Interview with Ethique Chic

Ethique Chic is a company based in India, which promotes an ethical, sustainable and fashionable lifestyle, through a Slow Fashion approach. This company produces garments obtained from upcycled silk and garments made of organic cotton.
I had the chance to interview Vasu Aitharaju, the co-founder of this company.

Vasu, can you describe Ethique Chic, what does your company do, since when?

Ethique Chic, which means Ethically Fashionable in French, is a socially responsible and environmentally sustainable clothing company. 
We currently make custom-tailored and on demand dresses and tops for women. 
We use two main materials:
-100% certified organic-cotton fabrics, dyed using herbal dyes;
-upcycled silk from used sarees, that we transform in boutique dresses. 

In India, most of middle-class women do not wear the same silk Saree twice at special occasions, so there is a lot of good quality silk laying unused in their wardrobes. Natural silk is highly prized and has the highest potential for upcycling, due to its high tensile strength. Therefore we choose this silk.
We started our ideation and market research on a sustainable fashion platform business in 2017, which we scaled down to a fashion-line in 2018.
We are based in Hyderabad, India. 

Ph : Ethique Chic organic cotton dress and top.
Source : Ethique Chic website www.ethiquechic.com.

How do you select the raw material?

For organic cotton garments, we use GOTS Certified Organic Cotton Fabrics, dyed using herbal dyes.
For what concerns silk, we built a small network of entrepreneurs (who are operating in other retail businesses in India), who procure unused silk Sarees from households and ship them to our production facility.
Our silk procurement criterions are: silk type (only natural silk types), fabric quality, strength and Saree weight. We also check the Saree design (pattern) to ensure that it could be upcycled to good looking products.

Where is it possible to find your products?

At the moment, our products are available only on our website: www.ethiquechic.com.
We are currently working to partner with few boutiques in USA and India. Our goal is to partner with at least one boutique in each major metropolitan city in all continents, and allow our customers to get their measurements for their tailor-made garments.

How did you come up with this business model?

There are numerous environmental sustainability issues and social challenges in the textile industry : after our last trip back to India in 2015, we realized that the global apparel needs a systemic change. India produces a lot of clothes for fast fashion market. However, only the retailers and consumers in western countries benefit from that, while apparel factory workers make less than living wage, in unsafe working conditions.
We decided to launch an ethical fashion-line, and slowly convert it into a marketplace like platform. We initially focused on a technological platform, that would enable sustainable and ethical practices in the mass-market of the fashion industry. 

Which are the main difficulties in using organic cotton and natural dye?

Organic cotton fabrics are produced in small batches due to lower demand, which increases the cost, that otherwise could be lowered through economies of scale.
On the other side, the demand is low in mass-market, as it increases overall price.
Same applies to Natural Dyes, which have a couple of additional challenges. Most designers and manufacturers use Pantone Colour scheme, which has over 1100 unique spot colours. It is impossible to produce all these colours using herbal dyes.
Moreover, natural dyeing with current methods (100% manual) adds about 10% lead-time (compared to conventional dyeing) to the fabric manufacturing process. 

How much is the saving in natural resources when upcycling?

We conducted an abstract LCA of silk. Silk production has relatively low environmental impact compared to its substitutes (polyester). 1 Kg of handwoven silk production emits approximately 13.5 Kgs of CO2. The problem is that, although silk is a natural fibre, needs use of fertilizers, pesticides, and other chemicals during the process. Hence, silk has an indirect impact on the environment. Therefore, upcycling silk Saree into dresses could be considered a reasonably high impact solution.

What is the average price of a saree and at what % of the price you buy the used ones?

Silk Sarees range from USD 30 to USD 10000. However, we upcycle sarees that range from USD 30 to USD 150. We pay up to 20% of the current market price of the saree or give merchandising in exchange for up to 30% in value. 

Ph : Saree.
Source : Ethique Chic website www.ethiquechic.com.

The prices of the cotton dresses are extremely good: how can you keep these prices?

We believe in fair share. Our pricing is configured for a low gross-margin of under 30%. We would be happy with the net-income that pays our bills and keeps our business financially sustainable and scalable. 

What is your mission?

A bee (our Logo) strives relentlessly for the benefit of its colony and the environment.
It embodies our mission of promoting Environmental Sustainability and Social Responsibility in the Apparel Industry. We want to promote a transition to Slow Fashion and make communities stronger and resilient through scalable platform model.

How is the current situation with farmers in India?

A decade ago, there was a huge clamour in the media about cotton farmers committing suicides in India. Things have changed a lot now. Most of the state governments provide subsidies and incentives for farmers, and there are numerous NGOs helping them. 
One of these is Chetna, that promotes organic cotton and protects small-hold farmers. 
It operates like a cooperative, providing free information to the member farmers and helping them sell their products for fair prices. Moreover, some of the states in India are encouraging organic farming and Zero Budget Natural Farming. 

Here you can find the link to Ethique Chic website: www.ethiquechic.com.

You can see the full video-interview on the YouTube channel : https://youtu.be/f0p8ZSC1msc.

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