but that video caught fire,” Malpani said.
Orders poured in for the sunglasses, which were priced at 1,000 rupees, or about $12.
That they were environmentally and socially conscious and told a story appeared to have caught the consumer imagination.
“I wanted our situation to be economically viable, otherwise it is just clouds in the sky,” he said, having used his own funds to kick-start the process; an expected $1 million investment will help foster growth, he envisions.
The runner-up — Ecuador national Felipe Fiallo, who lives in Italy and was selected in the EU round — was awarded funding worth 500,000 rupees, or about $6,000, and like the winner will be mentored by Orsola de Castro, cofounder of Fashion Revolution and creative director of Estethica. His innovative footwear combines digital fabrication, sustainability and style.
“While all the participants had very strong concepts, one of the things we looked at was the ability to scale up,” said designer Rahul Mishra, who was one of the judges.
The other finalists for the show included Pei-Wen Jin from Taiwan, from the Asia-Pacific region, who had a showcase of how a childhood game can be a circularity inspiration. The tangram, recreated with waste fabric, which can be rearranged in dozens of ways — from skirt to trousers, to collars or bags — minimizing waste and with creative fashion. In 2021, she was runner-up at the Redress Design Awards.
Sri Lankan designer Amesh Wijesekera, who is based in London and a semifinalist for the LVMH Prize, worked with factory surplus fibers.
Among the other two finalists from India were Banofi + Studio Beej (Consortium) by Jinali Mody and Arundhati Kumar, who used banana crop waste to creatively make a plant-based leather for bags and accessories. Their collection, Biparita, combined new-age bio research.
Studio Medium by Riddhi Jain and Dhruv Satija used templatized solutions to turn large quantities of silk offcuts and discarded cotton yarns into textiles and garments in their colorful bandhani styles.
Sustainability was a focus for other designers through the day as well, including well-known designer duo Abraham & Thakore, whose collection “Body language,” featured various techniques such as ikat ajrakh, brocades, badla and sequins for both formal and casualwear, and designers Mia Morikawa and Shani Himanshu, the driving forces behind the 11.11/eleven eleven label, who created hand-spun yarns to form a raw beautiful fabric, and a collection of block printed floral checkered patterns, inspired by the distinct Chettinad tiles, in Tamil Nadu.
The five days of Lakme Fashion Week featured designers from all over India and also had a unique setting, this time at the newly designed, spacious location of Pragati maidan.
Highlights included designer duo Shivan & Narresh, with Birkenstock footwear, whose holiday and swimwear were inspired by a recent trip to Finland, and designer Aneeth Arora show for the brand Pero that emulated a huge Mad Hatter tea party, with models walking on the tables and engaging in endless mime and simulated chatter across the table. In the collection, “Cuckoo & Co.,” her designs were both vintage and bohemian, with exaggeration in prints and styles.
The closing show on Sunday featured New York-based Indian designer Bibhu Mohapatra, who returned to showcase in India after more than a decade, with his collection titled “Come Home.”
“It’s like a reverse migration,” Mohapatra told WWD. “My Indian fraternity are breaking barriers and showing in New York, Paris and London. For me it is also a tribute to where I come from, and to the artisans who work on many of my designs.”
Even as he celebrates a flagship in TriBeCa, he is also clear that it was time to look at the Indian market more closely — with the right partner, and perhaps to manufacture in India with a sensibility more tuned in to the Indian consumer.