These two designers want to transform recycled fabric into trendy clothing in an eco-friendly way
At a time when many in the fashion industry are shunning products with adverse environmental and social impact, Khaloom knits together a viable case for circular fashion economy with recycled fabric.
Shobha, a single mother of two, was struggling to make ends meet and support herself and her children. The 36-year-old migrated to Bengaluru from Kudur village in Ramanagara, Karnataka, in search of a livelihood. Having studied only till Class 3, she worried about her job prospects. However, relief came by way of Khaloom Textiles India, a Bengaluru-based startup that offered her skilling opportunities and a job as a weaver. Today, she earns an annual income of Rs 2 lakh.
“Khaloom started with the twin aim of generating employment for handloom weavers and promoting the use of recycled textiles,” says Nanditha Sulur, Co-founder.
Founded in 2016, the startup aims to promote the use of recycled textiles and reduce the amount of cotton that continues to end up in landfills, while reducing overall water footprint and pollution by the fast fashion industry by introducing discarded textiles back into mainstream fashion.
Recently, to showcase the possibility of sustainable and ‘circular fashion’, wherein, concerted efforts are taken to extend the lifecycle of clothing by closing the loop with recycling, Bruno Bruins, Dutch Minister of Medical Care, wore a suit handcrafted by Khaloom, along with fabric startups Upset, and Suit Supply. Compared to a new suit made from new materials, the recycled cloth curbed the release of an estimated five kg of carbon dioxide, use of 300 gm of pesticides, and conserved 6,500 litres of water.
In 2016 Enviu, a Netherlands-based firm that invests in social enterprises globally, wanted to create an eco-friendly firm in India that dealt with handspun, handwoven fabric made from reclaimed textile fibres. To take this project ahead and find out if woven fabric could be made with recycled cotton yarns, a pilot was conducted in Bengaluru by Nanditha (38) and Ram Sellalu (32), a former senior designer at FabIndia, where hand-spun and handwoven fabric was commissioned using recycled fibres and yarns. The resulting fabric also drew interest from Sympany, a Netherlands-based textile recycling company, and Khaloom Textiles India was founded in Gottigere’s Weaver’s Colony in South Bengaluru.
“With weaving as its prime occupation, this locality has a lot of power looms and weavers who weave silk/polyester sarees for the local market. The locality is a mix of weavers from other nearby weaving communities from Cubbonpet in Bengaluru, Kallur in Tumkur, Tiptur, Halepalya. A thriving mix of weavers, knotters, pirn-winders, carpenters, metal workers, card punchers, warpers, silk dyers and Lurex twisters made this place apt for Khaloom’s weaving unit to explore the possibilities with recycled yarns,” explains Nanditha.
The duo even procured four second-hand looms in their spirit of being “recycled.”
Their aim, as envisioned by Enviu, was to introduce high-quality recycled textiles into the apparel market while creating a new-age workplace for handloom weavers, where artisans were treated with respect, could earn a decent living. Weavers at Khaloom earn between Rs 13,500 and Rs 15,000 a month, against the industry standard of Rs 8,000 to Rs 13,000, and the helpers earn 12,000 a month. Nanditha and Ram Sellalu also wanted to create such high-quality fabric that the consumer will not be able to differentiate whether they were virgin or recycled.
The present team consists of 10 weavers, eight helpers and one supervisor.
Weave for the environment
“The fast fashion culture, where garments are discarded long before their life is over, takes a huge toll on the environment - be it the amount of water, fertilisers, pesticides used for cotton cultivation, or the amount of cotton scraps that come out of garment industries,” Nanditha explains.
The production process at Khaloom requires only manpower, whereas machine looms can require up to 126 kWh of power, which equals 93 kg of CO2 emissions.
With ‘carbon footprint’ and ‘water footprint’, which measure the eco-friendly nature of an enterprise, gaining prominence, brands, designers and consumers have become increasingly conscious of their choices. Many are distancing themselves from clothing produced unethically and stained by environmental or social and humanitarian shortcuts.
Recycled yarns are not very strong, and in India, they are mostly used for knitting. Some of the recycled polyester yarns are woven on power looms but the fabric made is 100 percent polyester, and not suitable for apparel as their moisture absorption is low.
“The weave ability of the recycled yarns was very low. We faced issues with low strength, excessive pilling, shed not opening and too many end breakages,” recalls Nanditha.
Having different kinds of looms helped them explore different weaving methodologies, and eventually, after months of trial and error, they arrived at the most optimum method for recycled yarns. The weavers tried out weaving different classes of recycled yarns and thus created a library of all possible combinations of recycled yarns to create a variety of fabric. They also created a range of fabric using virgin yarns (silk/cotton/linen) for the warp and low-strength recycled yarns for the weft (knots) to make high-quality fabric.
With 10 handlooms in its facility, Khaloom’s current production capacity stands at 1,500-2,000 metres a month.
While India has a legacy of celebrating khadi products, the transition of handwoven and handloom products has been slow in the age of power looms and machine made products.
The sale of recycled handloom products often evokes mixed reactions from consumers who are skeptical about authenticity, traceability and if the fabric meets quality parameters. Though there are no standard parameters for recycled handloom fabric yet, Khaloom compares its fabric to the current powerloom virgin fabric to check for quality.
Presently, scaling up is a key challenge for Khaloom, since the brands that are interested in sustainability have a fabric requirement that is much more than the startup’s capacity. Hence, it is working both as a retail and wholesaler shop.
“We want to start selling a lot of recycled fabric, expand, break-even, become profitable, and employ more people. The long term goal is for us to be able to make fabric that is as good as virgin fabric in every aspect,” Nanditha concludes.
Nanditha and Ram hope that their endeavour will inspire others in the textile sector and help make recycle textiles trendy.