• News
  • Columns
  • Interviews
  • BW Communities
  • Events
  • BW TV
  • Subscribe to Print
  • Editorial Calendar 19-20
BW Businessworld

Thou Shalt Not Kill

Photo Credit :

From haute cuisine to haute couture to pet feed, a vegan way of life is becoming an ethical choice for many across the spectrum. (Incidentally, ‘vegan' is not the same as ‘vegetarian'; a vegan platter excludes not just meat but also milk and its products, eggs and honey). Vegan is a sensitive choice that does away with the use of animals for food, clothing or cosmetics, and the vegan experience lingers on without the burden of guilt. While fashion designers of national repute are on a mission to create a dedicated line of clothing from natural fabrics such as khadi, vegan bakeries are coming up with ‘compassionate' delicacies. But first, let's start with vegan attire.

Sample this: 1,500 silk worms have to be killed to get one metre of woven silk cloth. Enlightened or horrified? Not unexpectedly, silk boutiques keep mum about these grim statistics. After all, silk trousseaus inch up the glamour quotient, besides keeping profits high. But a revolution is clearly afoot as designers make that extra effort to craft ensembles without cruelty to animals. This has led to the evolution of Ahimsa Silk, a fabric that is produced without killing the silkworm. It is extracted after the silkworm has completed its metamorphosis and emerged from the cocoon.

COMPASSIONATE SPREAD: Fresh Fruit Gateux, a Carnival Cakes & Breads delicacy; (Below) Kusuma Rajaiah and his Ahimsa Silk (Picture Courtesy: Carnival Cakes & Breads)

Promoted by activists such as Shabana Azmi and Amala Akkineni, and patented by Kusuma Rajaiah, Ahimsa Silk came about when Janaki Venkataraman, wife of former President R. Venkataraman, during a visit to the Andhra Pradesh State Handloom Weavers' Cooperative Society (APCO), wanted to know if saris could be made without killing silkworms, in the 1990s. The question put Rajaiah on the silk route, where he researched and developed an alternative silk fabric that did away with killing of any kind.

"Ahimsa Silk is more expensive than regular silk and has a niche market because it takes two to three months to produce yarn and involves wastage," says Rajaiah, who is the procurement officer for APCO and operates from his Hyderabad home. Kicking off with saris, the prices of which now range from Rs 4,000 to 10,000, the Ahimsa Silk portfolio now includes scarves, dhotis and knits. The selection is diverse and offers comfort. "Ahimsa Silk is breathable and absorbs sweat. It drapes well and can be worn all the year round," says Rajaiah.

The green and non-violent quest became a lifestyle choice for fashion designer Deepika Govind who retails in Bangalore and Delhi. "My quest to find a silk that doesn't harm any life form finally found an answer in Eri. It was a challenging task to turn a naturally coarse silk into a supple and soft fabric of international quality," says the designer about her new collection. "Eri continues to intrigue me with its unusual properties (warm in winter, cool in summer), making it one of the finest options for stoles and shawls, which sell for Rs 3,500-Rs 12,000."

Eri's spinning process, which is known as endi or errandi in India, does not involve the killing of the silkworm. The cocoons are open-ended and allow the moth to fly  to freedom once the spinning  is complete.

Govind has come up with vegan fabrics such as bamboo knit, soya bean knit, khadi cotton and tencel (a man-made eco-friendly fibre). Her eco-finesse is also evident from a pure khadi blend and an organic denim collection.

(Picture Courtesy: Kusuma Rajaiah)

The warp and weft of responsible fashion has textured connotations. Like khadinomics, a term fashion entrepreneur couple Kochery C. Shibu and Mini Varkey Shibu coined to describe the economy that would be built around the fusion concept of 19th-century quality khadi and 21st-century fashion. The philosophy of khadinomics incorporates skilled weavers, vegetable dyers and the organic cotton farmers in the changing dynamics of the fashion industry, and lives through MINC, the Shibus' Bangalore-based eco-friendly fashion store for women and young girls. "The concept is to promote eco fashion, work with khadi fabrics, organic cotton and vegetable-dyed fabrics, and support a social chain of tribal cotton farmers, weavers and dyers while improving our environment," explains the couple.

After interacting with khadi and handloom units in south India, the Shibus found that the khadi fabrics available in the markets were not in keeping with the latest fashion trends. This led them to identify and commission the tribal farmers of Dharmapuri in Tamil Nadu to grow organic cotton, which was then spun and woven into khadi. The prices of MINC's ‘Petite' label for young girls (11-14 years) now range between Rs 360 and Rs 1,800.

WHAT'S TRENDING? Two young models exhibit khadi fashionwear made at Bangalore-based MINC (Picture Courtesy: MINC)

With clothes come accessories. Mumbai-based accessory designer Rina Shah designs vegan bags. Her label Rinaldi is probably the only designer label in India that promotes animal-friendly, cruelty-free fashion by using mock leather. At the international level, Stella McCartney has a line of vegan shoes and bags.

There's also a vegan gourmet revolution. Founded by Sreelakshmi and Sadhish Kumar, Bangalore's Carnival Cakes & Breads is a full-fledged bakery, which also offers vegan treats. "Bakeries stick to the traditional stuff. Vegan products are rarely on their menu as they don't have many takers. We decided to whet the vegan market by creating a dedicated team who dish out vegan goodies in our bakery," say Sreelakshmi and Sadhish Kumar.

Over time, Carnival Cakes & Breads has managed to attract 100 customers, besides catering to a leading international airliner. Whipping up baked delights without eggs and milk products was a challenge. But clarity and forethought led them to nutritive substitutes such as non-dairy, soya-based toppings from Rich Graviss and the plant-based gelatin agar agar. The lavish spread now includes fluffy vegan cakes, pies, scrumptious cookies, handmade chocolates, salads and samosas. In the absence of animal-derived ingredients,   the exhaustive menu is healthy and has a longer shelf life.

The vegan concept extends to four-legged companions and cosmetics as well. Mumbai's Green Stove has lip-smacking all-vegan creations like Dough-Ray-Me, and ready-to-eat treats for dogs and cats. These zippy gourmet offerings came about because a vegan workshop urged Rithika Ramesh, a sprightly 20-something, to make a gradual transition to a vegan lifestyle. She realised her calling and soon developed her own cache with the Green Stove last year.

Tathaastu, a vegan cosmetics and wellness products line, graces the racks of many stores in Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai. Tathaastu products are biodegradable, recyclable and do not contain chemicals. They come with the stamp ‘Not tested on animals'. About 85 per cent of Tathaastu products are vegan and the rest, vegetarian. Hints of neem, tulsi and sandalwood blend with the essence of almond oil and aloe vera for the indulgent lot who need not feel guilty.

Besides bakeries, resorts, too, have created a niche for themselves. A case in point is e-inn, a business hotel located in Bangalore's Electronics City. The cuisine at this five-year-old vegetarian, no-smoking, no-drinking resort is global and relies on farm-fresh organic produce, though it is not strictly vegan. "We serve a variety of cuisines including Continental, Chinese, Oriental, North Indian and South Indian delicacies. But vegetarianism remains our USP and our tagline ‘Stay Healthy' reinforces the concept," says Nitin R. Phadnis, GM, e-inn. The resort's promoter, Akkayya Consultancy Services, also owns a vegetarian, non-alcoholic beach resort in coastal Karnataka.

The author is a freelance feature writer based in Bangalore

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 04-07-2011)