“To truly see a significant transformation, we will need active involvement at all levels,” admits Ayushi Bhaiya, founder, Alternative, who left the styling and celebrity fashion world to launch her own line of sustainable classics that are consciously made and responsibly worn. Alternative, as a name and as a brand, aptly captures the idea of being different from their conventional counterparts. Whether it comes to using alternative, sustainable fabrics or planet-friendly packaging, dyes, buttons and everything required to create a piece of clothing, Alternative, a sustainable fashion and lifestyle brand, promises to be the answer to your, “where can I shop better, sustainable options?”
Bhaiya, who, during her time at Verve, India became intrigued with the idea of sustainable fashion and planet-friendly fabrics, wanted to pursue a career in styling and of course fashion but she never knew that the pandemic would very surprisingly and very wonderfully push her into becoming a fashion brand founder. ThinkRight.me speaks with the female founder to understand how she tackles the obstacles faced by the fashion industry and a brand owner to embrace a sustainable future.
ThinkRight.me (TRM): Could you please give us a brief background on yourself? What has your journey been like that led you to where you are now?
Ayushi Bhaiya (AB): I am the middle child among 3 sisters, so I guess you can call me the shy yet cool one. Since childhood, I’ve always been interested in fashion and styling. My parents also like dressing up so I’m sure the talent has been handed down. After my schooling, I pursued my graduate degree in fashion design and then started working with Shereen Bharwani and Kayaan Contractor. I learned a lot about styling, sourcing, brand collaborations, and shooting while working with them. It was great.
After that, I went to London to do a course in fashion styling and then returned to India and started interning at Verve Magazine. It was during my time at Verve that I came across and became more aware of sustainability in fashion and that was how the first seed of Alternative was sown.
ThinkRight.me (TRM): How did the idea for Alternative come about? Was it always meant to be a slow fashion, sustainable brand or did it first evolve as something different?
Ayushi Bhaiya (AB): While I was interning at Verve Magazine, I was asked to research sustainable clothing labels in India. As I went through the exercise and found some amazing designers and labels doing spectacular work, the concept of sustainable fashion intrigued me, and I dove into it in detail. I came across articles on fabric made from food & agricultural waste like banana, milk, orange, aloe vera, etc. I shared this with my sister, who also found it quite interesting, and we started full-fledged research. A few days later, she shared some videos and articles with me about small artisanal clusters in India that make such fabrics.
In the meantime, my internship with Verve was coming to an end and I was about to join Shereen Bharwani and Trishala Sikka of Love & Other Bugs as a full-time stylist, starting March 2020. I had worked with them earlier and was pumped about this opportunity. Unfortunately, the world was swept by COVID, and everyone’s life turned on its axis. I moved back to Surat and started taking a few online courses on sustainability, upcycling, and recycling. Going through the information and statistics every week about the environmental impact, labour welfare and wages, and the impact on human health was an eye-opening experience. After all, we had consumed our fair share of clothing that was mass-produced or from fast fashion brands and realized how we had been adding to the problem.
Over the next few months, I continued educating myself and started looking for better alternatives. It took me the longest time to convince myself to build a global platform where we could experiment with alternate fabrics and materials and the basic idea that clothing did not have to come at the cost of harming our planet and the people who make them. I reviewed the findings with my family as I needed their support to get it off the ground. Once I got them on board, the execution began. This included sourcing, designing, planning, hiring, shooting, website, legal, finance, and a 100 more things in between.
ThinkRight.me (TRM): Personally, what have you found to be the most difficult part of shopping responsibly? If someone were to start now, what would your suggestions be?
Ayushi Bhaiya (AB): I think greenwashing comes in the way of shopping responsibly. Some brands consider sustainability as a trend or a marketing campaign and overexaggerate or falsely claim their products to be sustainable. This becomes a serious issue since it misleads consumers, makes them sceptical, and undermines the efforts of companies that are actually environmentally friendly.
ThinkRight.me (TRM): Do you think that the fashion industry is slowly evolving into a more sustainable one? Or do you think it’s up to individuals to change that themselves?
Ayushi Bhaiya (AB): There is a growing awareness in general about how polluting the synthetic textile industry is and how it negatively impacts the environment and human lives. There are also some brands like ours that have taken a sustainable approach in their design, supply chain, materials, etc. However, that’s not the case industry wide. A lot of big brands launch “eco collections” under pressure or as a marketing gimmick but are still far away from a full shift to sustainability. To truly see an industry wide transformation, we will need active involvement at all levels – this includes the government, companies, and consumers. And this shift will take a few years. The biggest thing that we can do as consumers is to educate ourselves and support sustainable brands.
TRM: What do you see as the most significant obstacles to growing an ethical and slow fashion brand and the growth of the ethical fashion industry?
AB: The biggest challenge that I see is changing the mindset or habits of people. For years and decades, we have been trained to give in to the latest fad and buy whatever is cheap and convenient without giving a second thought about its useability, its impact on the environment, workers, and even our own skin and wallet. This way, we burn money since these clothes don’t last long and trends keep changing, and eventually our clothes end up in the landfill. The challenge as well as the goal that we have is to create more awareness about why adopting a slow and sustainable living, not just in fashion but across all aspects of our lives, is important and then to ultimately drive action in that direction.
TRM: Is there a specific target audience that you feel will really appreciate the design direction you’re going in?
AB: People who are aware of the problems with the current state of the textile industry, particularly regarding fast fashion and those who want to make a change and shift towards mindful consumption along with people who have the spending power to do so would appreciate what we are doing at Alternative. Of course, the audience will grow bigger as there is more awareness about buying sustainably and making conscious choices.
TRM: In your opinion, what are the greatest benefits of running a planet-conscious business?
AB: We get to learn a lot of exciting things every day — for example, learning about how our clothes are made and dyed from agricultural waste or plants, and sharing this with our customers and audience has been a fascinating experience. Secondly, with the kind of environmental crisis that we are in, we are glad and grateful to do our bit in protecting it.
TRM: What are your goals for Alternative going forward? Where do you see the brand in a time of 5 years perhaps?
AB: With Alternative, our goal is to educate people on sustainability and create as much of an impact as we can by driving people to make conscious purchases. We want to become the go-to brand for sustainable fashion in the next 5 years.
TRM: Lastly, being a mindful business owner and consumer, does the concept of mindfulness also spill into other aspects of your life? If so, can you share 5 tips with our readers on how you go about attaining this mental state of being?
AB: Yes, definitely. Mindfulness helps me focus and concentrate. For me, yoga, music, and some time spent in the sun and nature has proved to be effective in achieving a healthy and calm state of being.
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