BY NICI MISRI
Shayonti Chatterji is the founder of Urban Medley, a curated platform that sells sustainable fashion accessories. Rather hesitantly, she remarks, ‘I am not a fashionista, nor a designer. I am simply an entrepreneur who doesn’t stop dreaming’. She left her country of birth right after high school and has since called many different countries home. For the last 17 years, home has been Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Urban Medley was ideated on a simple philosophy: to give back to the land she loved and make a difference to the less fortunate lives. The platform started to promote sustainable, handmade fashion from India and to bring to consumers in Europe products made by artisans which balance tradition and contemporary designs. The products represent centuries-old ways of weaving and printing.
For the moment, Shayonti is working alone on this project; scouting for designers, choosing the collection and overseeing the marketing and operations. She explains, ‘It’s not always easy, and at times it feels lonely. But the passion to see this idea take shape keeps me going’.
Why accessories? ‘Well I feel there is a fluidity about them; you can use them the way you want, and completely transform a look’.
Traditional Indian forms of weaving and printing are completely sustainable, but unfortunately the influx of fast fashion has somehow pushed them away. Luckily, we are seeing a resurgence of the sustainable methods thanks to upcoming designers who are helping the artisans reach out to a global audience. Shayonti is working in collaboration with such designers. Her collection includes cruelty free Peace Silk and Kala organic cotton.
She explains, ‘Due to its excessive use of water, cotton is not a sustainable crop, especially when there are vast regions where the population is suffering from water scarcity. We work with Organic Kala Cotton; it is an old world cotton which is completely rain fed and no synthetic fertilizer or pesticides are used. This is a resilient variety of cotton, traditional to the Kutch region of Gujrat, in Western India. It is more sustainable than known varieties of organic cotton and can only be woven by hand. This cotton can be used both in summer and winter’.
They are also promoting Peace Silk. She states, ‘It amazes me how few know what about Peace Silk, even those who are so vocal about sustainability’.
What is Peace or Ahimsa Silk? It is not very common knowledge that there is cruelty free silk. Instead of boiling the cocoon in hot water while the silkworm is still alive, as done in conventional silk, one waits for the silk worm to cut through the cocoon as it metamorphoses into a moth and discards the cocoon. The yarn is spun from the discarded cocoon and then woven into silk.
As the moth hatches and pierces a hole through the cocoon, the fibres are shortened, and the yarn is woven from these shortened fibres, making the process way more difficult. Ahimsa silk is less glossier and it has a beautifully textured body. It retains the properties otherwise lost in conventional silk. It is warm in winter and cool in summer. This method of silk weaving started in India around 1990.
But, how can she guarantee ethical production practises? ‘We work with designers who are themselves strong advocates of sustainability. The designers work directly with artisans. The artisans work at their pace or in small workshops and it is almost like an extended family, where each one is doing what they are best at and as a group they are passionate about taking their art to the global market. It is important to note that, as we work with artisans, we give them the opportunity to be economically independent and do what they are best at’.
What is the design story? ‘Our silk is hand block printed, we use bright colours, elements from nature or bold geometric strokes. The cotton is more subtle and neutral. Sustainable accessories and apparel can be exciting, too’.
What is your reaction to greenwashing nowadays? ‘Yes, sustainability has become a fashion mantra where the bigger moneyed brands are dominating, while smaller brands who are not into mass production get ignored’. But she wants the consumers to take the lead, ‘Ask the right questions; remember it is not just about certifications, check to see if the claims are true and most important, buy less and buy better’.
Urban Medley was launched at the onset of Corona, how was the experience? ‘Yes, we launched just around the time Corona was cementing its hold on Europe. The experience convinced me more than ever that it had never been more crucial that we change the way we live and consume. The world has changed!'.
Urban Medley promotes ethical production and creates heirloom accessories, something exclusive that one can proudly use many times.
Main image courtesy of Urban Medley.