Ahluwalia is one of those contemporary designers looking at new ways of defining sustainability, giving existing textiles and traditional techniques a new life.
It was on a trip to visit her father in Lagos, Nigeria, that she noticed people were wearing obscure items of British clothing from a second-hand clothing market in the city – the stock of which came mostly from unwanted donations to British charity shops. Fascinated by the journey of these garments, and had what she calls a hunch that there was much more to be discovered about the vast amount of clothing which is discarded by Western countries each year – a hunch that would eventually lead her to Paniptat, India, known as the global capital of clothing 'recycling' (most garments cannot be recycled, and are instead passed onto traders to be sold on).
Ahluwalia’s family background – the designer was born to a Nigerian father an Indian mother – is where she finds much of her inspiration. Her Spring/Summer 2020 collection imagined what her family might have worn to garage raves when she was still a child, while other pieces have taken their inspiration from tailoring her Punjabi grandfather made and wore in the 1960s. It gives her colourful collections an undeniable energy.
As for sustainability within the industry, Ahluwalia has no desire to preach to either consumers or her fellow designers – though she does hope that change is coming in the way that people think about incorporating it into their practices. 'Designing is essentially problem solving, and adding the issue of reducing negative impacts of production into your problems to solve can actually be really interesting as well as good for the planet,' she says. For now, in the wake of coronavirus, she is most concerned about the garment workers who produce clothing in developing countries, particularly for western fast-fashion labels. 'Globally, workers’ rights need to be improved, I have been heartbroken to see how little support garment workers in other countries have had during this pandemic.'
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