Fashion connoisseurs and sartorial newbies shared how the pandemic has persuaded the Indian fashion market and its consumers to take an ethical approach. Although there are many labels that claim to meet sustainability standards, brands that have deeply built such a culture in their companies and announced green change through their products are rare. The clothing and accessories brand of Arti Gehlot, based in Gurugram, Kirgiti is one such brand that has made great strides in achieving its sustainability goals.
When Gehlot (29) – a graduate in fashion design from the National Institute of Fashion Technology in Kangra, Himachal Pradesh – decided to become an entrepreneur, her main goal was to “work with small groups of artisans to promote Indian craft forms”. However, as she began her journey as an entrepreneur in 2018, she decided to prioritize a sustainable approach given the urgent need to address and examine how the fashion industry contributes to the environmental crisis. Gehlot shares, “That’s why I integrated sustainable practices with Indian artisan techniques to create products. For example, we use Dabu [the traditional mud-resist technique of block printing with origins in Rajasthan] using only natural colors. We also manufacture our cork bags [she explains that it is a “natural and environment-friendly material that biodegrades without leaving toxic residues” unlike leather or other unsustainable materials. Also, harvesting cork does not include cutting the tree.].”
A conscious effort
Recounting her entrepreneurial journey, Gehlot says she started by presenting just 10 creations at a Dastkar exhibition in 2018. Paying attention to our curiosity about her decision to do so, she explains, “It was to test the market. . Also, to be honest, I had limited cash [to start the business], and no experience because I come from a working class family. The main concern was to survive in a competitive market.
Currently, Gehlot works with both craft clusters and smaller artisan groups across India. Some of the handicrafts his brand has incorporated into their products include Dabu print from Jodhpur, Ada hand embroidery from outskirts of Delhi, Bandhej from Jaipur, Ajrakh [a wooden hand-block printing technique] from Kutch, Rohtak Hook, Haryana.
We ask Gehlot if the brand name ‘Kirgiti’ has any special meaning. Disclosing that it is to honor the passion and positivity she witnessed in an artisan named Kirgiti – Gehlot interacted with Kirgiti during a field trip while at university where she had to visit a craft group and documenting her process – the designer says: “Kirgiti was one of the artisans who lost her sight after working as a weaver in low light conditions for years. I tried to reach the authorities but unfortunately her age limited the possibility of surgery. I met her a few times afterwards, and we bonded very well. During our interactions, she never shared any regrets or had any complaints, but always liked to talk about his work. Kirgiti inspired me to work in the craft sector, and that’s why I named the brand after him.”
The pillars of being a sustainable fashion brand include the use of natural materials and processes, fair trade, fair pay, and zero waste, among others. Gehlot discusses the steps his brand takes to implement these factors: “We pay our craftsmen for the work they do, which is fixed by evaluating the time spent on any design at the time of sampling. It also gives them more freedom to work on other projects. It also helps them understand the prices they can then offer to other buyers. Another thing is that we never work on credit with our artisans; we only produce what we can pay for or upfront.
Discussing providing flexible working options for female employees, she says, “Most of our artisans are women and they work from home only on a convenience basis. Kirgiti also focuses on developing the skills of their artisans to improve their skills, “We hold workshops with artisans to improve their skills.”
How about transparency and traceability to build consumer confidence? Gehlot addresses this by adding, “We make sure to document the work as much as possible; customers can view the manufacturing process through videos or photos of any product they purchase. Learning that she is a zero waste brand – adopting and adhering to zero waste measures is something many sustainable brands struggle with – we ask her how difficult it is to tackle the waste created after production. “Yeah, sometimes it’s hard,” Gehlot shares, explaining, “because we have to work and design around the scraps from the main production. It requires more brainstorming in the design, more labor cost, more The end result is a small product, which customers are not willing to pay a lot for,” she says.
Businesses, especially in clothing, thrive on brand name and a stable customer base. Not to mention that sustainable brands, although “trendy” and in the limelight right now, are often pushed aside due to their higher prices compared to unethical fast-fashion brands. Was it then difficult to jump on the “conscious” bandwagon in such an evolving space? Gehlot concludes: “Even if a customer had the ability to buy, they would prefer a more well-known brand. It took some time to build trust with customers, showing them that handcrafted products can also be quality and durable. We have never kept our prices too high and this has helped us grow our customer base. Our goal is to educate the consumer that sustainable products can also be affordable.