Well into 2024 and in the run up to our 5th birthday, we thought it was high time to reaffirm what we do here at INDOI. So, we sat down with our founder, Mallika, to discuss all things slow fashion, career transitions, and the challenges of running an independent brand against the backdrop of Big Fashion.
Hey Mallika! We’re so excited to chat with you today. First things first: how is 2024 treating you so far?
Well, I’m feeling really positive. I felt that 2023 was much about fostering, prepping, and getting in touch with ourselves again- introspective; this year feels about putting ourselves out there and stepping into the light! We have so many exciting things in the pipeline and I’m so excited to see how INDOI evolves throughout this year.
The brand’s mission is to tell the story of a people, culture, and craft. In light of this, how has your heritage influenced how you view the Earth?
I think that growing up in a mixed heritage household with many cultural influences has instilled an inquisitive attitude in me, and has also encouraged me to question things - after all, there was never one singular view or approach in my family home. It was conflictive at the time but growing up in that environment meant that I had to take it all in, observe, analyse, and make up my own mind as to what I would like my approach to be. From an early age I observed how race, religion and skin colour is used to create conflict and separation. But culture is something that often brings people together in a very beautiful way.
More specifically, waste is a particular aspect of my perspective on the Earth that stems from my mixing pot of culture. I was taught never to waste and that resources were - are - finite. My Hindu-Bengali grandma came from a very humble background, was mainly vegetarian, and ingrained a zero-waste approach in me. She would use one bucket of water to shower with, would hang out paper towels so she could reuse them, and always used up leftover bits of vegetables into a curry- nothing would go to waste.
I feel very lucky, I was offered it all and then have had the freedom to choose and view the Earth in my own way.
How has this in turn influenced how you approach fashion?
Unsurprisingly, I can’t stand waste. This is the case for all areas of my daily life and is probably why I end up hoarding so much! My friends can’t believe how much stuff I collect, but I guess it's because I can’t bear to throw things away even if they’ve seen better days. This has definitely translated into the way I approach fashion. At INDOI, we try to produce minimal quantities of stock with as little waste as possible; I collect each and every scrap.
We are now turning antique textiles I have inherited and collected over the years into new beautiful pieces with a history.
Creating a slow fashion brand that honours people and the planet requires careful consideration of supply chain practices. How do you select and collaborate with suppliers and artisans to ensure that your products align with the principles of sustainability and social justice?
I have been very lucky in that I have worked with my aunt and her small workshop in Pakistan from the very beginning of INDOI. I’ve known some of the artisans there since I was a small child, so there is complete transparency in the garment production side of the supply chain. Our fabrics are all locally sourced in Pakistan from villages and communities I’ve been lucky enough to visit; I’m really eager to work with handwoven fabrics to celebrate the craft of these communities. Recently we’ve started working locally in Barcelona too, with our very own artisans and plan to expand more local production. We have also partnered with Oshadi Collective on our next collection, with whom we’ve committed to farming an acre of regenerative cotton and are producing our new fabrics with them and their very transparent supply chain. I have admired what they do at Oshadi for a long time so we feel very proud of this new collaboration.
Can you share some specific challenges you have faced in ensuring that INDOI is socially and environmentally conscious? How have you overcome them?
From the start, I decided that the fabric and the garment would be made in the same place to reduce the negative environmental and social effects of supply chain fragmentation that is rife in today’s fashion industry. Trying to find locally sourced fabrics in Pakistan, especially cotton, that are organic and come with low minimum order quantities has been a huge challenge. Most of the organic cotton produced in Pakistan is actually exported, making it difficult to source. As a result, for one collection, I chose to stick to locally sourced hand woven fabric that was not organic but spoke of the community and the craftspeople; sometimes it’s simply not possible to tick all the “sustainability” boxes. That's where it's up to the designer/brand to choose and establish their values. At the end of the day, my priority was to highlight the importance of the handcraft tradition for the local communities there.
We also face the issue of price- sustainably made garments are more expensive to produce, especially as a small brand so the retail price is more than what people are used. It is a challenge to justify the pricing and change the mindset of the consumer.
Tell us about your transition from a corporate design career to owning your own slow fashion brand - has it changed how you view the world/life? How has it affected your personal life, and sense of wellbeing? What are the best bits of owning your own brand?
This process has TOTALLY changed my life in both positive and negative ways. Suddenly you are on your own in every way: you’re building a business, you need to make all the decisions, and you need to work out how to make it financially sustainable, all whilst juggling an already hectic personal life. It’s all on you and that can be very overwhelming, but the great bit is that you get to make up the rules. It's certainly unstable and scary, like a rollercoaster, but you have to be OK with that.. Or learn to be OK with that. It took a lot of adjustment, a lot of self development, and a great deal of blind optimism, but I would not change it. There is no price on time. My feeling is that I have one life to discover my purpose and put it out to the world. Working for myself allows me to be in control of my time, be with my kids when I need to be, and most importantly pave my own, unique, and authentic path. I really think that's why we are here- to say something unique and different.
As INDOI turns 5, tell us 5 things that set the brand apart from others.
As a brand we are committed to:
- Only natural and regenerative fibres: As I mentioned, we are now working with Oshadi Collective to create our own regenerative cotton collection. This is the most sustainable kind of cotton given it actually replenishes the soil, doesn’t require as much water as standard cotton, nor does it exploit natural resources to the extreme.
- Traditional Crafts: Working with artisans in Pakistan to celebrate national craftsmanship has always been a central pillar to the brand, and now we are working with local artisans and producers here in Barcelona to help revive what used to be a thriving and important textile industry.
- Slow Consumption: We design and create each piece thoughtfully and always with versatility and longevity in mind. We don’t follow trends or the hectic fashion calendar; instead, we create yearly collections and small drops to encourage slow, considered consumption.
- Zero Waste: In short, we don’t believe in waste. Many of our scraps are donated to the SRSC in Pakistan - a charity-funded school that works with challenged children to develop vocational skills. Back in the studio, we are also using our scraps to create new pieces in patchwork form. Nothing here goes to waste!
- No Discounting or Sales: We seek to honour the people behind our clothes and the value of the craft, and thus our prices reflect the work put into each piece. Discounting and sales only devalues the resources used to create a garment. You’ll never find us placing exorbitant margins on our costs to ultimately discount. Although not common practice at all, we are intentional in our no-discounting policy; in doing this, we hope to shift the mindset of our consumers and create a fairer, slower fashion industry for all.
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Interview with Mallika by Maddie Pope