Art and fashion are intrinsically linked. Both of them come from the same root of delivering a message from within, through a medium that reaches another soul. This is why art or fashion without a message is essentially soulless and would never attain a timelessness that all art instinctively seeks.
But how does this philosophy translate when it comes to creating art, or fashion in this case, that requires commercial viability as well? Luxury ready-to-wear label No Grey Area’s founder Arnav Malhotra is cautiously optimistic about brands that stay true to their core messages building a community of like-minded consumers organically. “Today people want to buy brands that have a philosophy and stand for something. Brands that ultimately reflect their own thought processes. They no longer believe in just the superficiality of clothing and want what they wear to be a translation of what they are. So as long as brands continue to be true to themselves and what their ethos is, they will build a community that believes in a unified message.”
Often this message is inherently political or radical in nature, seeking to bring about a change in the order of things around its environment. Fashion is no different. Whether it’s promoting inclusivity or raising awareness for an issue that has been marginalised in society, fashion has been a powerful way for designers to use it as a medium to raise awareness. Malhotra agrees but adds that with No Grey Area, the brand adopts a ‘show, not tell’ policy. “As a brand, we aim to spark a conversation around causes we feel passionate about. We show don’t tell how we are trying to impact change. We don’t believe in preaching, rather engaging with and empowering our evolved audience to participate in a dialogue.”
Unsurprisingly, the label’s third collection ‘Agni Apaas’ is an extension of this philosophy. Inspired by Indian mythology and its understanding of nature’s five most important elements, the collection is all about the ultimate balance within. In Malhotra’s own words, “In Indian mythology, the story of the Pancha Maha Bhootas; which make up the five elements of nature, are said to be the basis of all cosmic creations. Each element, with its pure singular characteristic, accounts for the composition of, not just humans but, all things in nature that surround us. It’s only when these elements are balanced, does one find their true centre and nature finds it calm.”
This fascinated Malhotra to no end, inspiring him to think about how our time with the planet has caused an imbalance of these elements within us and around our environment. He says this is evident through the growing problem of climate change and its effects, like frequent forest fires, melting ice caps, rising sea levels, or the depleting ozone layer. Through ‘Agni Apaas’ he wants to drive home the message of this need of a balance within us and our relationship with nature.
With this collection, Malhotra, and No Grey Area, have joined the ranks of designers and labels who are putting their might behind raising awareness for the ecological crisis our planet is facing, but what are the ways in which the label has tried to support the cause tangibly?
“We know as a fashion brand we are not sustainable,” admits Malhotra, “However, we aim to work through our processes to consistently reduce our carbon footprint. As a brand, all of our threads are made from recycled PET bottles, our synthetics are recycled, and the cotton we use is ethically sourced. We also believe true sustainability is supporting our crafts community, we work with them to revive old techniques and methods and interpret them in new ways, so they continue to evolve their craft.”
In addition to this, their family-owned production facility complies with environment conservation rules, “It is 30% solar energy run, LEED GOLD Certified, and has received a Common Objective Leadership Award for excellence in sustainable fashion. The facility has set clear goals to continue working on minimising waste, energy management, and treating water waste.”
Malhotra believes that the conversation about sustainability and eco-conscious fashion still has a long way to go, “Sustainability has become trending because consumers are a lot more aware and conscious about their choices. I do believe not every brand truly cares about sustainability and is simply reacting to the demands of the consumers. There is a lot of greenwashing for the sake of appearing sustainable and the focus is always on driving greater ROI, and this simply won’t work. The brands that actually care about sustainability know it takes a lot more than creating marketing gimmicks and are really trying to build products that continue to move the needle with evolving sustainable practices that are, primarily, long-lasting. The most effective way of being sustainable is reduced consumption and that is only possible when brands create garments that are of quality meant to last.”
The onus, he feels, ultimately lies with the consumer. “Due to the rise of fast fashion, premium brands are forced to be competitive with their pricing while giving quality products. It’s a misconception that sustainable materials are of better quality, that’s not true at all. A lot of sustainable materials are sometimes more expensive yet of lower quality. A brand that wants to be competitive in pricing and still provide quality will always choose quality over sustainability. So one needs to truly care about and be passionate about the cause otherwise it will only be greenwashing,” he says, “The process of creating quality garments that are sustainable requires research, development and a commitment. The consumers, however, are a lot more in charge now, they are reducing consumption and going for brands that do not compromise on quality and are consistently evolving with their sustainable practices and offerings.”
As Malhotra said, the choice lies with you and the only answer is to educate yourself on where your money is actually going. You can explore more of the collection, and the brand, on their website.