Anita Dongre: An Inspiring Force for Feminism, Fashion, and Sustainability
Anita Dongre has emerged as a formidable presence in the fashion industry, defying its male-dominated landscape and establishing herself as a champion for feminism. With her stores in India and New York, multiple clothing brands under her name, and a strong celebrity following, Dongre is a true trailblazer. However, her ultimate goal lies in creating an environmentally sustainable company that serves as a beacon of hope for the fashion industry.
In a recent interview with AFP at her factory outside Mumbai, Dongre expressed her deep concern about climate change and the pressing need for action. She boldly stated, “We are running out of time. Climate change is knocking at our doors, and it is the responsibility of each and every one of us to do something about it.” Despite the daunting task ahead, Dongre aims to transform her company into a carbon-neutral enterprise.
Dongre’s remarkable journey in the fashion industry began when she started her business at the young age of 23. With just two sewing machines and two male tailors, she defied conservative family values and became the first working woman in her family. Today, she takes immense pride in her commitment to providing employment opportunities for women. Dongre runs a four-story factory and ensures that no woman seeking work is ever turned away. She firmly believes in empowering women economically and sees her own journey mirrored in the lives of the women she employs.
In addition to her dedication to women’s empowerment, Dongre has always been a fierce advocate for feminist values within her brand. Her clothing has consistently been size-inclusive, offering a range of sizes up to XXL. Even in her bridal wear collections, she challenges traditional norms by featuring women with tattoos, enjoying their wine, and paying for their own weddings. Dongre believes in portraying women as bold, sassy, and independent, challenging regressive stereotypes to sell clothes.
Dongre’s focus on the urban professional woman has been met with tremendous success as female spending power continues to rise in India. She emphasizes the rewarding experience of meeting women who buy her clothes and hearing their stories. Dongre shared a heartwarming example, saying, “When a customer tells me that they wore my blazer to their first job interview 15 years ago and got the job, it’s an incredibly thrilling moment.” However, to elevate her brand to the next level, Dongre recognizes the need to change consumer behavior and prioritize sustainability and slow fashion over instant gratification.
Thankfully, Dongre believes that the timing is perfect. While she has been advocating for environmentally-friendly design for over a decade, the concept of being green has only recently become fashionable. However, she strongly warns against greenwashing, highlighting that sustainability goes beyond simply using sustainable fabrics. It requires a comprehensive approach that considers every aspect of the production process.
To further strengthen her commitment to sustainability, Dongre has joined the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), a global alliance that helps members measure the environmental impact of their activities. She is the sole Indian designer in the coalition and feels a deep sense of responsibility to do more on the environmental front. Dongre’s factory already practices composting of cafeteria waste and recycles water used in clothing production. Her lower-priced brands, AND and globaldesi, incorporate sustainable fabrics like tencel, while her luxury label Grassroot showcases hand-woven, hand-embroidered designs created by skilled Indian artisans.
Nevertheless, Dongre acknowledges that there are challenges ahead. Educating consumers and garnering support for sustainable efforts remains an ongoing battle, especially considering the vastness of her company and the number of people involved. Nonetheless, she remains resolute in her determination to make a difference. Dongre firmly believes that companies should not be solely profit-driven, emphasizing that sustainability should be a priority from the very beginning. She asserts, “It’s high time companies gauge their success based on sustainability, not just profit and loss.”
Anita Dongre’s journey in the fashion industry epitomizes resilience, empowerment, and sustainability. As she continues to push boundaries and challenge conventions, she hopes to inspire not only her colleagues but also the upcoming generation of designers to prioritize environmental responsibility and create a positive impact on both the industry and the world.