Ethical Fashion and the Conundrum for Small Brands

One of the biggest small clothing brands in Madras, India is Brass Tacks. They have made a name for themselves for their well-fitted, tailored clothes made of natural material. This week I had a chat with owner and designer Anaka Narayanan about her newest collection and the plans she has for her shop.

Fabric, Fit and Tailoring

She says the biggest focus for her brand is fabric, fit and tailoring quality. She ensures that she sources most of her material from her regular suppliers who understand her needs. She also buys from people whom she meets at craft fairs and handloom exhibitions. Over the years she has developed a feel and eye for natural fabrics especially cotton and silk. However if she is suspicious then she gets the fabric tested.

The bulk of her designing is done in house because her orders are rather small. She says that, "Once the fabric comes to us, everything else from fabric washing, tailoring, cutting, etc is all done in-house. I have my own workshop where the clothes are produced and I spend time every day here, so I'm in a better position to decide how things are done."

She says that she sees her brand supporting artisans and craftsmen in two major ways. She says by working closely with core suppliers, even with smaller orders they have shared with them "the importance of weave consistency, colour fastness and mixing yarns to come up with new textures." She also says that Brass Tacks is changing the way people perceive handwoven textiles by "creating stylish, cosmopolitan silhouettes for young women."

Ethical Fashion?

There are various degrees of ethical fashion and Brass Tacks embraces some of the principles. Anaka says that, "If you're a small business then you're struggling to make ends meet because your volumes are low, but it's easier to be environmentally friendly at a small scale because you get a lot of things done locally. But when you grow, you will have to centralize certain processes to cut costs and that will have an impact on the environment. Going forward, I'll have to make a strong effort to continue to use a large quantity of handwoven fabrics, and when I'm ready to order mill made fabric I can try and insist on natural dyes."

She says that she wouldn't call her brand 100% natural and although her fabrics are natural the dyeing process is largely chemical. She opines that, "fashion that uses all organic, all natural fibers will survive only if it's a high end brand. Even though we're a lot more green than several other brands, I do not want to take the focus away from what the brand really stands for."

Small Business Conundrums

There are various conundrums when it comes to running a business that is even vaguely green. However unlike most brand owners Anaka has chosen what she wants to change. Changing the way handlooms are perceived in itself makes the brand a strong contender for ethical fashion especially in a country like India. Working with artisans directly to improve quality of their product is another reason why Brass Tacks qualifies.

Photo Credit: Saravana Kumar. Brass Tacks Madras ©