Eth­i­cal Fash­ion

With its roots go­ing deep in eth­i­cal and sus­tain­able prac­tices, farm-to-fash­ion la­bel Ethi­cus cre­ates stylish de­signer cot­ton saris for to­day’s women. Brinda Gill profiles the brand.

Apparel - - CONTENTS MAY 2019 -

A pro­file of Ethi­cus, a farm-to-fash­ion la­bel that cre­ates stylish de­signer cot­ton saris for to­day's women

“We all wear clothes, but how many of us are aware of what hap­pens be­hind the la­bel?” asks Vi­jay­alak­shmi Nachiar, Co-founder and Cre­ative Di­rec­tor, Ethi­cus, one of In­dia’s first sus­tain­able fash­ion brands. “More than 50 per cent of the pes­ti­cides pro­duced in In­dia are used only in the pro­duc­tion of cot­ton. Growing cot­ton is a huge pol­lu­tant for the en­vi­ron­ment.” It was this fact that led her and her hus­band Mani Chin­naswamy, who was sourc­ing Eco­logic Cot­ton from con­tract farm­ers in Kabini, Kar­nataka, to es­tab­lish Ethi­cus, a sus­tain­able and eth­i­cal fash­ion brand based in Pol­lachi, Coim­bat­ore district, Tamil Nadu. Eco­logic Cot­ton is branded cot­ton from Ap­pachi Eco-Logic Cot­ton Pri­vate Lim­ited. It is grown us­ing sus­tain­able and or­ganic farm­ing prin­ci­ples to be eco-friendly.

As Mani, a third gen­er­a­tion cot­ton gin­ner in­volved with the growing of long sta­ple cot­ton, was col­lab­o­rat­ing with farm­ers to grow Eco­logic Cot­ton, the cou­ple thought of launch­ing an ini­tia­tive that would be sus­tain­able and lo­cal. “The cot­ton that we were growing was tra­di­tion­ally used in hand­loom all across the

coun­try. Hand­loom weav­ing is all over Pol­lachi. The fa­mous Coim­bat­ore cot­ton saris are made in vil­lages all around Pol­lachi. We wanted to do some­thing fash­ion­able out of our her­itage. We wanted it to be some­thing sus­tain­able, lo­cal and of the best qual­ity. And that is how the whole idea about es­tab­lish­ing a brand that would span the chain from farm to fash­ion arose.”


The jour­ney of growing Eco­logic Cot­ton with con­tract small­holder farm­ers in Kabini Reser­voir area started in 2005, when Mani and Vi­jay­alak­shmi de­cided to work with farm­ers to grow Eco­logic Cot­ton there as an ini­tia­tive of Ap­pachi Eco-Logic Cot­ton Pri­vate Lim­ited, founded in 1946 in Pol­lachi.

“In 2008, when our first lot of Eco­logic Cot­ton came into the mar­ket, the world was in re­ces­sion. It was a very bad time for tex­tiles. We re­alised that to make what we are do­ing sus­tain­able, we have to add value and keep mak­ing our own prod­ucts.”

The re­sult was the es­tab­lish­ment of Ethi­cus, the in-house brand of Ap­pachi to pro­duce hand­wo­ven saris, stoles, du­pat­tas and yardage with Eco­logic Cot­ton, in 2009. The word ‘Ethi­cus’ de­rives from the words ‘ethics’ and ‘us’, thus con­vey­ing that the brand stands for eth­i­cal fash­ion and its un­der­ly­ing com­mit­ment was to sus­tain farm­ers. “The phi­los­o­phy of Ethi­cus is to sus­tain cen­turies-old weav­ing tech­niques and use them to make con­tem­po­rary style saris and other ap­parel, while sus­tain­ing farm­ers and in­still­ing in the weavers a sense of pride in their her­itage and re­mark­able skill.”


The Ap­pachi pro­ject pro­motes sus­tain­able cot­ton farm­ing by train­ing farm­ers to use eco-friendly fer­tilis­ers and seeds. “While the cot­ton fi­bre of Eco­logic Cot­ton and non-Eco­logic Cot­ton is the same, the for­mer is grown us­ing or­ganic in­puts. There is a rich tra­di­tion of sus­tain­able farm­ing in our coun­try, so we go back to those old cul­tures and that is how we farm. Thus, in­stead of chem­i­cals, nat­u­ral ma­nure such as cow dung, cow urine, plants and herbs is used. We use trap crop­ping, that is, growing a plant that at­tracts agri­cul­tural pests— usu­ally in­sects—away from the cot­ton crops.”


The cot­ton sourced from farm­ers is brought to Pol­lachi where it is ginned, spun and value-added at the Ethi­cus Hand­loom Stu­dio. Ethi­cus cre­ates tex­tures and mo­tifs to cre­ate new de­signs that give the cen­turies-old weav­ing tra­di­tion a mod­ern look and feel. The ap­parel is sold at ex­hi­bi­tions in In­dia and abroad, at stores in dif­fer­ent cities, and on­line.


Saris are the main prod­uct of Ethi­cus and they are broadly of two styles, namely Board­room Saris and Her­itage Saris, both in a con­tem­po­rary style keep­ing in mind to­day’s fash­ion ethos. The stu­dio presents at least two col­lec­tions ev­ery year, one for spring/sum­mer and the other for au­tumn/ win­ter, and also takes or­ders for cus­tomised saris. “The de­signs are an amal­ga­ma­tion of the con­tem­po­rary and the tra­di­tional. The weavers are equally in­volved in the de­sign process to help ideate var­i­ous tech­niques of weav­ing, thus bridg­ing the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the de­signer and the weavers. Ev­ery de­sign fol­lows a theme and tells a story.”

In the past, the stu­dio has de­signed saris of dif­fer­ent themes over the years such as Mum­bai Meri Jaan as a trib­ute to the iconic city, where Vi­jay­alak­shmi spent five years do­ing her tex­tile stud­ies. This col­lec­tion has saris in­spired by the pi­geons at the Gate­way of In­dia, the ubiq­ui­tous black and yel­low Fiat taxis, the glo­ri­ously il­lu­mi­nated Ch­ha­tra­p­ati Shivaji Ma­haraj Ter­mi­nus, San­jay Gandhi Na­tional Park, Bol­ly­wood (a sig­na­ture sari of 6,400 colours and tones that cap­tures the colours of the In­dian film in­dus­try!), the Mum­bai rains and skyline. Other themes have been Match­Maker, Gond – A Tex­tu­ral Saga, and Bal­lad of Blos­som.

“The lat­est col­lec­tion ti­tled Cross­roads draws its in­spi­ra­tion from the lines, an­gles and blocks of the fa­mous madras checks, the time­less fash­ion fab­ric from South In­dia. The colours of this col­lec­tion are in­spired by the birds in Coim­bat­ore and Anaimalai where Ethi­cus is based.” The col­lec­tion fea­tures colour­ful saris in­spired by the Mal­abar tro­gon, rose-ringed para­keet, In­dian pitta, red spur­fowl and other birds.

To en­sure that the role and con­tri­bu­tion of all the in­di­vid­u­als in­volved in the cre­ation of the ap­parel is ac­knowl­edged, all Ethi­cus prod­ucts carry tags with the pho­to­graph of the weaver and ar­ti­san who cre­ated it along with his/her pho­to­graph and the num­ber of days taken to make it. Other tags in­form about the ‘Eco­logic pro­ject’ and recog­nise the ef­fort of the cot­ton farm­ers. A tag also in­di­cates the de­sign story and the names of the de­sign­ers or stu­dent in­terns who have worked on the pro­ject.



“At Ethi­cus, we fo­cus on cre­at­ing saris for to­day’s woman. So while our raw ma­te­rial is lo­cal, pro­cessed lo­cally, and wo­ven by tra­di­tional tech­niques, the look and feel of the saris is very fash­ion­able. This means that the tex­ture of the sari is very con­tem­po­rary as are the colour com­bi­na­tions and mo­tifs,” says Vi­jay­alak­shmi.

She ex­plains that she had women cus­tomers say­ing that they pre­fer not to wear cot­ton saris as they do not drape flu­idly, and are dif­fi­cult to main­tain as they re­quire starch­ing and iron­ing to look good, and thus they pre­fer wear­ing chif­fon and ge­or­gette ones. Fur­ther, women would say that cot­ton saris are typ­i­cally not worn for weddings, par­ties or as for­mal of­fice wear.

Think­ing about this re­sponse, Vi­jay­alak­shmi and her team de­signed tex­tured weaves that re­sulted in very fine cot­ton saris that would drape like chif­fon and ge­or­gette and thus not re­quire the main­te­nance of cot­ton saris. Adding to this facet are their con­tem­po­rary de­signs and colour com­bi­na­tions that re­sult in the stu­dio pro­duc­ing very smart saris keep­ing in mind the re­quire­ments and pref­er­ences of to­day’s women. And be­ing of cot­ton, these saris are very com­fort­able for the In­dian weather.

The re­sult was that the ‘smart saris’ were ap­pre­ci­ated by cus­tomers, es­pe­cially work­ing women from doc­tors to politi­cians, who found that these could be worn for for­mal oc­ca­sions as well as weddings and to the of­fice and for tele­vi­sion shows! Clients also re­quested for cus­tomised saris, in­clud­ing cot­ton saris wo­ven with zari yarns that looked dressy. So, in ad­di­tion to the fact that the cot­ton for Ethi­cus’ saris is eth­i­cally and lo­cally grown and pro­cessed, the saris them­selves have an ap­peal for the fash­ion state­ment they make.


Since 2017, Ethi­cus has started an ini­tia­tive called ‘Made by Hand’ wherein the team col­lab­o­rates with mas­ter ar­ti­sans across the coun­try and sends them saris (wo­ven at Pol­lachi) for fur­ther value ad­di­tion that in turn makes each sari one of a kind. To­day, they are work­ing with four clus­ters in­clud­ing Ajrakh and Band­hani ar­ti­sans in Kutch, Chikankari ar­ti­sans in Lucknow, and kalamkari ar­ti­sans in Srikala­hasti.

Ethi­cus be­lieves in in­volv­ing the in­ter­ests of all those—the farmer, gin­ner, spin­ner, de­signer, weaver, re­tailer, and cus­tomer—who form the chain from farm to fash­ion. “We want to of­fer ap­parel with the best yarn, best colour and best de­sign for the In­dian mar­ket. When you travel abroad, you see won­der­ful prod­ucts with a Made in In­dia tag. We wanted our prod­ucts to be the best and be pre­dom­i­nantly for the In­dian mar­ket.” With the hand­loom in­dus­try be­ing the big­gest em­ploy­ment provider af­ter agri­cul­ture for the ru­ral pop­u­la­tion, the ini­tia­tives of Ethi­cus are truly con­tribut­ing to sus­tain the roots of the ru­ral econ­omy while of­fer­ing ur­ban and in­ter­na­tional clients ap­parel with a pure heart.

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