Among the big shows at the Lakmé Fashion Week (LFW) scheduled to begin on 30 January is Anita Dongre's unveiling of her Spring/Summer 2019 ready-to-wear collection. The collection represents summer at its best, abounding in floral prints, vibrant hues and light and flowing, fuss-free silhouettes. “These garments would be perfect accompaniments to a luxury resort holiday or destination summer weddings,” Dongre says. The highlight, however, is Dongre's choice of fabric for the collection-Tencel.
A branded Lyocell fibre (a form of rayon) extracted from raw wood, Tencel was developed in the 1980s and acquired and promoted by Austrian fibre company Lenzing AG in 2000. The fibre is crafted within a “closed-loop” production system and, according to the company, is biodegradable and compostable. In recent years, the increased focus on sustainable fashion has created a fresh buzz around the fibre. International brands that use Tencel include New York-based labels Mara Hoffman and Jonathan Simkhai, Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto and high-street brands like H&M (for its Conscious Exclusive collections), Marks & Spencer and innerwear brands like Jockey. Closer home, Raymond and Arvind have incorporated Tencel in their designs and Lenzing has been operating a small base in India since the last decade, working with retailers and suppliers in South Asia.
Tencel made a major impact in February when Lenzing collaborated with Rajesh Pratap Singh for a ready-to-wear collection. The brand showcase has since become a fixture on the event's Sustainability Day. “Tencel is one of the most sustainable fibres in the world,” says Jaspreet Chandok, vice-president and head of fashion, IMG Reliance, which organizes LFW. “We find it to be a very strategic fit as we expand the conversations of sustainability to a more environment (friendly) and global narrative.” Rajesh Pratap Singh also went on to use Tencel for his Welcome To The Jungle collection showcased at LFW in August. The designer created an ethnic line, blending the Tencel fibre with local textiles like Chanderi, Banarasi and Jamdani.
With House of Anita Dongre, Lenzing hopes to create a long-term partnership encompassing all of the designer's brands-the eponymous prêt and luxury label Anita Dongre, the high-street labels AND and Global Desi and the sustainable label Grassroot. “We have Tencel already being used in some designs of AND and Anita Dongre, which will be further enhanced with this show,” says Avinash Mane, Lenzing's commercial head, South Asia, adding that Global Desi's forthcoming collection for Spring/Summer 2019 will incorporate EcoVero, another fibre from Lenzing.
Dongre has in recent years turned her focus towards sustainability and fair trade practices. Apart from working with Sewa (Self-Employed Women's Association) to empower rural women artisans, Dongre also launched Grassroot in 2015. “Sustainability is about making a conscious choice in manufacturing processes that reduce (if not eliminate) waste/pollutants produced,” she says. “I wish to partner with textile companies which are today producing fabrics sustainably. Fabrics such as Tencel are eco-friendly, responsibly produced and feel great on the skin as well.” As part of the collaborative process, Dongre also visited the manufacturing facility in Austria for a first-hand experience.
While the collaboration takes forward Dongre's quest for sustainable design, it offers Lenzing greater exposure in the Indian market where conversations around sustainability often position handloom as the hero over machine-made fabrics. Customer awareness is still at a nascent stage, but Mane is optimistic that fashionable collaborations with popular designers will spread the word. “Both Anita Dongre and Lenzing share a common vision of sustainability,” he says. “While we have the right fibre, she has the right ingredient, design (sensibility). We want to create a collection that will be readily and immediately available.”