New Delhi based designer Vaishale Mittal began playing around with denims as a young graduate, right on the cusp of her journey in design. While working on a project after she came back to India from design school in Paris, she came face to face with the grim reality of denim production. Visiting the production factories she realised that not only was the process unsustainable, rather they were unethical in the treatment of those who worked in these factories, exposing them to carcinogens. Back in 2014, Vaishale started experimenting with the idea of denims on her own and her aspiration was to create a luxurious and chic line, working around the concept of recycling and up-cycling. She also wanted to saunter away from regular patchwork.
Vaishale tells me, ‘This is when I thought of creating something on loom. It would help generate employment for the multiple craft clusters and we would do away with washing, which would make my product far more sustainable. Denim is basically twill weave with weft and warp in multiple colours. It’s essentially cotton, hence the loom also gave me the possibility of experimenting.’ While building on her own ideas, the designer was also interning for Manish Arora, the mastermind behind avant-garde fashion in the Indian landscape. It was during this internship that she latched onto the idea of her own venture. She simply wanted a label of her own. It wasn’t until much later in 2017 that she came up with her khadi denims, as she pursued a Masters in Luxury Management to understand the business facet of things.
Telling me more about this long journey, she adds, ‘This entire endeavour was a seven year long project. Post my Masters I finally came back to Indian and began working on developing swatches. We worked a lot with hand-spun denims, indigo dyeing and a plethora of other aspects. When I launched the first summer collection, the response was great but we did face some issues in terms of developing our identity and also with the kind of denims we had produced.’ Considering the severe Indian summers, the composition of the fabric needed a redo, and Vaishale spent nearly two months, tirelessly working with the weavers to create a much lighter variation. Developing a niche in India was a struggle for the label but the team did manage to achieve this over a period of time, and the response in the European market was phenomenal.The CROSS A LINE process of creation is unique, and the denims are pan-Indian in their truest sense. Vaishale creates her fabrics across multiple places. The completely handmade fabric doesn’t utilise an ounce of electricity. She makes use of the cotton produced during the monsoons, which is further hand-spun, cut and finished in Bhopal. From there it reaches Dehradun to the weavers’ community, who work their magic on it. Finally it makes its way to Noida for the finishing process, which doesn’t make use of any chemicals or water throughout. While the dyeing process does make use of water, the team utilises azo-free dyes and makes sure to reuse the water. The practice of the studio is also quite waste free, all of the leftover fabric goes into making shoes and bags, expanding the collection. Vaishale is also determined to develop a fabric on loom using scraps.
The label is yet to launch their very exclusive silk denims, as the designer wants to flesh out her market further. Talking about finding inspiration during a pandemic, she explains, ‘I personally think this slowdown has been very helpful. There was obviously stress, but the day to day tensions were much lesser, which enhanced my creativity. Since I knew there would be no work at all, I had a lot of time on my hands to explore with designs. I was also able to introspect and make note of where I might have gone wrong. My aesthetics remain the same but I have made some changes. I think this time is also vital because consumer patterns are changing and everyone is realising the worth of sustainable consumption.’ The pandemic, more than anything, has also put on the forefront the need to slow down and the grave consequences of mindless consumption. Vaishale has noticed an actual change in real time, a lot of her clients were never aware about the kind of effort put into her fabric, but now they enquire more about her practice in technical terms. For her, it isn’t just about the external image she’s projecting about the label, she believes in a sustainable environment from within. The cost of producing the clothes doesn’t vanish into her pockets and the entire team is compensated handsomely for the effort they put in.
Talking about sustainability in the Indian landscape, the young designer has a very succinct outlook. She believes accountability is key, especially in this day and age when the term has been appropriated and is treated like nothing more than a gimmick. She thinks something more democratic like DietSabya is a necessity to keep designers in check. ‘A lot of brands claim to be ethical, but use cotton that isn’t sustainable by any means. Nowadays, building the minimal narrative on Instagram has somehow become the key to be a ‘sustainable’ brand which is sad considering every step comes with its own challenges. I think, to claim to be a 100% sustainable label is impossible for others too as it is for us, but there needs to be genuine effort that goes into it,’ she asserts.
While creativity was at an all time high for Vaishale, the pandemic posed other problems for the label. Multiple designers are putting their collections on sale to sell the dead-stock, but CROSS A LINE is made to measure so there was no surplus stock. Yet, it also meant a complete shutdown during the initial phase of the lockdown. Financially it has been hard for the label, the money saved up for future investments went into sustaining the staff without any sales for a long stretch. The plan for the future now involves smaller capsule collections, paced out properly instead of meaningless ones being produced constantly. Vaishale has also just launched a new collection that she’s very excited about, and the next one will introduce her coveted silk denim in the market.
L: Vaishale Mittal