‘Circular Design Challenge’ is a collaborative initiative of RIL’s R | Elan ‘Fashion For Earth’, United Nations Environment Programme and Lakme Fashion Week ~


One of the most awaited fashion awards in India culminated with the Circular Design Challenge (CDC), which opened the Sustainable Fashion Day Two at Lakmé Fashion Week Summer/Resort 2020.

After the successful launch of India’s first sustainable fashion award at Lakmé Fashion Week Summer/Resort 2019, the premier fashion platform returned with the second edition of the ‘Circular Design Challenge’ – a collaboration of Reliance Industries Ltd.’s (RIL) R | Elan ‘Fashion for Earth’ initiative, Lakmé Fashion Week (LFW) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in India.

Ms Renata Dessallien, United Nations Resident Coordinator in India said, “The Circular Design Challenge is not just about innovation. It’s about recycling damaged or discarded pieces and creating environmentally friendly fashion. The award is India’s first and largest initiative to drive sustainability into the fashion industry, an industry that is responsible for about 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the world. We need to clean up the back-end of the industry to make it as beautiful and as inspiring as the front-end.”

Mr Vipul Shah, COO -Petrochemicals, Reliance Industries Ltd. Said, “We congratulate Malai for winning the contest as it brings a novel idea in the textile industry. The concepts and collections presented by the finalists at the show clearly brought out fashionable, innovative and sustainable use of resources. This is perfectly in sync with our moto of instilling sustainable and circularity concepts throughout the entire textile value chain.”

Mr. Atul Bagai, Head of Country office, United Nations Environment Programme India said, “UNEP -India office is proudly associated with the Circular Design Challenge. We strongly believe that sustainable fashion is the way forward for the fashion industry as we face climate crises on a day -to-day basis. The Future of Sustainable Fashion will be Design Led. The Circular Design Challenge is a great initiative to have young upcoming designers incorporate sustainability in their designs thus creating a trend in itself amongst the fashion fraternity. UNEP congratulates the shortlisted designers for coming out with such ingenious innovative ideas.”

Mr. Jaspreet Chandok, Head – Lifestyle Businesses, IMG Reliance Limited said, “The winner of the first edition of Circular Design Challenge experienced immense growth through this platform both in terms of exposure and business opportunities. CDC shall continue to change the lives of innovators and entrepreneurs who are working towards making circularity & sustainability the new normal.”

The winner SUSMITH CHEMPODIL AND ZUZANA GOMBOSOVA – CO FOUNDERS MALAI BIOMATERIALS DESIGN were felicitated with a 20 lakh cash prize presented by R|Elan to build their sustainable fashion brand, and will also get an exclusive opportunity to showcase at Lakme Fashion Week Winter/Festive 2020.

The challenge saw over 400 registrations from over 40 cities across the country out of which the platform announced a shortlist of five design entrepreneurs who were chosen based on innovative collections using materials from diverse sources of waste including plastics. The aim of this initiative was to bring to the forefront environmental champions of tomorrow in the Indian fashion and textiles industry. Circular fashion is a concept aimed to reduce waste by increasing its lifespan through reusing and recycling the materials and creating new products out of them.

The designers were required to incorporate circular components across the textile value chain in their design through the application of circular-design principles and demonstrate a positive impact on the environment and on society. They were evaluated and scored on usage of waste in their collection, fashion and aesthetic quotient, business viability/scalability, value chain and collaborations.

From aluminium to bio-composite to Chambray, the shortlisted designers used a wide variety of materials as their fabric base to create quirky accessories and clothing. An array of techniques from croquet to charpoy weaving to fermenting bacterial cellulose were applied to upcycle and give new life to the waste in a sustainable and eco-friendly way. The chosen applicants were mentored across personality, pitch and presentation development. The final round was held before an esteemed panel that selected the winner.

The Jury Panel

B S Nagesh – Founder TRRAIN and Chairman Shoppers Stop

David Abraham – Creative Director, Abraham & Thakore

Mickey Boardman – Editorial Director and Advice Columnist – Paper Magazine New York City

Divya Datt – Programme Manager United Nation Environment Programme

Max Gilgenmann – Content Director and Sustainability NEONYT and Creative Strategist Kaleidoscope Berlin.


The pair was inspired by the beauty and purity of natural material and by the life cycle and ecology of the coconut palm. They worked with local coconut farmers and processing units in South India to get their waste coconut water that was the primary resource for the growth of their bacterial cellulose, which was transformed into Malai, a vegan alternative leather. The duo also worked with local communities of suppliers whose ethical approach is transparent and verified. The brand used waste coconut water and banana fibre, so that the products were easy to recycle, to compost and improve livelihoods of farmers and communities.

With the core value of the collection being “start with end”, Sushmith and Zuzana presented a line of relaxed and balmy silhouettes. The transition of coconut water to microbial cellulose and finally Malai, resulted in minimalistic garments with slogans, white tees, draped lungis and trousers dipped in white. For menswear, the models donned plain white tees with printed slogans like “Fashion kills and is injurious to health”, while the coconut umbrellas made striking fashion statements. Outfits for women were given a contemporary twist in a versatile range of lungis with checked trails. Each garment was accentuated with distinctive accessories like umbrellas, back-packs and quirky slippers made from coconuts.

Susmith Chempodil and Zuzana Gombosova stated, “We believe sustainability is about maintaining the natural flow of things. This flow cannot continue if blockages are created in form of waste. We created materials and products that come from nature and can safely return to it in the form of nutrients.”


For his path-breaking discovery of Fleather, an alternative of leather made from floral waste, Ankit Agarwal, Founder Fleather was awarded by PETA for ‘Best innovation in vegan fashion’ He was one of the participants of CDC. His brand works on collecting floral waste on temples and successfully transforming them into a nature-friendly variant of suede. His continuing efforts have resulted in not only a desirable outcome, but also the ability of the brand to produce a tensile strength ranging from 12 to 17 Pascals. Urging the audience to delve deeper into their perceptions of leather, he presented a video that showcased the ugly side of the leather-tanning industry.


After 5 months of intense research and study, the first of its kind sustainability report was launched at the event by Editor Shefalee Vasudev




The brand used industrial plastic and textile scrap to make designer yet sustainable furniture and accessories using charpoy and macramé weaving techniques to promote the initiative #WastetoWow. The products were handmade and provided employment to hundreds of women from rural Western Uttar Pradesh. The brand used ethically sourced clean and treated ropes from local partner rope making units who are regular buyers of industrial plastic waste from an informal economy of rag pickers that pick up discarded sheets of multi laminate plastic wrappers (HDPE and LDPE) from flexi packaging units, that was converted into usable ropes, with indigenous machines set up by these units.

Fusing industrial food packaging waste into fashion, Gauri Gopal unveiled a glamorous range of bags on the ramp. Wanting to provide employment to women, the designer used the pre-existing macramé and knitting skills of the women. Square-shaped clutches in urbane hues proved ideal for women that mix functionality with style. The otherwise simplistic accessories, as well as furniture like tea tables were given an opulent feel with embellishments and multi-coloured fringe details.

Gauri Gopal Agrawal informed, “Skilled Samaritan Foundation represents hundreds of women who have never seen a life beyond household chores. We aim to use platforms like these to put rural India on the global map, by showcasing products that are an embodiment of revived craft juxtaposed with modern design to make functional products using waste materials.”


The brand made products from industrial waste collection from factories that go unused, like pharmaceutical industry, billboard printing, latex and sock factories. The products were handmade and generated livelihoods and revived Indian crafts. Handloom weaving techniques were used for the textiles and hand embroidery to embellish the garments. No heavy machinery was used to process the materials. The brand loves to work with rejects to create new textiles and embellishments. The “Alu” was a material made of aluminum and plastic hand woven with cotton yarn. “Soc” used fibres from sock waste. “Lat” was a 3D fibre from latex factory waste and was embroidered. “Bil” was a sheet material collection from billboard printing factories. The brand also added few conventional materials like satin, cotton denim and organza.

From structured jackets made in recycled latex to multi-coloured white tees with printed slogans, Mallika Reddy’s collection was stylish. The oversized dark grey sweatshirts teamed with lustrous silver belts and dual-coloured, green and black socks were definite trend-setters. A peach, quilted bundgala worn with a pair of black cycling shorts was accentuated with a double-squared fanny pack. Co-ordinated sets in powder yellow latex made their way on the ramp. The underlying mantra of the line was to effectively use sock yarns and defective condoms to create a range of lavish yet sustainable garments.

Mallika Reddy stated. “In order to promote circularity, there are numbers of little interventions we can do throughout the chain of production. We can use predictive data and artificial intelligence to inform our production cycles rather than by driven by volumes. We can repurpose waste to create new and radically different materials that can have an application beyond the textile and apparel industry”


The theme of the collection was ABEYANCE, which was a state of temporary disuse or suspension. It was a philosophy to celebrate Indian textile craft techniques in its true maximalist glory with a sense of newness as opposed to its traditional versions or briefly popular trends. Inspired by the modern-day nomads who belong nowhere and everywhere, the true citizens of the world, who feel equally at ease in the streets of Paris or London, as they do here, in India. While enjoying stimulation from everything around them, they are fascinated by ethnic diversities and exotic countries and draw their style inspiration from the vibrant cultures of the world. Surplus generated from textile production and waste was used as a canvas to paint stories. The theme of the brand is “Other People’s waste is our Resource”.

The collection aimed to bring out the creativity and provide employment to women in Ahmedabad, Esha Agarwal showcased a highly innovate line engineered to perfection. Kantha embroidery, thread-work, appliqué and patch work were featured on intensely layered silhouettes. From oversized kaftan, long-skort to a tunic with centre-slit every garment was a trend setter. The classic vest and trouser set, in an olive-green shade was given a peppy twist with multi-coloured embroideries in abstract shapes on the pants. An off-white scarf with occasional thread-work, alongside an oversized jacket completed the look.

Esha Agarwal said. “Education at the best design and business institutes in India, industry experience with stalwarts in fashion, and years of witnessing and contributing to mindless consumerism made me realise the horror of it all. People who realize the importance of circularity need to- educate people around them, find alternates to the various malpractices and share it with the rest. Collaboration is key to sustainability of self, business, society and the planet,”


The theme of the show was “Once OFF to now OFF-Grain”. The brand showcased a collection from up-cycled shoddy blankets that are used for relief and military purposes and knitted the recycled yarn into a product, which was called “Off Grain”. The off-cast capital – Panipat is a hub of recycling the textile waste into a yarn called “Shoddy Yarn”. “Off- Grain” is a concept to use this recycled yarn to develop fashionable, sustainable and affordable products to create a positive social impact in the industry. The collection was designed to bring the concept of a circular economy in the textile industry. The clothing and accessories were designed to promote the use of shoddy yarn in the fashion.

The products were made in small batches, promoting local craftsmanship, hence using zero electricity which reduced carbon footprint. Collaboration was with Jindal Woollen Industries for shoddy blanket and the recycled yarn. For knitting, the collaboration was with Kumaon Grameen Udyog (An organisation creating sustainable livelihood for local women in Uttarakhand.) The left over from the collection was used to make Rugs which is made by rural women in Haryana.

With a collection that paid an ode to the workers and craftsmanship in Panipat, Varsha Rani Solanki showcased a range of ensembles in knits and weaves. In order to facilitate a change in the lifestyles of millennials, each garment made a remarkable entry in earthy hues. From easy-going woollen pantsuits to off-white knitted scarves with occasional pops of red and blue stripes, the collection was easy on the eyes.

Varsha Rani Solanki stated, “Firstly, we need more fashion brands working for the circularity of the industry. Secondly, our consumers need to be educated about the problem fashion industry is facing. The fast fashion industry’s increased popularity and availability of cheaper products is leading to TAKE – MAKE – WASTE philosophy. It’s high time the industry opt for 100% recycled fabrics in the process. The new products should be smartly designed and should be durable and sustainable.”

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