Label - Runa Ray
South Asia has always been adept when it comes to sustainability
Runa Ray is a fashion designer and environmentalist who uses art as activism to advocate for policy change. She has worked extensively with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Climate Action at the United Nations. Her designs encompass the reduce, reuse and recycle model. Her expertise in the circularity of the fashion industry and zero waste initiatives helps designers, SMEs and MMEs in abating climate change. In an interview with Shilpi Panjabi, the designer discusses sustainable fashion.
Fibre2Fashion: When did you start Runa Ray? What was the motivation behind it?
I started Runa Ray in 2016 to use fashion as activism to educate and advocate for policy change. It was the hidden layers within the fashion industry that got me thinking. I have always believed that design always has a greater purpose in this world and that fashion is no different. That was when I started using fashion as a form of activism and creating garments which had a purpose. When I got involved with the United Nations and the Sustainable Development Goals, life on land and under water along with climate change became my focus and I realised that all the SDGs were interconnected. I started using fashion to educate the consumer and budding designers on processes that they could employ to curtail their carbon footprint in any aspect of their designing, manufacturing and production. So, Runa Ray became an extension of myself not just as a brand but a tool that could help humanity through fashion.
Fibre2Fashion: You have showcased your collections the world over. How is sustainable fashion perceived in the West and in Asia?
Asia, especially South Asia, has always been adept when it comes to sustainability. People have always used natural alternatives and repurposed materials. I mean old T-shirts in India are used as rags and people still drink tea out of clay cups. These countries always had a culture of being resourceful. Unfortunately, with urbanisation and population growth, quick alternatives like disposables have hit the market.
Sustainable fashion is seen through different lenses the world over. In some places sustainable fashion means asking communities to help create clothes, thereby helping them grow and the craft thrive. In other locations sustainability focuses on the use of industrial waste. It also includes shifting to renewable energy. Asia has a lot to contribute towards the fashion industry, as besides a huge textiles manufacturing industry, it is also home to several unorganised sectors that contribute to the fashion industry.
The consumer driven Western nations are working towards onshoring and looking at how they can create circular economies within their own countries.
Fibre2Fashion: Even with so many alternatives available to machine-made fabrics and immensely rich hand-made techniques, why are Indian designers not still at the forefront of slow and sustainable fashion?
Indian designers are definitely in the forefront of slow fashion, but each market has its own aesthetics. For example, in the US people do not wear embroidered garments as people in Indian do on a regular basis. Likewise, bridal couture is not as ornate as you can see in India. Indian textiles have always been revered in the West, particularly in Europe which has always looked upon Indian textiles for intricate and beautiful designs.
Fibre2Fashion: How conscious and aware is your Indian clientele? Has the number grown over the years?
Consciousness is something that all my clients look forward to. But it has to do a lot with education, and it is my responsibility as a designer to tell them about the technique behind a certain print. Let me give you an example: I was invited to the United Nations Ocean Conference in Lisbon, where I showcased garments made using the ancient indigenous technique of floating inks. This process basically used seaweed as a coagulant, which had the inks float on the surface of water, upon which the fabric is laid, and it absorbs the inks. This process eliminates water wastage and pollution, all the while producing beautiful organic patterns. This needs to be explained to the clients, so they know that they are purchasing one-of-a-kind pieces and that they are contributing towards ocean conservancy. One of those dresses was worn by award winner Laura Sullivan to the Grammy’s.
Fibre2Fashion: What has been the most challenging part of garments that you have created?
More than a challenge of creating the garment, I have always found it challenging to decide how I can repurpose the garment at its end of life, which I think is more important than creating the garment. To start with the end in mind is more important than just creating a collection and washing your hands off the product once it has been sold.
We need to ask questions like: Can it bio compost? Is it biodegradable? How can we extend its life? As designers we are critical thinkers, and this is where design intelligence comes in.
Fibre2Fashion: What are some of the major pain points of being a sustainable fashion designer?
o Fighting greenwashing
o sustainability used as a marketing tool
o Sustainability not taken seriously enough
Fibre2Fashion: What kinds of new materials and techniques are you working with for your upcoming collection?
I am looking at working with industrial material and bringing alternative materials into the fashion industry. Also working on using renewable energy like solar energy to print.
Fibre2Fashion: Which are your major markets?
I mostly operate in the US and India, with a diverse set of clienteles.
Fibre2Fashion: Are there trends in sustainable fashion? If so, what are the top three latest trends?
Ha-ha! I would hate to call sustainability a trend, but yes one can still employ trends and be sustainable.
Right now, we need to look at conserving water, land and helping communities that face environmental racism. But these are not trends but topics that will remain evergreen and need to be employed in every design and collection that is made.