Back in 1995, Anita Dongre would not have envisioned what her future was set out to be. What started as a two-sewing machine set-up on her balcony, has ended up as a global fashion empire that comprises four design labels — AND, Global Desi, Grassroot and Anita Dongre’s eponymous label.
Now, more than two decades later, Dongre is considered to be one of India’s most celebrated designers. Her exquisite creations can be seen everywhere, from opulent weddings to international red carpets. She has dressed the likes of international celebrities such as Kate Middleton, Beyoncé Knowles, and Priyanka Chopra.
But what sets her apart is her commitment to sustainability. In an era of biweekly trends and fast fashion brands like Shein — Dongre has embraced an eco-friendly path, having launched her own line of vegan accessories and sustainable clothing called ‘Grassroot’ in 2015.
Recently, she launched an eco-friendly laundry gel — an often-neglected concept that can have a huge impact on the environment. A personal passion project of hers, this laundry detergent supports a mindful lifestyle.
“I wanted a detergent that could clean my clothes. Despite a lot of searching, I couldn’t find one in the market that ticked all the boxes — vegan organic ingredients, hypoallergenic, cruelty-free, and earth-friendly while being able to remove stains, odours, dirt, and germs without any harmful side effects,” she tells indianexpress.com.
This path led to questioning the forgotten wisdom of traditional laundry agents and the impact of mass-produced laundry on the human body. “So, during the pandemic, I set about making my own detergent and realised how useful this would be for every single household,” Dongre says.
From its zero-waste production to its fully recycled packaging, the laundry detergent is a blend of plant-based ingredients and naturally occurring minerals without any harmful side effects to infants or sensitive skin.
However, Dongre’s understanding of sustainability is infused in her design vocabulary as well, which includes the preservation of Indian arts and crafts.
Apart from this, her everyday operations also have an eco-conscious approach. “We work out of a facility in the beautiful hills of Rabale, Navi Mumbai, in a consciously designed facility. We recycle water, reuse waste, have solar panels and airways to reduce our dependence on the grid, and grow flowering native plants. As a larger business, we prioritise working with communities to reduce urban dependencies,” she explains.
Talking about her journey as a designer, Dongre says that she always knew she wanted to be a designer. “Whether on summer holidays or outfits to college, I was always finding ways to express myself through my wardrobe. However, my journey as a professional designer has followed the natural path of my muse — the modern Indian woman. I started designing in the ’90s for women who just started getting accepted into office jobs and today I design for women who truly belong everywhere, from boardrooms to red-carpet galas around the world,” she adds.
Her collections and ideas may have changed, but she says that her design philosophy has remained the same throughout the years. “I design for the busy woman who is balancing a career with her side hustles, family, friendships, and travel goals. For this woman, it is important to have clothes that express who she is, fit well, and remain fashionable across seasons. My muse doesn’t chase fads. Instead, they choose timeless elegance and I follow,” Dongre says.
When asked who her favourite celebrity to dress up till now has been, she quips that she has always struggled to answer this question. “Everybody from Kate Middleton to a bride who insisted she pay for her own wedding outfit is a celebrity in my eyes,” the designer says.
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As someone who believes fashion is a form of self-expression, Dongre’s fashion advice to others is to infuse your personality into every purchase you make and be fearless about re-wearing your clothes. “Wear your clothes, don’t ever let your clothes wear you,” she notes.
Living true to her advocacy for sustainability, she hopes that “we are past the age of trends”. “The only trend I want to see for the rest of my life is a growing consciousness of the value of your voice as a shopper in choosing and living sustainably,” she says.
Dongre’s only advice to aspiring designers is to “get started”. “I can’t overstate the importance of experimenting and allowing yourself to make mistakes to learn from. In the age of easy information, so many designers are held back by the idea of perfection that we never see their work,” she concludes.