Say hello to green heart Mahima Gujral Wadhwa, the woman behind fashion label Sui, and find out why she’s stitching a meaningful connection between sustainability, fashion and wanderlust.
Affordable and sustainable fashion. It’s not often you hear those two words in the same sentence. So when an email talking about accessible slow fashion popped in our inbox, we simply had to investigate and meet the sender. Thoughtful, authentic and breezy, much like her designs, Mahima Gujral Wadhwa wears her (green) heart on her sleeve. Once a fast-fashion shopper, she talks about what sparked the revolution in her life, how she’s constantly learning, and reveals to us the true soul of Sui, her sustainable clothing brand with an extra special affordable edit under $100.
So you come from a family of women entrepreneurs…
Yes, my grandmother used to custom-make clothes and my mom took over when she was 18 and developed it into a brand. I was there always… after school, summer holidays. So even when I grew up, I was wooed by fashion and wanted to work in the luxury fashion industry. To be honest, I was a fast fashion buyer myself. After my masters, my goal was to move to Singapore and work for a big fashion house in marketing.
What changed your perspective?
When I was studying in Italy, we had a few classes on sustainability. A part of me connected with the concept. That’s when I came to know of Fashion Revolution and the Rana Plaza disaster where 1,134 people in a garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh perished. Having been witness to a beautiful side of the industry since I was young, the reality didn’t sit very well with me.
When I was moving to Singapore and packing my things, I think that’s when I really saw what I owned. It was a real eye-opener. Leaving that part of me was a big turning point and when I finally moved here, I knew I wanted to work with a brand that makes a difference. It had to be meaningful. I met Laura Francois from the Fashion Revolution and began volunteering with them. My journey began with learning what sustainability was all about and what fashion was really doing to the planet. Everything from fabric production, wastage, chemical dyes, polyester fabrics and finally, human rights violations. Of course, I gave up shopping and fast fashion.
Tell us about Sui, your sustainable and conscious clothing label.
The inception of Sui began with a hope to make sustainable fashion more wearable and exciting, while keeping our hearts close to our main goal: Making fashion greener. When I decided to start my own conscious fashion brand and began researching, I came across hemp fabric. It’s made from the cannabis plant. It takes a lot fewer resources to make hemp fabric versus cotton and even the water consumed in the process is 400 to 500 times less! It grows in the wild in India and the production process (to turn it into fabric) is a lot more wholesome than any other fabric I’ve seen. So I sourced it from a company called Boheco based in Mumbai, India, hired a tailor, drew up a few pieces with my designer and got to work.
We decided to make 15 pieces that are comfortable and fit different kinds of body types. We do everything made to order or in limited quantities. That way there’s no wastage. When I first launched, our fabrics used azo-free dyes that are the second-best alternative to chemical dyes. But now we know better and use herbal dyes in most of our pieces.
Sui’s brand story is about the connection with nature that travel brings forth. It’s about enjoying nature and respecting it. I want to tell a unique story about our clothes. From the design inspiration to the sourcing to the making process, each step holds so much significance and joy. Every collection is inspired by moments spent with nature – you’ll find little hand and machine embroidered patterns of leaves, bougainvillaea, hearts and other motifs. Even the name Sui translates to ‘a needle’ in Hindi. It also means a connection, which is perfect because we want to be a bridge between nature and fashion. After nine months of conceptualising and working on it from the ground up, we launched Sui in April 2018.
And you also have a more affordable collection under $100…
In a year, we work two big collections (summer and winter) along with two smaller ones in between. In 2019, we launched a special Basic-ally Edit and its 2.0 version went live this October. The whole idea behind this collection is to make sustainable fashion accessible and affordable. Everything is under $100. Sui uses herbal dyes and handwoven fabrics, and that adds to the cost, so to make this under $100 we skipped the colour and upcycled our deadstock fabrics for the Basic-ally Edit. Like everything we do, this collection is also made to order.
Plus, we try our best to educate our community. We believe in leaving our customers, even the ones that don’t buy, with something… some information and knowledge about sustainability.
Tell us about the enterprises and makers you work with.
We started off making clothes with hemp and organic cotton fabrics, but I didn’t want to stop there. Organic cotton is good but not the best. In India, the process of making organic cotton fabrics involves some level of coal usage. Now we also use khadi – it’s a handspun and handwoven natural fibre, so it uses no electricity to be created. We work with a social enterprise called WomenWeave in Madhya Pradesh, India. Apart from hemp, organic cotton and khadi, we also use recycled fabric. It’s basically made with leftover yarn that’s normally thrown away. Our herbal dyer based in Gujarat, India, makes this fabric for us too.
We don’t ever intend on making in mass – everything will always be made to order or in limited quantities. We have five tailors and we’re all about doing things in the slowest way possible. Everyone gets paid well. We only work with vendors that do right by the planet and their employees. I visit them regularly to meet them and make sure.
Sustainable fashion can be expensive. What would you say to people who want to buy conscious clothes but might not be able to afford it?
I often tell people, if you don’t want to stop buying fast fashion because you can’t afford sustainable fashion, the least you can start with is ‘buy less’. Buy fast fashion but what only what you need. Make sure you wear it for the next many years. I think the least you could do is wear it 30 – 40 times and then donate or swap. There are so many great options in Singapore, and if you’re willing to venture out, sustainable fashion has many exciting affordable options such as secondhand clothing, swapping and renting.