Impact-driven entrepreneurship, Sustainable Innovation, and the Circular Fashion Movement in India – A Conversation with Gigi Mathews, Head of Reweave in India

Impact-driven entrepreneurship, Sustainable Innovation, and the Circular Fashion Movement in India – A Conversation with Gigi Mathews, Head of Reweave in India

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Gigi has always been driven by ambition and purpose. Before joining Enviu, she co-founded an engineering integrated systems company to build systems that improve safety and efficiency for railway assets. She was the only non-engineer on the team, but fell in love with technology and creating solutions that improve everyday lives. It’s exactly this that she is now doing as the Head of Reweave in India. Using her passion and experience to build companies that create impact.

Can you describe your first-hand experience of seeing the problems within the fashion industry in India? How did this make you feel?

I always thought fashion was just about exclusivity and quality. My contribution to being sustainable was through my choices of rare and timeless pieces, or so I thought! I was guilty of not knowing where my clothes came from! 

My first venture development project was with our venture UPSET Textiles, a large textile waste rejuvenation project. This opened my eyes to the invisible and non-transparent world of fashion. My visits to large fabric waste yards were like visiting a planet in desolation. I stood before mountains of waste whose only future was to be downcycled or landfilled – that’s where I felt the knot in my stomach. This was just post-production waste, I shuddered at what post-consumer waste would do to this planet! 

Mass production, exploitation, poor working conditions and waste are unfortunately all words synonymous with the world of textiles. I remember thinking that as consumers we hold a lot of power in our wallets to either save or destroy.

Do you think that consumers and producers in India recognize the need for change, the urgency? If so, how do you see this?

We are seeing a firm commitment from the industry to move towards fashion that contributes to a clean environment. We can see it in the recently launched SU.RE project at the Lakme Fashion Week 2019, which is a commitment from India’s apparel industry to set a sustainable pathway for the future of Indian fashion. India is also seeing a growing trend of consumers becoming increasingly environmentally conscious and showing an interest in working towards a sustainable lifestyle. These consumers are starting to demand transparency, traceability and visibility into what they wear before they buy. The COVID-19 crisis has intensified this demand and it’s moving from being a passionate statement towards an actual need for both consumers and producers!

How do you envision the future of circular fashion in India and what is Reweave doing to reach that vision?

As one of the largest countries in the world in terms garment production, India has seen many efforts in the last few years to make sustainability the need of the hour for the textile and apparel industry. There is a growing commitment to move towards a fashion industry that, at the very least, does not pollute the environment. The urgency for change has been established and we see big targets being set in the country. Enviu’s Reweave program in India is right at the heart of this agenda as we are building disruptive scalable ventures that are actively driving the fashion sector towards a circular and fair value chain.

Circular business models will play a core role in the sustainable transformation of the industry. We need to see more action on the ground when it comes to innovations and scalable ventures. Reweave is set to bridge the gap and accelerate this transition and transformation towards circularity by finding applicable innovations, commercializing them and turning them into scalable ventures. 

We are working alongside Enviu’s team in the Netherlands, who are front runners in sustainable innovation and have a strong track record of building successful circular business models. This has given us a headstart in India, letting us jump right in and start creating impact. 

Also we’re focusing on building partnerships and collaborations. These are crucial and hold the key to delivering circular solutions at scale – Together is more!! 

What are some of the main challenges for Reweave within the circular fashion scene in India to achieve this vision?

India is such a large production country – circular and fair fashion is not something we can achieve overnight. There are challenges we need to be aware of. Consumers in India need to get a better understanding of the reuse market and bring in a sense of ‘responsible’ consumption. Recycling shouldn’t be just about downcycling – upcycling is key to creating greater value. Brands and manufacturers need to pursue solutions and bold innovations to make the industry more circular. They need to see both the impact and value of adopting circular practices and producing responsibly.

We also need to get more partners, funders, and corporates on board to support the circularity agenda, both from the government and the industry players in India. The circle right now is small for a country as large as India. 

The good news is the Revolution has begun and we see increased awareness in consumers, producers and the government – we are moving in the right direction!

We would love to hear from you! Join the Revolution! Get in touch with Gigi Mathews at gigi@enviu.org 

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