Harvesting Style Sustainably: The Farm-to-Fashion Revolution

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Farm-to-fashion represents a transformative shift in the fashion industry towards sustainability and ethical practices. This approach prioritizes environmentally responsible sourcing, local production, and a transparent supply chain. It intersects with sustainable fashion, mainly through three broader ways: local sourcing, eco-friendly farming, and skill-building. This approach emphasizes the use of locally grown materials, reducing the carbon footprint associated with transportation, supporting nearby farms & local communities, while reducing reliance on global supply chains. In terms of farming, organic and regenerative farming methods promote healthy soil and biodiversity. By upskilling people to produce nature-based dyes, methods and textiles, the gap between demand and supply can be met.

This approach not only ensures the quality of the materials but also reduces environmental impact, making farm-to-fashion a powerful driver of sustainable and eco-conscious style. Today, we are here with Prof. (Dr) Binaya Bhusan Jena, National Institute of Fashion Technology (Bhubaneswar), Ministry of Textiles, Govt. of India, to understand the concept and how the fashion industry can bring in a paradigm shift in domain of sustainability.

Tell us about significance of Fashion industry and Sustainable Fashion, and how Farm to Fashion integrates well in it.

Fashion industry has a symbiotic relationship with human society, culture, trade, economy and employment. Every year, we are adding more than 100 billion pieces of new garments to support the need of more than 8 billion people on this planet. The demand for fashion varies based on economy, climate, and culture with numerous strata, categories, styles, and quality. Today, many countries, particularly the developed countries are importing more than 90% of their clothing needs from the developing world, due to cost competitiveness and variety. The concepts of “season” and “collections” have changed the industry dramatically over the last couple of decades. The rise of “Fast Fashion” on the lines of fast food or use and throw culture, together with the production practices, material uses has put tremendous pressure on the environment.

“Farm to fashion” is an inclusive and sustainable approach that focuses on bringing sustainability and equity in the entire fashion value chain. Farm to fashion bridges the gap between agriculture and style: showcasing sustainable & eco-friendly clothing created from locally sourced materials. It’s a seamless blend of nature and design.

It is a sustainable approach that not only supports local agriculture but also promotes environmentally responsible practices in the fashion industry and promotes a harmonious alliance between style and sustainability.

How supportive the value chain is in the process?

Value chain is the key to sustainability. If each stage of the value chain is disected and sustainability is ensured, then the final product can also be sustainable toa significant extent. It is not about the product itself, but how the product moved from sourcing raw material stage to the production, distribution of finished product and delivery to the customers, both forward and back integration of supply chain matters.

A well-managed value chain ensures that products are created sustainably, efficiently, and with minimal waste, supporting the overall sustainability goals of farm-to-fashion initiatives. It helps connect farmers, textile producers, designers, and consumers, facilitating the flow of eco-friendly and locally sourced materials through each stage of the fashion production process, adding value to the scope of economy of the local entrepreneurs and businesses.

Tell us about the interventions carried out in NIFT Bhubaneswar campus in this regards.

National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), Bhubaneswar has picked-up the sustainability theme keeping the handloom clusters of Odisha in mind. The entire handloom textiles historically used natural fibres only with low carbon footprint, similarly the weavers would use only natural dyes extracted from various plant and mineral sources before the advent of synthetic dyes in the 19th Century.

Due to climate crisis, the demand for sustainable fashion is on rise. Additionally, it is our individual responsibility to make our stand firm that we are contributing towards a sustainable future.

NIFT, Bhubaneswar chose the cause and did the plantation of natural dye-yielding plants and natural fibre-yielding plants. This created a ray of hope when we conducted a few training programmes for the artisans on how to use of different types of natural dyes on natural fibre/ yarns. The response was overwhelming, and many artisans have started making natural-dyed handloom products for domestic and international buyers in the name of sustainable and eco-friendly products.

With this in place, we would like to underline that addressing aspects of climate justice is important as the front-liners get intensely affected due to climate crisis. Weaving sustainable practices with revenue generating models can exemplify the sustenance of sustainability.

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You have planted Mulberry, Arjun and other trees. How Farm to fashion is playing a pivotal role in generative sustainability?

A very interesting question. We have a 10 plus acres’ campus surrounded by another private university campus. The campus was a mountainous terrain full of big rocks and uneven surface with only around 5 percent green coverage near the boundaries. In the beginning the campus authority was reluctant for plantation as the internal roads and other construction projects were planned to come at different locations in the campus. People suggested for beautification of the campus with seasonal flower plants, but we had something in the mind to gradually build the campus as an exmple of sustainable fashion centre. We decided to showcase our students and artisans the process of complete value chain of sustainable fashion from “farm” itself. Then rest just happened…

We decided to show a path for non-violent silk extraction, hence did plantation of Arjun, Asan Mulberry, and Castor. These are the feeder plants for three different variety of silkworm like Tussar, Mulbery and Eri. Similarly, we identified native variety of fiber yielding plants like cotton, sisal, pineapple, coconut, palm, kenaf, kapok, okra, banana, lotus, jute, linen, and nettle. This is for the first-time students in any campus in the world could get an opportunity to see the source of different types of fibre at one place, that too in the campus of a fashion institution.

Similarly, we also had plantation of 60 different varieties of natural dye yielding plants like annato seeds, indigo, pomegranate, turmeric, kaincha, palash, heena, mahula, kuilari, etc.

Image Courtesy: Prof. (Dr.) Binaya Jena

Tell us about Farm to Closet, and its significance in Odisha.

Odisha has a great tradition of handloom and before the advent of modern machine and synthetic dyes, handloom used to be 100% sustainable from fibre to natural dyes. The deliberate plantation of fibre plants and dye-yielding plants made tremendous impact on the environmnet and ecosystem. They built a system of inclusive growth where the farmer would ensure sustainable fibre and dye production. The processors would transform those raw materials into the desired state for use by weavers and get their due share and similarly the weavers and their family members will make the excusite pieces of textiles for domestic and international market.

We have a great maritime history of trading textiles and spices with many parts of the world, particularly in Asia.

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As Odisha does not have any industrial base for mechanised textiles and apparel, we saw this as an opportunity.

In an era of climate change and when Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were introduced in 2015, we aggressively decided to go for localisation of SDGs as a model at NIFT Campus.

We implemented the “Farm to Fashion” concept where students and academia collaborated and created an unique eco-system.

When it comes to Odisha and its geography extending to biodiversity and other natural resources, how fashion industry is in the current scenario and how it can transform in near future? Explain us briefly.

Odisha has rich natural, climatic, human, and indigenous resources. We have tremendous potential and opportunity to engage people in production of different types of natural fibres and natural dyes. Moost of these plants are climate-friednly and climate-resilient plants. While these can create income and employment opportunities in the rural areas, at the same time this can also protect the environment to a significant extent.

By doing this, we can also arrest forced migration of people from rural and tribal areas in search of employment. If the Government comes forward with a sustainable textile policy in the state whereby farmers will be provided with a support of right variety of natural fibre yielding plants including linen, jute, banana etc., and natural dye-yielding plants, then Odisha can become a role model for the future of the fashion industry. The Government of Odisha has taken a few baby steps in this regard now. This year, they have done plantation of castor plants for [production of non-violent Eri silk.

Similarly, last year the Govt made around 1300 kgs of Ahimsa Silk (non-violent silk) spinning in order to make silk-handloom clothing for Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra, Subhadra and Sudarshan.

Tell us briefly about the handloom and handicraft sector of Odisha in relation to their relationship with nature.

Handloom and handicrafts sector of Odisha comes with an extended lineage, with rich history and heritage. The production and consumption of handloom and handicrafts in Odisha has always remained integral to the nature, culture and environment. Cotton and other natural fibres like jute, linen and Kapok used to be the important fibre crops produced in this region seasonally in order to maintain soil fertility intact and ready for food grain crops. Crop rotation would maintain the natural fertility and health of the soil. The hand ginning, hand spinning, weaving used to be an in-house activity and being done by other value chain actors. The motifs like fish, kumbha (pot), temple, tree, etc., would always represent the cultural fabric of the time and culture of the place. The patterns and colour combination would always be aligned with the nature.

How can handloom and handicraft boom keep its cultural and eco-friendly roots intact?

Thinking about the prosperity of the handloom and handicrafts sector, I can say that the only way out is to set the narrative right as handloom means sustainable by bring back natural dyes and only natural fibre to produce handloom. It possesses an ever-growing market both domestic and international. The unique motifs, patterns, designs and weaving styles spread across the length and breadth of the handloom clusters of the country can be revived to flourish again only by creating right policies, schemes, exposure, and training of artisans in the cluster.

What motivates you to bring in convergence between fashion industry and sustainability?

Nothing more than the concern for environment and growing issues of climate change triggers the motivation in me. In Odisha, we are deeply rooted with our culture, traditions, picturesque and food. Think any element of these segments, everything relates to nature.

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Now overlooking at the fashion industry, it is considered as the second largest polluting industry based on different parameters including GHG emissions, water pollution, microplastic pollution, soil pollution etc. The consumer demand is rapidly increasing necessitating production of products that are fashionable and affordable. This leads to the emergence of fast fashion, whose scales of operation are the biggest culprit makes the fashion industry unsustainable. And the response from the industry is too little and too late, hence, they end up in rampant green washing.

Throw some light on your personal experience that motivated you to focus on the eco-friendly aspect of fashion.

While playing with different natural dyes prepared from locally available plant sources, I found the colours to be very exciting. As a professional in the fashion industry, I have deep inclination towards handlooms and handicrafts, and creative fashion and fusions. I found a natural dyed Kotpad handloom cloth that was at least 70 years old. On inquiring about it further I got to know that the product can be used for generations and at the end it is 100 percent biodegradable. This induced in me the interest to move ahead with the eco-friendly concern attached to our clothing and culture. I found a hope and reason to take this though-process forward as it can create gyres of revolution in the fashion industry.

Farm-to-fashion fuses agriculture and style, highlighting sustainable, eco-friendly clothing made from locally sourced materials, creating a harmonious fusion of nature and design.

About the Interviewee:

Dr. Binaya Bhusan Jena, is an illustrious professor in the Department of Fashion Management Studies (FMS) at National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), Bhubaneswar. He is also the former Director of NIFT, Bhubaneswar and the Chairman of Textile Association of India (TAI), Odisha Unit. Prof. Jena is widely popular as a sustainable fashion expert in the country, and globally known for his “Farm to Fashion” concept and model. The Indian Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour & Textiles appreciated his concept of “Farm to Fashion” and recommended the model to be implement across all NIFT campuses. Prof. Jena has published and presented many research papers in numerous national and international conferences and seminars. His initiatives on sustainable fashion is well integrated with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and he has a deep understanding about the impact of fashion industry on climate. His model of “Farm to Fashion” focuses on sustainable fashion value chain from a climate change, climate adaptation and climate change mitigation perspective. The green campus of NIFT Bhubaneswar has been possible because of his personal involvement beyond his official commitment whereby he has done plantation of locally available natural dye garden and natural fibre garden for demonstration of his “Farm to Fashion” model.



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