Go to Fashion Week enough and it turns into a blur of bright lights, pulsating beats and models walking down the ramp. There isn’t much room for the contemplation of…anything, really.
Designers Pranav Mishra and Shyma Shetty wanted to change that this season.
At the recently concluded Lakmé Fashion Week Winter/Festive 2017 in Mumbai, they presented the third edition of Huemn Project, titled Reflection.
10 models stood in a darkened room. In the centre of the room was a large heap of waste and what appeared to be motionless bodies. The visual representation of the price of consumerism and fast fashion. The audience was invited to pay attention.
We spoke to them after the presentation to dig deeper into what it was all about.
What specific event/incident led you to address the issue of the environmental effects of fashion?
Pranav: When I go to some of our friend’s houses, if they let me near their bedrooms, the first thing I notice is the clothes overflowing from the shelves. [Laughs] It’s not so deep but it has left an impression on me. That was one, and the other was when we did a solo show at Amazon Fashion Week. We made around 150 different separates because each of our looks had 4-5 separates. I realized that being a small-scale business you aren’t adding to the wastage as much as bigger industries are doing but imagine how much those really massive organisations are wasting.
So all these things added up and inspired this project. We began by reaching out to other designers, to see who believes in this idea in the first place. We reached out to so many designers and discussed the idea and what we found was that the young designers really believe in it so I feel like the future is in the right hands. They want to create a dialogue around it. How much of a solution you can provide is the next step and [this presentation] was one of the steps in that direction.
Let’s talk about the art direction of the presentation – what was your goal for it?
Pranav: I wanted to create a mood that should be taken seriously. I was actually very nervous, for the first time. There could have been so many things that went wrong with the execution or even the idea itself.
We made the looks out of the waste material of the designers that we reached out to and putting that into one collection was a challenge. Since there are so many designers, each of their textiles, the fall of the fabric, the textures are all different. It creates boundaries and that was challenging on a creative level. We also wanted to make a collection that looks cool, is young, is still athleisure and is visually what our company believes in.
On a presentation level, when you are doing a ramp show it is easier – there are lights, there’s music, everything moves fast and there is actually no time for the audience to really judge what you’ve done. There ways to create that emotion in people with all the drama surrounding it. In a presentation, which is what this show was, you have people standing and looking at the work for a definite amount of time in a quiet space and you can’t guarantee how they will react.
Next is the message – we made these 10 looks as a solution, but the dialogue we wanted to create is that wastage has been used to make these looks. This century will be known for the amount of wastage that we have reconverted into these beautiful products. Wastage will be the biggest resource. The sooner smaller industries realize that, they can turn things around. To convey this dialogue was a task. How do you show that you are heading towards a dark future but also provide a solution?
We said we would have 10 looks around the room in an art gallery format and in the middle of the room, we’ll create a huge pile of extra fabric. As soon as you enter you see this huge pile and it creates an impact. When I was working on this, I saw these images from a window display that Vêtements did at a mall. They put big piles of clothes in the window of the shop. I was really depressed because now that idea was done and we didn’t want to do it anymore. So we had to rework the idea with only 5 or 6 days left for fashion week. We reworked the idea and we came up with the display with the bodies. That’s why the lights went on in that area first – you see that this is what you are today and this is where you’re heading. It was of course open to interpretation as everything that is created always is.
How did you conceptualise the face art?
Pranav: The idea was to show how real beauty is not defined [in any one particular way]. Since the clothes were about so many design sensibilities coming together, with the make-up we wanted to create a look that was more like a puzzle – different looks coming in to create one entity.
How did people respond to the presentation?
Pranav: People were pretty serious after the show. I was happy because some people went back and watched it again. I remember, I was coming out of the media room and this girl came and hugged me. I didn’t know her – she was a young college kid. She said “Thank you for this, I needed this to dig deeper into design and how powerful a tool fashion is.” That really touched me.
Shyma: A lot of people were moved, which was very nice. When you do a presentation that’s really all you need. Even if one person responds to it, there will be a butterfly effect from that. Also, a lot of young designers got involved with us and that made me really happy. The more established names we reached out to were hesitant, I don’t know why, but the younger ones, even if they are peers and in the same bracket as we are, they jumped on it.
They would be your competition, right?
Shyma: Yeah, but they all encouraged it so much that it made me realize that when you have a cause like this, people look at it the bigger picture. The amount of support we got was great. That made me feel really hopeful about the future of the industry.
What can we, as consumers of fashion, do to help the cause?
Shyma: Most women wear a garment 7 times before throwing it out. That is a crazy statistic. It’s not something we actively think about but when you look at that number, it’s crazy. We have so many unused clothes. The fast fashion culture is killing the planet. So I’d say invest in pieces that can carry you through the years. If you buy trend-based stuff, upcycle it. Basically, do what you can to increase the longevity of your wardrobe. These are very small things in the scheme of things but every little bit counts. You don’t have to do something huge to make a difference, it all adds up.
Pranav: As fashion professionals it is our duty to move ahead of paisleys, butterflies and colour details and just thinking about what is in and out. There are much bigger issues at hand. We have to fix the wrong doing of our industry. It is our job to explain and break it down to people. It is high time we start treating fashion not just as a visual or a premium industry. It is about clothes, ideologies and is powerful. We need to start conveying it to consumers, how serious this is.
For consumers it will only be easier once they realize that this is a part of their life. It is not just about swiping your card and taking something off the racks. What you wear has a message, it should be towards a cause, both for your upliftment and for society, but it will have a big impact moving forward. The places/brands you invest in are important and it can have a huge impact on the industry. It’s not just about pretty looking things. It not just an object, it is a part of our lives.
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All photos by Sonal and Elvis for One Small Window