Interview by Paige Donner
The lovely Sugandh Agrawal, founder and designer of Gunas The Brand, a line of eco and sustainable high fashion bags and accessories, granted this interview during Men’s Fashion Week Paris SS’13. Her brand is not only versatile and vegan, it’s appealing to both men and women, animals and the Earth, too. Read more…
1. Gunas the Brand: What is the philosophy behind your ethical fashion bag brand? The Hindu origin meaning of “Gunas?”
GUNAS means qualities of nature in Sanskrit. It also means the thread that binds us to our soul. I wanted the brand to have some sort of a connection with my name. I literally sat with pieces of paper with my name’s alphabets written on it, rearranging it into different words to come up with the brand name. The deep meaning behind GUNAS was merely a happy coincidence! I fell in love with it and decided to make it the core of our brand philosophy. We strongly believe in living in harmony with nature, placing high importance on quality versus quantity and consuming only what we need, leaving a fair share for others.
2. How have you put into action/practice your respect and philosophy of: Ethical Consumerism and Eco-Veganism (vis-a-vis Gunas the Brand).
Through GUNAS, we celebrate our philosophy of living in harmony with nature and our environment. Unlike most vegan brands, we openly promote using cruelty-free materials and producing consciously. There is a whole movement happening on “slow retail” and we are contributing to it. All our styles are limited editions and are never overproduced. We also do custom pieces for our clients. We use the best alternative, man-made materials available. Now you don’t have to sacrifice style and quality in order to match your ethical desires. Down to the adhesive used, our bags are 100% animal-friendly.
Nickel and lead are extremely harmful substances. Our skin is the largest organ in our bodies. It easily absorbs anything we come in contact with. Lead and nickel have known to cause cancer and many diseases of this caliber. The same is the case with the inks and dies used as coloring agents in cheaper faux leathers. Our skin is constantly in contact with our clothing and hence you want everything on our bodies to be free of these chemicals. Also formaldehyde used in the tanning process of leather has been labeled as a carcinogen. At GUNAS we only use the best alternatives, AZO-free fabrics and lead and nickel free hardware.
The leather industry has a huge impact on our environment, including land, air and water resources. Besides the gruesome act of killing innocent animals for their hides, we are creating an imbalance in nature by using its resources more than we really require. We have highly advanced in the fields of science and technology. There is a plethora of alternatives that are available for leather, fur and silk. We don’t necessarily have to harvest animals for their skin. There is a huge misunderstanding between consumers that leather is a by-product of the meat industry. In reality that’s not the truth. Most of the world’s leather comes from cows in India and 90% of India’s population is vegetarian. This is just one small example of this misinformation. We as a company strongly believe that our planet is not just for us. We have to learn to share it with nature and all its creatures. We have created an imbalance in nature and only we can fix it. Some of the charities we support are the WWF, Animal farm sanctuary, NY Coalition of healthy Foods, Earth Matters Foundation, Humane Society.
5. Your brand is young but has already made a big splash on the NY Fashion scene. Tell us a little bit about your design background? Your evolution as a designer?
I am trained as an Industrial Designer. I’ve worked with companies such as Bosch, Whirlpool and Victoria’s Secret designing everything from appliances, graphics, exhibits and packaging to children’s products. It wasn’t until I quit my job and moved to Manhattan for my Master’s program at Pratt that I discovered my true passion! I fell in love with fashion and with handbags in particular. Due to my experience in electronics and products, I understood trends, materials and construction and also had an understanding of the business aspect of design. I personally believe that you learn a lot more in practice than theory. So in 2009, I just decided to go with it. I made my mistakes and learned the process of creating a brand and establishing myself. But the learning never stops. Each day brings something new and that’s what I find most fascinating. It has been a turbulent yet exciting journey thus far and I couldn’t be happier with the path I’ve chosen in my career.
6. What does this year’s collection represent and embody, stylistically? What are the different aesthetics you employ for the men’s lines (vs. the women’s designs)?
This year is very special for us. We established our own small scale-manufacturing studio in India. The space is well lit, air-conditioned and we follow strict working guidelines to ensure our products are ethical and sweatshop free. The styles we are doing this season have been highly influenced by Asia and Asian wildlife. We are incorporating bright colors and animal prints, hand embroideries and beads into our work. We are more experimental with our women’s bags versus our men’s. With men’s collection we tend to do more classical silhouettes.
7. What is your background? Where did you grow up/ do you live now? and how do you see the current state of Ethical Fashion within the Fashion Industry at present? Is there a different evolution pattern for Men’s Fashion vs. Women’s Fashion?
I grew up in India and spent a year in Germany before moving to the US for college. My husband and I and our 5-year-old cocker spaniel, Tiara have homes in India and New York. So we share our time between the two countries. My vast multi-cultural exposure has really helped enable a global vision in me as a designer. I love to explore different crafts and utilize them in my creations. Ethical fashion is slowly gaining its place in mainstream fashion. People are starting to pay attention to the phenomenon of “slow-retail”. Buying less, but buying good quality is becoming the mantra of the conscious consumer today. The customers are demanding more transparency from companies and really paying attention to who they are giving their dollars to.