By Kriti Tula:
As a young design student pursuing my internship at various export houses, I noticed that tonnes of “export quality” fabric was going to waste, every day. Only 75-80% of the material used to make a garment is actually utilised. The leftover fabric is just stored away, remains unused, and is eventually discarded or sold into the scrap market, where it is again stocked and resold. If unsold, it gets dumped.
Now imagine if a medium-sized export house produces thousands of garments in a month, how much of that fabric lands up in a landfill somewhere, clogging up the earth?! This wastage is simply criminal. I felt that with some imagination and creativity, the waste material could be converted into beautiful clothes. This thought became so deeply embedded in my psyche, that it made me determined to someday launch a brand that focused on “conscious fashion”.
Today, that is exactly what my brand “Doodlage” does. Until very recently we only used leftover fabric (our recent range also used biodegradable fabric made from corn and banana fibres!). My team and I use our creativity to turn all the excess material into stylish, well-made, unique products, and since the design is dependent on the material available at that time, each piece is one-of-a-kind. Hence the name Doodlage, which comes from the word doodle. Every doodle has its own character, much like the clothes I make.
What we do pretty much goes against the trend of “fast fashion” where consumers have gotten used to buying cheaper products, produced at a much faster rate because they are mass produced. A mindset has developed where we use a dress two-three times, then discard it for a newer one. At Doodlage, we strive to reverse this trend through the practice of “slow fashion”. We make good quality products that are handcrafted with care. Fair wages to those involved in the making, and using sustainable processes are top priorities. We utilise every last bit of fabric, sometimes making fillings or small accessories, to complete the cycle. It’s challenging, yet fun. Our designs have also come to be age agnostic. I learnt this at an exhibition in Sri Lanka, where a lady of 65 years, ended up buying 11 pieces, which she carried off so well!
In the initial stages, Doodlage’s consumers as well as our store and e-commerce partners, did not get why what we do is so important. Our price points are the same as a brand like Zara, however, people expected our clothes to be priced cheaper because it was from an upcoming label. This took a lot of education on our part because there was no brand already doing what we do. But three years down the line, there’s a new consciousness setting in.
Another challenge was understanding the business side of things. After planning and initiating Doodlage in 2011, I pursued a Master’s in Design Management at the London College of Fashion, on a full scholarship. My idea was to learn about things like costing and how to create a label. But nothing prepared me for the reality. Design schools nurture us to be great designers but it’s as important to understand taxation, how to find the right market, how to price products and what certifications can help our brand. Design schools also don’t focus so much on sustainability. Recently I hired two design interns from EsEds School of Design, in Kolkata, which is built around sustainable fashion, which is a good start. However, I believe sustainability must be a priority in all design colleges as it is the need of the hour. Instead of conceptualising it as a separate programme, it should be integrated into every specialisation. From the cutting of a garment to using environmentally friendly dyes and fabrics, sustainability at all levels can be learnt and practised.
Currently, we are a core team of four, and we collaborate, on an average with 10 to 15 freelancers, who connect to our concept. We also work with NGOs like Samarpan and Goonj. This creates an ecosystem of sustainability and also keeps things interesting. We’re now moving into bags, home accessories and furnishings, and are no longer a label just making our own clothes; we collaborate with other brands and export houses to make something exclusive for them from fabrics leftover from their productions.
At some point in the future, I hope consumers will be ready to buy clothes made from post-consumer waste i.e. clothes that have been upcycled from used garments. In the meantime, we shall keep challenging the usual pattern of designing and production to create sustainable fashion and lifestyle products. We now produce 200-300 pieces every month by upcycling and reusing 600 to 900 meters of fabric, every month! Anything that’s left over gets used because we pride ourselves on being a zero-waste brand. Ultimately, our aim is to inspire people to buy more consciously created products, and while the change may be slow it is definitely happening!
Kriti Tula is a designer, Founder & Co-Owner of Doodlage Retail, which upcycles industrial waste fabric into wearable fashion, accessories and home furnishings. Kriti studied fashion at the Pearl Academy of Fashion in Delhi, and followed this up with a Master’s Degree in Design Management at the London College of Fashion.