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Developing a planet positive fashion industry with Vishal Tolambia

Vishal Tolambia standing in front of a black fence
  • Written byR. Mansfield
  • Published date 16 March 2023
Vishal Tolambia standing in front of a black fence
Copyright Vishal Tolambia

As a graduate of the 2022 LCF MA Fashion Futures course, Vishal gained a deep understanding of the social and environmental damage caused by the fashion industry, especially in developing countries like India. This realization motivated Vishal to focus on creating sustainable solutions to these issues in his hometown of Pushkar, located in the Rajasthan state of India.

Indian-born designer, sustainability researcher and entrepreneur, Vishal Tolambia, took the time out of his busy schedule to talk about his journey and the goals of his business, Humanity Centred Designs.

Can you tell us about your journey since graduating?

I have been working on my business during and after my graduation and the journey has been incredible so far, especially since launching our first ethical fashion hub, Humanity Studios. During my master's degree, I invented a local circular recycling technology that transforms textile waste into innovative materials. After graduating, I founded Humanity Centred Designs, a material innovation hub that uses circular recycling technology to recycle textile waste from marginalized fashion MSEs in India and provide sustainable circular textile solutions. Within a year of graduating, Humanity Centred Designs has won several international awards for our work and has become a leading voice in sustainable textile innovation.

After graduation, I dedicated myself to advancing sustainable development in the fashion industry through Humanity Centred Designs. We have supported over 150 apparel MSEs in waste management and sustainable development. Our innovative solutions have not only helped manufacturers to reduce waste and environmental damage but also helped them to stay competitive in an increasingly environmentally-conscious market.

You are the founder of Humanity Centred Designs – can you tell us more about yourself and your business and it’s goals?

My business, Humanity Centred Designs, aims to specifically address the challenges faced by the Micro & Small manufacturing units within the textile and fashion industry in various domains including waste, pollution, and exploitation, by introducing innovative and sustainable solutions. Currently the company operates as a material innovation hub and supports micro, small and medium-sized apparel businesses towards sustainable development through circular recycling operations.

The goal is to make the fashion industry more sustainable, ethical and responsible by reducing waste, reducing pollution and promoting fair labor practices.

The business aims to continue its growth and expand its impact by increasing its support for apparel MSEs towards waste management and sustainable development in India, UK and eventually globally.

Congratulations on recently opening your flagship shop in Bath! What lead you to wanting a brick-and-mortar store, rather than staying exclusively online, and why did you choose Bath?

Thank you for your wishes, opening a brick-and-mortar store will allow us to connect with our customers in a more personal and tangible way. We want to create a physical space where people can experience our products, understand our mission, and connect with our brand on a deeper level. Bath was a great choice because of its vibrant community and thriving local economy. We were also drawn to the city's rich history and culture, which aligns well with our brand values.

Moreover, opening a flagship store was a conscious decision. The Pushkar region in India that Humanity Centred Designs is supporting is also home to more than 150 micro and small fashion and lifestyle product manufacturing units, employing over 3500 artisans within the region. Our decision to open our flagship store is to support these local artisans and micro & small enterprises (MSEs) by providing them a global platform in an international market place.

Humanity Centred Designs promotion image, fabric on grass
Copyright Vishal Tolambia

Your business clearly has sustainability at its core. What does sustainability mean to you?

We believe that sustainability is not just about environmental conservation, but also about social, economic, and governance factors.

In my personal life, sustainability holds great value to me and I do try to live a sustainable lifestyle to the best of my abilities with the resources available to me. Professionally, I am passionate about finding innovative solutions to reduce the impact of the fashion industry on the environment while also ensuring the welfare of the communities involved in the production process. For me, sustainability means creating a balance between the needs of the present and future generations. I believe that a sustainable mindset and practices can benefit both the environment and society, and I strive to incorporate these principles into every aspect of our business.

It’s great to see that you have your own collection as well as offering recycled & sustainable fabric sourcing, consultancy, and research collaboration. How does this look in your day to day work, and what led you to wanting to have such diversity in your business model?

My day-to-day work at Humanity Centred Designs involves managing various aspects of our business model, from designing and producing our own collections using recycled materials, to providing sourcing and consultancy services to other businesses, and collaborating with other innovators on research projects. I am constantly striving to find new ways to make the fashion industry more sustainable, and having a diverse business model allows me to tackle multiple aspects of the industry.

The decision to have a diversified business model came from our desire to make a real impact in the fashion industry. We wanted to show that recycled materials can be just as durable, strong, and flexible as virgin materials, and to help other businesses transition to sustainable practices. By collaborating with other innovators on research projects, I can also contribute to the development of new technologies and practices that will further advance my work.

How did LCF and particularly LCF Graduate Futures, support you?

I've received a lot of support and guidance from LCF and LCF Graduate Futures in developing my material innovation hub, which has helped me achieve various successes in my project. Winning the Creative Enterprise Award 2022 was a significant milestone for me, and the mentoring and resources provided by the Careers and Employability team were instrumental in my success.

Being part of the Founders Club at LCF Graduate Futures provided me with opportunities for enterprise and self-development. As a start-up, it's difficult to get your voice heard by a wider community, but Graduate Futures has supported me in sharing my endeavors with a broader audience through their platform.

Humanity Centred Designs store front
Copyright Vishal Tolambia

What’s next for you and your business?

Our plan is to achieve international standard certifications and technology patent by early 2023, build an in-house recycling facility by late 2023, and partner with larger fashion companies for growth. We also aim to support our fashion partners and develop zero-impact materials with the help of international organizations like ZDHC, AFFIRM, and Higgs. These goals require significant investment and effort, but we are dedicated to making them a reality.

Do you have any advice for anyone looking to work in the fashion industry who has sustainability as a personal value?

  1. Educate yourself: Learn as much as you can about sustainability in fashion. This means understanding the environmental and social impacts of the industry, as well as the best practices and technologies available to reduce those impacts.
  2. Seek out like-minded people: Attend events, join groups and network with people who share your values. This will help you learn more about the industry and connect with potential employers or collaborators who are aligned with your values.
  3. Stay flexible and open-minded: The fashion industry is constantly evolving, and sustainability is still a relatively new concept. Be willing to try new things and experiment with different approaches, and be open to feedback and constructive criticism.
  4. Consider starting your own venture: If you can't find a company that aligns with your values, consider starting your own business. This way, you can build your own brand around your sustainability values and create the change you want to see in the industry.
  5. Stay passionate: Working in the fashion industry with a focus on sustainability can be challenging, but it's important to stay passionate about the cause. Keep reminding yourself of why you got into this field in the first place, and use that motivation to keep pushing forward and making a difference.

Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us Vishal. Wishing you all the best with Humanity Centred Designs!