Going green isn’t as difficult as it used to be with the array of vegetarian delights and eco-friendly products available on the market today, and environmentally-conscious clothing is becoming as popular as the fashions themselves. But M641 takes it one step further with a philosophical approach to designing clothes that are living, breathing representations of the spirit, passion, and friendship that created them. For Ina and Subu, earth-minded fashion is about a lifestyle — not a trend — and the result is a stunning experience in heart couture.
I had an opportunity to talk with Ina, one of the founders of M641, and learned more about the designs, the philosophy and the friendship that foster feel good fashions and plaid with a pulse.
What made you decide to start your own clothing line?
My M641 co-founder and dear friend, Subu, approached me with the idea of beginning our very own Collection. It was Subu’s dream to have a sought-after line. We both realized that having diverse ethnic backgrounds, and a wide range of personal inspirations, could lend very well to the market. Subu and I also found that all too often, fashion seemed to be a luxury item which totally negates the fun! As work from home moms, we decided it was time to bring an affordable, totally unique, non-cookie cutter line to the public. In 2007 we eagerly began designing and launched M641!
How would you categorize your fashions?
Rather than categorize ourselves as Contemporary, Juniors, Misses etc., Subu and I decided to categorize our brand by its purpose. Each Collection is lovingly scrutinized by where — and how — a woman would wear each of our designs. Given that we ourselves have moved through various decades of fashion and trends, as well as have many different roles such as mothers, travelers, businesswomen, and socialites, we would have a tough time limiting our fashion category.
Do you have a signature style?
Once a year we actually have a “signature tunic” which goes thru an exciting re-design process! We call this one particular piece our signature, as we feel it best incorporates a universal figure-flattering and encompasses our market niche. Take a look and see if you can spot it throughout our ‘08-09 Collections.
Do you think being a vegetarian impacts your designs?
Well I can say that being vegetarian has had many positive impacts overall on our lifestyle. This undoubtedly carries over into our business sense and most definitely is depictive in our designs.
Vegetarianism as you may know is about respect and a deep commitment to something you believe in. We care not only about what we put into our bodies but about what we put on! We look at each and every M641 piece as unique and beautiful in its own right. And we choose not to compromise our consumer, our style, or our quality in the process. Many people believe that vegetarians will be bland, or overly earthy. We hope you will see that this is not the case of M641. We allow color and trims to playfully be incorporated into our Collections on a palate of 100% woven cottons.
What environmentally friendly measures have you taken with your business?
Well, everyone should realize that even the smallest preventative steps make a positive difference on the eco-problems we all face. That said, we re-use fabrics and trims when necessary, so as not to waste. M641 hangtags are all done on recycled paper and hemp. Our manufacturing comes from an industry certified, sweatshop-free, supplier who is very open to our management practices wherein we only produce in limited quantities and at limited times per year in an effort to not contribute to harmful emissions and pollution-causing materials being put into the atmosphere. We limit the amount of paper printed materials we use (such as Lookbooks and linesheets). And, to date, have not done any mass mailings. Much of what we do can be done electronically which speaks to our eco-business practices. We also strongly acknowledge other players in the eco industry who are doing far more than we are, and share and support their causes where we can.
Did you set out to be an eco-fashion business?
We did so somewhat nonchalantly in our initial meetings together. It was kind of a given that we would be at least conscious across the board (not only environmentally speaking) about launching in this industry. Moreover, we knew we did not want to be superficial. Since then, we have established a firm footing in our eco-positioning and plan to stick with it.
Do you find that your fashions appeal most to the eco-chic group?
To be honest, we do not currently or aggressively target market to the eco-chic crowd. I will say that we appeal to many of the Indie and Emerging designer crowds and I’m happy to say that I’ve seen a shift in their mindsets toward eco and sustainable goods.
What do you think makes your style unique?
The melding of my own personal Americanized classic style while strongly paying homage to Subu’s Indian heritage. Interest found in any of our pieces are like little surprises, such as a lurex stitching, hand embroidery or a lovely tape trim.
Who or what has been the greatest influence on your designs?
Love, motherhood, friendship, commitment, loyalty, heritage. We are inspired by women of all walks of life and from varying lifestyles. Our own friendship and personal roles and role models influence us in our designs and our decision making.
Who do you think is leading the eco-fashion industry?
Personally, I never get tired of seeing what Linda Loudermilk will come up with next. She is shamelessly going where many never thought possible, like her use of EcoSpun® (plastic beverage bottles) which is spun and knitted into her creations. It amazes me.
What is “fast fashion” and how does it affect the environment?
There’s a lot that goes into putting out a Collection. And keep in mind, this happens each season in this industry. Fast Fashion as I see it, is a relentless introduction of new designs and products to the market by big name or household name labels. Often companies will supply small quantities of certain designs but to a very large number of suppliers and get consumers hooked on their brand. When out of stock of certain designs, an average buyer will snag what they can get, then keep coming back to check for — and buy — more. The main problem is when you take into consideration the amount of goods being produced like this and the frequency of production. But that is only the beginning of the problem. What about the washing, limited wearing and disposing of these goods? The fact is, there are significant problematic issues which occur right from cotton harvesting, to child labor, to the carbon emissions via production, to mass packaging and mass transportation of “fashion.” And for what? Yes, all for the sake of being “on-trend”. This is not a concept that M641 supports, or subcribes to, in the planning and development of our fashions.
What do you think is the biggest obstacle to designers adopting an eco-friendly approach to fashion?
I don’t see many obstacles for established designers in the eco-arena. But it does create obstacles for emergent brands like M641. There is a high cost for pesticide-free cottons, or use of more exotic, plant-based fabrics including bamboo, soya or sea cell, sustainable supplies and eco-certification processes (I could go on and on). These costs unfortunately get passed on to the consumer. This is something we’re not ready to inflict on our loyal, new customers. So at M641 we continue to learn and stay focused, incorporating small changes and natural elements, cottons, linens and the like. But we are unafraid of the challenges of moving to a deeper shade of green!
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to get started in the fashion business?
Pick your niche and go with it wholeheartedly. Know and understand what problem you will solve in this industry. Don’t feel like you need to spend loads of money advertising or marketing your product. Reach out and find your market, and ultimately, your customer.
Ina and Subu’s vision is beginning to gain momentum, and is now available at several retailers throughout the US, and in Australia. To find a store near you, visit Madras641 Clothing. You can even purchase their designs online. And, since they strive to create Collections that represent the people, your feedback and ideas are always welcome. You can email Ina directly or follow M641 on Twitter. With their commitment to the environment, a healthy, green lifestyle, and a unique focus on individual expression, Madras 641 is poised to be a sustainable force in the eco-fashion scene.