Comment: Why style really matters

Natasha Sumant wants to change the fashion industry for good. Here, she explains her brand's mission to balance profit with fair working practices.

Natasha Sumant is the founder and creative director of slow-fashion brand Gundi Studios.

Amid a global pandemic and the accompanying economic disruption, it’s as good a time as any for the fashion industry to try out new ideas and lay the foundations for a more ethical future – even for my own brand, Gundi Studios, which has always wanted to turn the fast fashion world on its head. 

The word ‘Gundi’ originates in the Hindi word for ‘female thug’ or ‘gangster’ and, growing up in India, it was used to describe girls who were seen to be ‘misbehaving’ or who weren’t considered ‘ladylike’. When I launched the brand in 2018, one of the aims was to reclaim the word and, in turn, celebrate assertive and independent Desi women from the motherland, diaspora and beyond. 

While that won’t ever change, representation in fashion has come a long way in the past couple of years in big cities like New York, where many of our customers are based. This has meant we have found ourselves thinking even more about an even bigger mission – largely, to support and create impact at a grassroots level in countries less privileged than so many in the west. 

Knowing every individual who works in our all-female supply chain and treating them fairly is critical to us. While we always put people over profit, getting work done this year has proved to be more about solving humanitarian problems through design than simply producing clothes with ethical partners. And it’s been hard to even think about scale right now. In many ways, slow fashion and scale are mutually exclusive. 

‘Balancing profit with doing good is easier than most people think.’

But that doesn’t mean you can’t run a successful slow fashion brand. Balancing profit with doing good is easier than most people think. Since the 1990s and 2000s especially, the industry has had extremely high profit margins. Yet people within the industry seem to have completely lost sight of the fact that you can pay someone a decent wage and still have those high margins. Fast fashion and having new products in vast quantities available all the time has completely skewed the customer’s idea of how much a product should cost, and the amount of work that goes into making it. 

Crafts in countries like India are slowly being wiped out. We are living in an industrialised age off the back of a colonial system. Garment workers are mostly women, who are treated like second-class citizens. Fashion has to do much more to break these cycles. As a designer and art director myself, one of the challenges is to communicate the greater good while still producing imagery that creates desire. While we’re still figuring things out, all we can hope is that more fashion brands are taking themselves on a similar journey.

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This article was first published in Courier issue 37, October/November 2020. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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