Green fashion got her to UN

Designer Runa Ray has been championing for sustainable fashion and the need for alternate fabrics

In this dress by Runa Ray, original burlap fabric is worked on by hand to give this gunny sack a makeover. The embroidery depicts the environment, and is resplendent with flora and fauna. Jute, mostly used for packaging, is 100 per cent biodegradable.

City-based designer Runa Ray has been invited to the United Nations to address its employees on sustainable fashion on June 3, ahead of the World Environment Day on June 5.

Runa has always advocated green fashion. For her, it is not just about following trends but using fashion as a medium to invoke consciousness and responsibility among people towards the environment.

In a conversation with Metrolife, Runa talks about her journey as a green designer and how one can follow sustainable fashion in everyday life.

How did the call come through?    

I have been doing many shows in the US, especially for New York Fashion Week. From the very beginning, I have propagated sustainable fashion. I showcased a collection done by origami folding (zero wastage of cloth) in my first ever show, and in my second show, I displayed a collection with chlorophyll printing. 

Some people noticed my work. A few weeks back, I got an email from the UN community who takes care of the sustainable development goals.

They invited me to educate the UN employees about the detriments of fashion and how we all can be sustainable in our choices. 

How does it feel to be the only Indian designer to be invited?

It’s fantastic. In fact, it is a huge step in the direction that I have always worked towards, as a single designer. And with support from
an organisation like UN, there is a lot more that can be achieved. 

Why a sustainable fashion designer?

I always thought this was the future. When I did my first show in 2016, sustainability wasn’t big at all. As a designer, I have always been someone who tries to make use of what I have. I am quick to manipulate ideas without wasting or unnecessarily, what we call, GTM (Go To Market) to buy stuff that I might not use. I have been like this as an individual too. 

How much of sustainable fashion do you follow in your personal life?

Actually, I follow quite a bit. I wash clothes every Sunday and sun dry them rather than using the dryer. I also handwash a few of them. I hardly buy new clothes and make sure to get something that lasts longer. The ones that don’t fit me, I mend them and give it to my maid – this way it is never wasted. I look for timeless style, this way I don’t have to worry about going out of trend.

How did the call from the UN change your perspective as a designer?

I thought there were many things that I was doing right, when it came to the design aspects. But the call made me probe deeper and find out all the things I wasn’t aware of.

There were certain things that they brought to my attention immediately and I was pleasantly surprised. For example, when I was asked if I was aware where the fabric was spun and the raw materials came from – we probably don’t look at such things as designers. We aren’t aware who created the raw materials and whether there were any children involved. This got me thinking.

How important is it to make people aware about sustainable fashion?

It is very important. Look at our city now! The temperature is increasing every day. Fashion is seen as one of the greatest polluters. If a person has disposable income, it becomes easy for them to walk-in and buy new clothes. However, it is important to understand why you are buying it.

So, what can designers do to get things under control?

There are different polluters in the fashion industry. Chemical dyes are the most dangerous. For eg, people don’t realise how denim is made. Most denim factories use sandpaper to scrape and create the washes; so much fibre goes waste. The blood from leather contaminates the environment too.

Today, it has become necessary to find alternate fabrics that don’t lead to deforestation, like the lotus stem fabric. Some of the fabrics that I work with are made of lotus, eucalyptus, orange peel, aloe vera and soya. Avoid mass and fast fashion. Use biodegradable fabrics and shift from plastic buttons to coconut shell ones.

Do you think Indian designers are becoming aware?

Yes, they are but I think the public too needs to start wanting this change. Designers are facing a challenge as they have to give something cool to the consumer and at the same time find alternatives to expand the life of the garment like renting out the garments.  

Tell us about the collection you will be showcasing at the UN?

The collection is made of ‘ahimsa’ silk and fabrics that are biodegradable. I have used a lot of hand embroidery and folding techniques that reduces the time spent on the machine. Besides the collection, I am also going to show videos on how these garments can be completely broken down and made into paper and how these biodegradable garments can be put into the soil for plants to grow out of it.

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