This post is generously sponsored by AGAATI. As always, EcoCult only works with brands we think are doing good things. Support EcoCult editorial by supporting them!
Lately, I’ve been really into the idea of color. Textiles and fashion with bright, bold, fun colors; fashion labels helmed by women of color–both of these are not exactly saturating the sustainable fashion market. I mean, loose basics in neutrals have their place in every woman’s wardrobe, but let’s mix it up, shall we?
That’s why when I first saw AGAATI’s collection of dresses, tops, and bottoms, I got excited. This new entry to the scene, helmed by India-born Saloni Shrestha, is unlike any other sustainable and ethical fashion brands I’ve seen, with bold, interesting color combinations and kicky, feminine shapes. Someone please invite me to a cocktail party so I can bounce in wearing this dress!
This isn’t Saloni’s first foray into fashion, that much is clear. After moving to Singapore for a corporate marketing career, Saloni launched her own label. She was self-taught, but found an eager market in the cosmopolitan city for her bold, colorful brand. The brand wasn’t sustainable however–it included both natural and synthetic fibers chosen purely for their quality and aesthetics.
“When it was three years old, the question was, what’s next?” she says.
Her husband encouraged her to move to New York City, where she enrolled at Parson’s School of Design. “I was probably one of the oldest students,” she says. “But there was so much innovative thinking. At Parson’s, a key takeaway was zero-waste design.” That awakened Saloni to the world of sustainable fashion. Meanwhile, she was learning the craft of couture and ready-to-wear at internships at Oscar de la Renta, Diane von Furstenberg, Zac Posen, and Naeem Khan. When she moved to California, the lifestyle there–organic and healthy food, a love of the outdoors–further opened her eyes to the issues of environment.
When she found a business partner who was also passionate about preserving the environment for the future, she was ready to launch her next brand, but more thoughtfully and with a deeper message this time.
Agaati in Sanskrit means “origin,” or the arising of something. And it’s appropriate, as Saloni approached starting a sustainable brand with fresh, naive eyes. “In the beginning, we tried to be everything, based on all the research and reading.”
She considered using peace silk, but couldn’t find many suppliers, especially ones that were up to her aesthetic standards, so she uses regular silk, a natural fiber, plus cotton, viscose, and wool, with a focus on deadstock and handweaving. “We wanted to make sure that there is a balanced impact on the people as well as the environment,” she says. So she narrowed her focus, to employing skilled artisans from around the world to help preserve traditions and provide employment. Her latest project built on the traditional skills of the weavers in Varanasi, India, one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, where weaving has become an endangered craft. She’s also working with artisans in Nepal, next on embroidery, scarf weaving and hand knitted sweaters. Two Indian factories make the clothing. One is government audited, and the other is very small–Saloni has visited it herself. “They allow artisan workmanship into the designs,” she says. The next collection, in collaboration with the environmental organization Fibershed, will include work from handknitters in Nepal.
Right now, Saloni is struggling with the same thing companies like Eileen Fisher are: finding a certified sustainable supplier of viscose. “Viscose was created as a substitute for silk,” she says. “The volume of it, the weight and flow are beautiful. But they don’t give you any certification. We have to ask them several times. Organic cotton and silk are much more easier to get certified.” She looked in India as well as Los Angeles. Fortunately, that will change for the next collection, as the two largest suppliers of viscose,Lenzing and Aditya Birla, have gone through the auditing process put together by Canopy and The Rainforest Alliance and been certified as at a low-risk of sourcing raw material from mills that are destructive to the rainforest.
AGAATI is based in San Francisco, which has a fashio reputation for rugged, outdoorsy, relaxed style. “We were hesitant when we launched it in the Urban Air Market,” Saloni says. “We were busy all day. We had young women buying some of our dramatic, colorful prints, to wear them to work.”
Saloni is attempting to encapsulate sustainability within amazing design. “It sometimes so easy to forget what is the impact you’re having on the sustainable side,” Saloni says. “And sometimes when you think of sustainability, the marketing/design side slips off.”
“Our mission is to be the most fashionable wardrobe option in the sustainable category.”