“It’s a good time for entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka,” said House of Lonali’s Founder and Lead Designer Lonali Rodrigo, adding that “there’s a lifestyle change towards conscious consumerism.”

She asserted: “There’s space for new entrepreneurs, innovations, thinking and systems whereas the obstacles can also be converted into opportunities.”

Meanwhile, Rodrigo commented on the global fashion industry’s impact on the environment: “It’s not only about the garment you wear but the entire process including what goes into it, what happens to it, how it’s manufactured and how it ends up.”

According to her, the starting point is at a cotton farm.

About 2,700 litres of water is used to produce cotton for a T-shirt. “There’s a lot of energy consumption at the textile manufacturing stage; chemical discharge into streams when the fabric is dyed; and carbon emission throughout the transportation to manufacturing hubs,” she explained.

Manufacturing hubs such as Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Egypt and Turkey became popular when the demand for cheaper clothing arose, causing brands to offshore manufacturing to low-cost countries. Rodrigo remarked: “Sri Lanka is known as a sustainable manufacturing country.”

However, she noted: “The greenhouse gas emissions of textile and apparel making exceeds international transportation and maritime carbon emissions. This industry is the second largest polluter owing to its supply chain, approach to retailing and fast fashion.”

Fast fashion is where consumers purchase extravagantly and then throw the clothes away. She added: “These clothes are transported back to Third World countries and end up in landfills or are incinerated.”

In short, the entire supply chain affects the environment.

Rodrigo asserted that “the manufacturing industry is much more advanced because we are supplying to the world’s top brands. Therefore, manufacturers have looked into both people and planet perspectives.”

Furthermore, she pointed out that “they’re seeking approaches that help reduce the carbon footprint.”

Reminiscing the bygone era of sustainable living, Rodrigo said: “Our grandparents never threw clothes away. We could always mend a garment at home with a sewing machine or easily find a seamstress and cobbler down the road, to repair our clothes and shoes.”

She believes businesses should consider the triple bottom line as those that focus on people and the planet are likely to derive profits as a result. But do consumer perceptions align with sustainable fashion trends?

Rodrigo responded: “Upcycling is not a new practice; but these terms are new for consumers.”

Awareness exists about recycling but not upcycling. “Upcycling is when you take waste, add value and give it a new life,” she said, adding: “Most people prefer not to purchase upcycled products because of their impression of waste.”

However, she declared that “eventually, consciousness improved and sustainability has become a trend people want to partake in.” Rodrigo continued: “In 2019, it was one of the top three trends – not just in fashion but also in furniture, architecture and product design.”

According to her, competition, small markets, and access to technology and innovation are obstacles for small brands. She also pinpointed other industry trends – viz. going digital, ‘athleisure’ (popularised by health conscious lifestyles) and activism.

Movements such as animal rights that oppose the use of fur and leather have led to “innovations such as leather made from apples, cactuses, pineapples, mushrooms and so on,” noted Rodrigo.

She concluded her appearance on LMDtv by stating that “people are trying to be a part of the conversation and bring out their individuality through that,” and “buying local not only supports the local economy, craftsmen, artisans and small industries but also reduces the carbon footprint since the product doesn’t have to be shipped from across the world.”