Artisan clothing brand Lafaani: blending sustainability & ethics

Girl wearing cool Lafaani clothes

Artisan clothing brand Lafaani: blending sustainability & ethics

It’s a privaledge to have had the opportunity to interview the co-founders of the artisan clothing brand Lafaani, Drishti Modi, and Rashmick Lafaani. They are truly blazing the trail for eco-friendly and ethical fashion in every way. Their unique label merges their expertise in Environmental Studies with a deep appreciation for traditional crafts, thoughtful design, cultural heritage, and ethical practices. Their blend of knowledge and passion is incredibly inspiring!

For me, Lafaani outshines traditional fashion brands in so many ways, including their unwavering commitment to using locally sourced materials such as Indigenous cotton, ensuring that their garments support local farmers and maintain a low environmental footprint. Their clothes are multifunctional, designed with versatility in mind, making them infinitely more sustainable.

Crucially, Lafaani is dedicated to paying true living wages with yearly increases and creating good working conditions for their artisans, who they rightfully consider to be central to their brand.

Increasing their sustainability and ethical credentials, their clothes are beautifully hand-embroidered, showcasing the rich cultural heritage of their artisans, and are made from biodegradable materials, maintaining a genuinely circular fashion cycle.

guy in Lafaani clothes
Lafaani handmade and versatile clothes

1. Tell us about your sustainable fashion brand and what sets you apart?

What sets our brand apart is our deep-rooted understanding of sustainability, integrated into every aspect of our process, materials, and design. We thoughtfully consider silhouettes for their longevity, ensuring they pair well with wardrobe staples and pieces from both past and future collections. Functionality is key, and we maximize it by adding features like pockets, drawstrings, and adjustable loops, allowing garments to adapt with the wearer. We also create multi-functional pieces using techniques like detachability, adjustability, and reversibility.

Our commitment to sustainability includes employing zero-waste or low-waste cutting techniques and using offcuts to create new garments and accessories. We believe sustainability is a gradual, decentralized process of adapting to climate change, built from the ground up across disciplines and demographics.

“By valuing and supporting traditional craftsmanship, we preserve invaluable skills for future generations.”

We primarily work with indigenous cottons such as Kala Cotton and Brown Cotton, and our garments are adorned with hand embroidery and finishing. This connects us to the long-standing socio-cultural legacy of our land. By valuing and supporting traditional craftsmanship, we preserve invaluable skills for future generations, ensuring they are not lost to industry trends. This commitment actively preserves cultural diversity, fosters socio-economic development, and upholds responsible practices in sourcing, production, and collaboration.

Cultural sustainability within the circularity narrative promotes versatile, timeless fashion items that are adaptable to different cultural contexts, minimizing waste and extending product lifespan while respecting diverse heritage and knowledge systems.

What truly sets us apart is our understanding that sustainability within certain boundaries requires embracing the constraints and finding creative solutions to overcome them. This philosophy drives us to innovate and ensures our products and processes remain sustainable.

2. What is your background and what made you decide to start up your brand?

Lafaani co-founders Drishti Modi and Rashmick Lafaani
Co-founders Drishti and Rashmick

My team member and close friend, Rashmick, and I co-founded the conscious apparel label ‘Lafaani’ during the COVID lockdown after years of deliberation. Contrary to assumptions, our background is not in design but in Environmental Studies and Resources Management from TERI School of Advanced Studies. Our education involved diverse research projects addressing environmental, economic, and societal challenges across India, from studying the sex-specific activity of Draco dussumieri in the Western Ghats to the economic implications of rainwater harvesting in Rajasthan.

In our final semester, Rashmick spent over three months in a water-stressed village in northern India, developing a water conservation plan for local implementation. Meanwhile, I worked with Tetra Pak on recycling opportunities and formalizing India’s Waste Management Sector. After graduation, Rashmick engaged in WASH projects, and I joined the Sustainable India Finance Facility, supporting Andhra Pradesh’s zero-budget natural farming program. My research into cotton cultivation sparked the idea of a sustainable fashion ecosystem, leading me to study the fashion supply chain and work with immigrant artisans in Delhi-NCR; and also earn a certification in Business for Fashion from NIFT, New Delhi.

“This almost ancient notion of not being wasteful and being conscious of our limited resources only proved to us that sustainability was only a newer term but a much older way of living.”

Despite our busy lives, we continued discussing Lafaani, inspired by our love for timeless designs, Indian textiles, and traditional crafts. Our first collection, and those that followed, showcased Indian craft heritage through traditional techniques, evolving aesthetics, and our personal styles. We collaborated with grassroot organizations to source indigenous cotton fabrics that are hand-spun, hand-woven, and naturally dyed, incorporating the age-old embroidery technique of ‘Kantha’.

Our familial roots in northern and eastern India, coupled with our exposure to various crafts through our social impact projects, informed our appreciation for Kantha. Its origin is what remains the most inspiring. This almost ancient notion of not being wasteful and being conscious of our limited resources only proved to us that sustainability was only a newer term but a much older way of living- and this was what we are determined to express through the designs, processes, and practices. Moreover, the embroidery technique itself fits perfectly into our desire for simple timeless aesthetics ideal for a contemporary world.

3. Tell us a bit about how you source your fabrics and base materials

Through an extensive vetting process, we formed meaningful partnerships with organizations such as Karghewale and Yali Textiles, which are traditional spinning, hand weaving, and hand dyeing communities. They are on a mission to empower the creators of our textiles—this talented community of young and aspiring weaver entrepreneurs—so they can build robust businesses.

What differentiates Karghewale and Yali Textiles is their core belief that artisans are equal partners in the business, not mere wage workers who weave designs for per meter wages. They recognize and celebrate the agency of artisans, enabling them to transcend impediments in traditional value chains. By co-creating, managing the business, and selling the final products directly to the end consumer, artisans gain greater control over their work and its outcomes.

“By treating artisans as equal partners and valuing their input in the creative process, we foster a more equitable and collaborative industry.”

Our approach to sourcing fabrics aligns with this philosophy. We predominantly source fabrics that the artisans or artisan clusters have already been weaving. Instead of imposing entirely new designs, we make subtle changes such as altering the color or adjusting the weight of the fabric to suit the needs of a particular garment or collection. This respect for the artisans’ existing work ensures that their creativity and expertise are honored and maintained.

In addition to our commitment to ethical fabric sourcing, we ensure that all trims—including buttons, threads, beads, and laces—are sourced locally within Delhi. This not only supports local businesses but also reduces our environmental footprint by minimizing transportation needs. By integrating these locally sourced trims, we maintain the authenticity and craftsmanship of our products while contributing to the local economy.

In essence, by treating artisans as equal partners and valuing their input in the creative process, we foster a more equitable and collaborative industry. This model not only empowers the artisans but also enriches our products with unique cultural and artistic value, ensuring that every piece we create tells a story of tradition, craftsmanship, and mutual respect.

Girl in artisan clothing brand Lafaani clothes
Girl in Lafaani hand-embroidered clothes

4. Do you take into account the recyclability of your products?

Design for Longevity is a core sustainable design principle that guides our process. We focus on creating garments from mono-materials, which not only ensures durability and timeless utility but also makes recycling easier. When a garment is made from a single type of material, it simplifies the recycling process, reducing waste and enhancing sustainability.

“Our commitment to using only natural fabrics and trims ensures that our garments are biodegradable.”

Our commitment to using only natural fabrics and trims ensures that our garments are biodegradable, contributing positively to the environment. By including a repair kit with each garment, we encourage consumers to extend the lifespan of their clothing through repairs rather than discarding them. This approach promotes sustainability by reducing waste and fostering a culture of longevity and mindful consumption in the fashion industry.

5. Who makes your clothes/products?

Meet our Makers:

Reena Ji

Our Newest Member

Jyoti Ji

Our Chief Embroiderer

Shahid Ji

Our Master Tailor

artisan Reena Ji behind brand Lafaani
artisan Jyoti Ji behind brand Lafaani
artisan Shahid Ji behind brand Lafaani

We consider ourselves lucky to have found her, because her skill in embroidery and passion for the craft leads our exploration journeys.

Hands down the most experienced person in the team. As a co-creator, she pays meticulous attention to detail and ensures that no garment leaves the workshop until she personally approves it!

Turn our garments inside out and the seams will tell you of his expertise. A constant companion to the design team, give him a challenge and he will accept it in a heartbeat.

Amar Ji

Our Pattern Master

Known for his exceptional expertise, Amar Ji is always our go-to whenever we’re exploring a new silhouette. His practical approach ensures that every design is functional and wearable, while his innovative ideas consistently introduce versatile, multifunctional pieces. 

Shambhu Ji

Our Quality Control Expert

Meet Shambhu Ji, our meticulous quality control expert. Always silently observing, he provides invaluable advice on improving efficiency. Whether it’s ensuring a bale is perfectly centered or checking that fabric swatches are included in the repair kit, Shambhu Ji’s keen eye guarantees impeccable quality in every detail.

“We are deeply committed to ensuring that all workers involved in our production process receive fair and living wages.”

6. Are any animals used in the production of your products and if so how do you make sure that they are treated ethically?

No, no animals are used.

7. What else makes your brand sustainable/ethical?

At Lafaani, we prioritize decent work through safe conditions, fair wages, and equal remuneration without discrimination. We are deeply committed to ensuring that all workers involved in our production process receive fair and living wages. Our approach goes beyond the wages prescribed by statutory bodies, taking into account the living costs specific to the areas where our artisans reside. This ensures that their compensation is not only fair but also sufficient to meet their daily needs and maintain a decent standard of living.

For the artisans on our payroll, we provide a structured year-on-year wage increase, annual bonuses, and additional opportunities to earn more. This can be through working extra hours or making up for holidays, offering flexibility and the chance for higher earnings. Our commitment to fair wages reflects our dedication to the well-being and financial security of our artisans, fostering a supportive and sustainable working environment.

Artisans hand embroidering Lafaani clothing
Artisans hand embroidering Lafaani clothing
Artisans hand sewing Lafaani clothing

Acknowledging the multifaceted roles women often fulfil within their households,we prioritize their well-being by providing our embroiderers with the option to work from the comfort of their homes. This flexibility not only allows them to manage their responsibilities effectively but also fosters a supportive environment that recognizes and respects their diverse needs and commitments outside of the workplace.

We prioritize sustainability through material and resource efficiency and ensuring responsible operational processes, especially for production of our fabrics, cross-generational craftsmanship, innovation, and technology in the industry and to cultivate the artisanal spirit of perseverance.

We promote and partner with organisations that make fabrics from 100% GOTS certified organic cotton, indigenous landraces of cotton like Kala cotton, Ponduru and Kandu cotton. They are hand spun or solar powered ambar charkha spun, hand woven and dyed using herbal and natural dyes, making them carbon neutral or positive.

We aim to create zero-waste clothing, build a circular system by upcycling fabric waste and creating a fully upcycled range of clothing and accessories.

We further reduce our environmental impact by only using trims from natural materials, omitting any plastic or metal, making the garments 100% biodegradable and our 100% local supply chain saves water, energy, and reduces CO2 emissions significantly. We further offset our carbon footprint by a positive climate action for every purchase made through our website.

8. What are the biggest challenges in operating as an ethical and sustainable fashion brand?

As a young business in the sustainable fashion industry, we face several roadblocks. One significant challenge is the prevalence of greenwashing, where misleading sustainability claims misguide consumers. This leads to information asymmetry, making it difficult for consumers to make informed buying decisions. Additionally, we face constraints in terms of allocating funds to marketing and PR exercises, which can hinder our ability to reach and educate a wider audience about our sustainable practices and values. Global recognition and value-creation of indigenous landraces of traditional indian fibre crops can also be instrumental in the brand’s growth in international markets which is being hindered at present due to lack of knowledge, proof of claim such as certifications, among other reasons.

Artisan clothing brand Lafaani's Phosphene cinched dress
Phosphene Cinched Dress
Artisan brand Lafaani's Deconstructed trench jacket
Unisex Deconstructed Trench Jacket
Artisan clothing brand Lafaani's Phosphene ruched dress
Phosphene Ruched Dress

9. “Sustainability is not about being perfect, but is a journey”, how can you further improve what you do and what plans do you have for the future?

To further enhance and amplify the positive impact of the brand’s sustainable fashion initiatives, strategic allocation of funds would be employed. Research and development efforts would receive a portion of the prize money and this investment would drive exploration and innovation in sustainable materials, technologies, production processes and end of life use. Access to new networks would foster collaborations, accelerating progress and enabling cross-sector innovation, by augmenting the emergence of novel cycles within the realm of circular design and economy. Investing in tools and resources such as impact assessment, incorporation of Digital IDs to follow the journey of the products, and certifications would provide transparent and verifiable data on our brand’s environmental and social performance, strengthening accountability and inspiring others to adopt sustainable practices.

Scaling up sustainability within our operations and supply chain would amplify desi landraces of cotton, empower textile and garment creators, supporting aspiring communities to build robust businesses and future proofing natural resources. A portion of the prize money would be dedicated to educational initiatives and outreach programs, empowering others through impactful storytelling and credible impact calculations to foster broader understanding and adoption of sustainable practices. Over time, as individuals internalize these lessons and apply them in their decision-making processes, conscious behaviours become ingrained habits. For we believe that our fashion choices communicate our thoughts, values, and beliefs, and at Lafaani, we strive to accentuate convictions of the wearers through our creations.

Collaborations and partnerships with like-minded organizations, NGOs, and research institutions would be forged, believing in the agency of artisans to transcend obstacles in traditional value chains and create a nonviolent social order for a sustainable and equitable future. Overall, the prize money would be utilized to fuel the growth of the brand as a credible name in circular fashion.

10. What one thing could fast fashion brands do to improve?

One significant improvement fast fashion brands could make is to ensure that the factories producing their garments pay workers fair wages and provide robust worker protection rights. Implementing strict standards for worker protection rights, including safe working conditions, reasonable working hours, and freedom from exploitation. And, by creating sustainability safeguards, including resource efficiency, supply chain transparency and end-of-life considerations can help make fashion a force for good.

11. What are your favourite products in your range right now and why?

We are thrilled about our multifunctional pieces from our recent collections, Phosphene and Memoirs of Materiality. These garments not only offer versatility in styling but also exemplify our commitment to sustainability. For instance, dresses and outerwear from these collections feature elements that enable them to be worn in various ways, catering to multiple occasions. What’s particularly interesting is that they are crafted from indigenous cotton textiles such as Brown Cotton and Kala Cotton.

Among our favourites are the Phosphene Cinched Dress, Phosphene Ruched Dress, Materiality Unisex Reversible Jacket, and Materiality Unisex Deconstructed Trench.

Phosphene ruched dress
Phosphene Ruched Dress
Unisex deconstructed trench
Materiality Unisex Deconstructed Trench
Unisex reversible jacket
Materiality Unisex Reversible Jacket

Thank you so much to Drishti and Rashmick for taking part in this interview! I wish them all the success and prosperity for their one-of-a-kind ethical and sustainable artisan brand. For more information, click below:

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