Upcycled, sustainable fashion at its creative peak at Doodlage
By Purva Chawla
As a buyer, as a user, I would reach for the clothes and accessories that Doodlage makes, in a heartbeat. Fresh, light, chic and entirely unique in their shapes, textures, and hues–gravitating towards them is easy and almost intuitive.
As a designer, I find myself drawn to the unique capsule collections that the New Delhi-based fashion label creates because every piece is born from innovative, challenging and thoughtful upcycling.
Intended for a young, urban population that needs to, and can reflect on how rapid and disposable fashion is becoming today, Doodlage stands tall on the pillars of recycling and reconstruction.
On a recent visit to New Delhi, I had the opportunity to enter the studio and workshops of this young and much-admired design house. Doodlage sits at the intersection of high-street and eco-friendly fashion, and there was much to be grasped from witnessing the inner workings behind their refreshing and sustainable work.
Starting off, talking to Doodlage's founder, Kriti Tula, was enlightening: As is to be expected, choosing to work exclusively with the scraps or 'Katra' of fabric from export suppliers and their surplus is no cakewalk, nor is convincing buyers to purchase upcycled high-fashion wear.
But within this potentially challenging context, and guided by Kriti's vision to redirect the thousands of tons of fabric discarded by the garment and fashion industry each year, a whole host of innovative design moves have emerged at Doodlage. Perusing through a rack of new garments at the studio, and peeking at the tailors' worktables, I saw patchworked fabric pieces, extensive layering of thin and thick fabric scraps, and even disparate, patterned fabric swatches sandwiched between solid colored and whole translucent spans that unite them all.
Most exciting of all, for me, was seeing that even the embroidery and detailing on each piece was created using the tiniest scrap fabric that Doodlage intakes–rolled-up, and pin-tucked into embroidered patterns and shapes.
Indeed, the whole tone of a capsule collection at Doodlage (the label creates smaller collections, and no two pieces made by them are ever the same), is set by the kind of fabric waste that comes into the studio and workshop as a 'load.' "If we receive a large volume of striped material in that load of fabric scraps we receive, that could influence our entire capsule collection," Kriti says.
None of this comes easy, though, nor are these resources simply handed to them. Even the 'scraps' must be purchased from exporters, or manufacturers, weighed by the kilo, even though they truly are the 'waste' of these businesses. Another challenge lies in this–despite using a combination of recycled fabric and organic, sustainable fibers such as Banana Fibers, Corn or Bamboo Fibers, along with more conventional Organic Cotton, design houses such as Doodlage find it hard to certify their products as 'Organic Cotton' or any similar organic label. That is unless their garments are made of that single material entirely, and the organic material is fresh and store-bought, versus being recycled. In addition to battling the market's mindset in the early days of their business, these are the hurdles that Doodlage had to cross.
Interestingly, while costs of their base material (scrap fabric) are lower than that of new off-the-shelf fabric, design costs are much higher for Doodlage. Putting together these assorted scraps of fabric innovatively, to create beautiful, high-fashion aesthetic products takes tremendous work.
And despite Doodlage being celebrated and much talked about today in Indian fashion, the market for recycled and upcycled goods is still a niche one, which means that Doodlage works hard to keep their creations affordable and their prices comparable for buyers.
There is much to be learned from Doodlage's model, and indeed how they are contributing to fashion, to altering designer and consumer attitudes, and indeed to shaping design education itself. Kriti, a graduate of the prestigious Pearl Academy (for fashion, design, and business) in India, is actively involved with her Alma Mater. Through teaching, lectures, and workshops, she continues to interact with the school, and each year, a few interns from the Academy come to work for Doodlage, using the knowledge and methods being created and implemented here as a springboard for their graduation projects.
Doodlage also never fails to highlight that their ethos references the age-old traditions of recycling that have existed in India–the making of 'Kantha' quilts out of old clothing, or the transformation of vintage sarees into contemporary attire.
Beyond this educational role, there is much to draw from the evolution of Doodlage's products and collections as well. From women's clothing only to men's as well; to creating collections of accessories and homeware as well now. The label has understood and developed each of these products; but most of all, they have taken the time to understand their material medium–scrap fabric. Better still, the homeware and accessories (smaller by nature) are created from the tiniest of fabric scraps that the label intakes, woven and bundled together.
Often, the scraps left from the making of the label's garments (themselves from scraps), are used to make the accessories and smaller items. In this way, Doodlage digests almost every kind of fabric waste that comes their way, even processing their own system's off-cuts, and transforming them all into sustainable, exclusive fashion.