Designer Anita Dongre is fighting for sustainable feminist fashion

The Indian designer is a powerhouse in an otherwise male-dominated industry
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Anita Dongre has stores in India and New York, helms multiple clothing brands and has a long list of celebrity advocates around the world. And in an otherwise male-dominated industry, she is a true powerhouse for sustainable, feminist fashion.

“Sometimes I wish I could just give up design and focus on sustainability full-time,” said 56-year-old Dongre to the AFP.

"Time is running out. Climate change is right at our doorstep, and we all have to do something

Dongre has designed clothes for some of the biggest women in the world of celebrity, politics and fashion, including Kate Middleton, Ivanka Trump, Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Beyonce.

Her parent company makes around US$105-million per year, and Dongre’s goal is to make it a carbon-neutral empire.

Dongre began designing at the age of 23 when she kicked off her business with just two sewing machines and a staff of two male tailors. She set up shop on the balcony of the bedroom she shared with her sisters and became the first woman in her family to work.

Today, her proudest achievement is that no women looking for work will ever be turned away from her four-story factory in Mumbai.

“I see my journey reflected in theirs, that economic empowerment is the only way a woman can really assert herself,” she says.

Feminist values have always been part of Dongre’s identity, and that of her clothing brand. It has always been size-inclusive, for example, going up to an XXL long before her Western high-street counterparts.

"It is very important for me to show a woman who is not coy or veiled -- someone bold and sassy. I was that girl. I drove a jeep. I proposed to my husband," Dongre admits.

"The world has never been fair to women... and I am not comfortable promoting regressive ideas to sell clothes," she adds.

Today, Dongre has decided to pick up the mantle of another cause: sustainability. She is the only Indian designer to join the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), a global alliance of retailers, brands and suppliers.

The SAC makes members responsible for both sustainability and transparency, something that Dongre has taken to heart.

Her Mumbai factory recycles everything; cafeteria food waste is composted while the water used in clothing is recycled back into the toilets.

She was also one of the first international designers to embrace sustainable fabrics, such as Tencel – a biodegradable fibre made out of recycled wood.

"It's high time companies measured their success in terms of sustainability, not just profit and loss," she says.

While many of the world’s largest fashion companies have pledged to do more with regards to sustainability, Dongre proves that it doesn’t take much to do a lot when it comes to both sustainability and feminism.

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