Fate always falls onto the keys of my laptop whenever an intriguing thought or idea comes to mind. Once May had come to an end (also known as fair trade month), I was left wondering about the other side of the fashion production line. From the various events I’ve hosted and workshops I’ve facilitated, to conferences and summits attended to continue my learning in conscious consumerism, I was baffled to realize I had never really spoken to anyone at the start of the line. The farmers, the tailors, the manufacturers and distributors; I’ve only had the opportunity to speak with the owners, founders, passionate volunteers and designers (yes, they are part of the start of the line too but, you know what I mean). The story was there, it was absorbed and it was inspiring, but hearing it from the lips of the individuals sourcing materials, harvesting crops, spinning textiles, was (and has) yet to be a part of my consumerism journey. I hear the cries of annoyance from designers in dealing with far, far away distributors, struggling to communicate in foreign languages over crackling Skype calls. Unfortunately it usually results in unnecessary expenses of having to fly over to India, Vietnam, and across Europe to deal with sourcing and manufacturing issues. I thought, there must be someone who can jump on this incredible opportunity to help thousands of ethical designers. Someone with the drive to really push forward and link in that missing connection, assisting North America with sourcing the sustainable textiles we are in need of. Somebody. But a special somebody.
I met Yashmeen Bajwa late 2016 after she had reached out to me in regards to a trip she would be embarking on to India sourcing sustainable textiles. My ears instantly perked up, and my travel bug make me itch. I was so curious about her future endeavors and what exactly this trip would look like. She was looking for travelers to tag along for the journey while meeting with various textile manufacturers and distributors. She had initially reached out for some India advice but our common interests kept us connected. Six months later, I couldn’t be more thrilled to share Yashmeen’s journey developing Doriya, a sustainable, organic and ethical fabric distribution company based here in Toronto! All Doriya textiles include certified organic, handmade, and hand spun fabrics and uses certified organic dyes or GOTS certified dyes. They also have cruelty-free, Ahimsa silk, helping save the silk worms from a boiling death! All Doriya textiles come from India (as you could have guessed by now), and Yashmeen is extremely flexible with her work, helping designers with customized ethical fabrics, prints, designs and colours.
Sitting down with Yashmeen this past week, I fell into such an awkward romantic relation with the soft, smooth and ethical fabrics, as I laid them out on my tiny, wobbly work table for the day inside Studio.89. My favourite: the organic banana and lotus textiles. I was in awe of how incredible and natural these fabrics are. Why haven't we been doing this for years?! “What’s your shirt made out of?” “Oh, just lotus pedals”...like, how cool is that?!
Playing with the fabrics inspired me to design something unique, but then I remembered I can't even draw a stick figure.
Ready to hear more? See below for a Q & A with Yashmeen Bajwa, Founder and Director of Doriya!
Tell us about your journey through India sourcing ethical textiles!
My journey through India was an extraordinary learning experience that provided clarity and opportunities for me. It was a two month long research project: “Project Doriya.”
The goal of this project was to educate myself so I could educate others, to support the emerging green revolution in the fashion and textile industry. I was aware of the harmful effects of this industry on the planet and I wanted to take action and help make it less damaging.
So, I traveled all over India and visited 7 states all together to learn the true meaning of sustainability and to see it first-hand on the manufacturing side. It was educational and adventurous to travel to different regions of India and to see the diversity and variety in textiles and cultures. Each region had their specialty, their own touch and unique ways to be more sustainable and eco-friendly.
Textile trade shows, fashion shows, factories, water treatment plants, stores, villages, clusters, farmers and artisans were all part of the project.
As a result, I found fabrics like organic cotton, vegan silks, organic hemp, organic denim, organic bamboo fabrics, organic soybean fabrics, organic lotus fabrics, organic corn fabrics and other fabric blends with nettle, aloe vera, beechwood, heena, neem and basil.
I gained a deep understanding of sustainability standards and got a close look into the lives of those who make it happen.
What led you to the start of this new venture?
I try to live a very sustainable lifestyle where my actions, choices and my way of life does not harm the environment or any living being. I eat organic food, follow a vegan diet and support ecologically conscious organizations. I thought I covered everything until a friend of mine brought up organic fabrics.
Like a lot of people, I did not understand why I should be buying organic clothing. So, I ended up looking into that and realized how big of an affect textiles have on the environment. I discovered the harsh realities of the toxic wastes, chemicals, pesticides that contaminate water, pollute the air and the land, spread diseases and the unethical practices that cost lives.
The solution for those issues starts by going back to basics and doing things organically without the use of chemicals, GMO seeds or hazardous substances or dyes. Organic fabrics do not have the harmful chemicals that can irritate the skin. It’s good for our health, good for the environmental health and good for the health of those textile workers. It’s a way to reduce pollution and suffering.
My interest in the subject grew stronger over time and I decided to start my journey with Project Doriya to understand the industry completely in order to change things.
Sourcing sustainable fabrics was a result of this whole process.
Why not design? Why the other end of the fashion production line?
I did originally want to start a sustainable fashion brand to reduce the environmental impact and I wanted to educate people through my brand. However, through this project, I ended up coming across a variety of sustainable fabrics that are otherwise hard to find.
After some research, I realized that there were more emerging designers than I assumed. But most of them were struggling with sourcing sustainable fabrics for their eco-friendly and ethical brands.
Hence, I decided to support sustainability and local designers by sourcing sustainable fabrics.
What was the most memorable part of your journey?
The most memorable part of my journey was the large amount of respect and love that I received; everyone was very welcoming.
One memorable moment was when I was treated as a State government guest and stayed in one of the Government State Houses in East India, where my stay, travel and even food was taken care of by the company I was visiting. I was very humbled by this.
What has been the biggest learning curve for you thus far?
The biggest learning curve would be that sustainability is much bigger than just organic or eco-friendly fabrics. It includes the procedures, the processes, the company policies, the impact that they have on the society, the environment and on all living beings. There is so much that needs to be considered to be truly sustainable.
Seeing how everything connects is an eye-opener. Fiber plants, spinning, weaving, dyeing, printing, designing, sewing and then seeing the finished product in stores and on the runway showed me all aspects of sustainability. That gave me a new perspective on the matter.
Now ready to go with suppliers, what's the next step?
The next step is getting recognition in the local fashion and the textile sector. I am doing custom orders for fashion designers, home textile designers and anyone else who needs sustainable fabrics.
The next big step would be to open a specialty store for only sustainable fabrics in Toronto but that would take some time.
I truly am so excited for the future of fashion, where there is no slow or fast, polyester cotton blends vs. organic cotton and banana. With young people shifting their focus to the start of the production line, more innovation will begin to swallow up the fast fashion world. Thank you Yashmeen for all that you do, and I anticipate some great synergies between yourself and local designers in the near future!
To get in contact with Yashmeen, please email her at email@example.com.