Anuj Sharma talks to Manisha SG about designing a sustainable life
Anuj Sharma is a fashion designer who has been reframing the paradigm within which the fashion industry works. eCoexist first connected with him for our Beauty of Recycling festival in December 2015. He was back in Pune again with us in September 2017, and trained several under privileged groups in his technique Button Masala.
Button Masala is a zero waste and simple joinery technique that can be used to connect fabrics to each other with out the need for cutting and stitching. Anuj believes that if he can teach and spread this technique to thousands of people in his lifetime it has the power to revolutionise the garment industry and give people the ability to fashion and make their own clothes.
As we had several days with Anuj, we also spoke to him about his approach to life, design and money to understand why he stands out in the world of fashion. Manisha captured the essence of Anujs world view in the discussion below.
Resource use and consumerism Its ironic that while being trained in fashion that you have developed a perspective on frugality and conscious use of resources that Button Masala embodies. Did this come from your family background or the lack of resources when you were growing up? How do you bring this message to the fashion industry which is probably the opposite of what you represent?
Its not as though people in general are wasteful – often people recognise that their activities are wasteful but they are operating within systems which perpetuate this waste. In the fashion industry, which is based in cutting and stitching, wastage is inherent. To be able to reduce this wastage one has to question the technique itself which is a tall order for most designers. Even those designers that are trying to use organic fabrics or sustainable means of production, still depend on systems of marketing that are completely unsustainable and they feel it is outside their scope to change this.
It is the ego that creates waste – one cannot excite people about simplicity by resorting to glamour. I try to live what I believe as far as I can – I work with my hands and walk with my feet. I use as little as I can because I believe that all the resources that exist belong to everybody and they are not mine to use exclusively. I grew up in Rajasthan which is a harsh environment and it was in our culture to be conscious of our resource use.
Currently we are producing more stuff than is really required – how many shoes do we really need? If one was to calculate how many shoes are truly required by a group of people over a certain period of time , it would become clear that the production is way more than required. We perhaps should have a way of regulating production so that we don’t have to create false markets for all that we have produced.
Are people open to this approach to consumerism in the fashion industry?
On an individual level, when I speak to people they understand and are inspired by the concept. However when it comes to imbibing it or living this way, they find it difficult to change. This is because the concept of sustainability is not fully understood by most of us. When we understand that living sustainably adds value to our life, we would not treat it like a loss or a punishment. Unless we live and experience the joys of making such choices we are fearful of the changes it may demand of our lifestyle
Alongside garments, Button Masala can be used for a variety of products that can be made using waste fabrics without the need to stitch.
Money You spoke about your approach to money – you seem to need little and much prefer your personal independence than focusing on making a lot of money. You also used the word Aukat a lot – what does this word mean to you and how do you convey this? What do you think is a healthy approach to money?
Economics has to be understood in a larger context – its not just about earning money. Its about the choices you make with the money that you have access to. I believe that money does not belong to any one person – it circulates between us and the more skillful we are in letting it circulate freely, the more chances that it flows to us easefully. To be able to fill your pockets you have to empty them on a regular basis.
To me wealth is time and happiness – happiness comes from exchange – sharing – it cannot be hoarded or locked away. One has to create space in life for the abundance to flow into . For this one has to have the confidence and faith that it will return – I would rather spend my time helping develop this confidence in people rather than controlling the way money flows. For a person who has an abundance of self confidence, there is no fear of losing money.
By the word ‘Aukat’ – I was referring to the natural limits that your body, state of mind or circumstances are putting on you. I believe that if one works easefully within these limits and with patience, your capacity increases naturally. Our culture values quantity over quality disproportionately. We don’t realize that the absence of something can also be of great value. When you recognize that in the cyclic nature of the Universe everything comes back to where it begins, then you can relax in this knowledge and allow things to flow. I put in only as much effort as I can within my limits at any certain point – for me, keeping my mind calm is the only focus – when my mind is calm my skills and intuition flow easefully and I see things I don’t otherwise see. Effortless and easeful activity is the core of my approach to life. Call me ‘lazy’ if you like ! Button Masala gives me simple pleasure and I let it grow organically.
If you make a mistake – make it all the way. Explore all its potential and it will create something completely new.
You are openly sharing the Button Masala technique with anyone who is willing to learn it. Sometimes at the risk of it affecting your own livelihood. What is your vision regarding originality, copy rights and the sharing of knowledge?
I am very aware that the knowledge I have is not mine alone. All knowledge is gained through imitation and in learning from others – this is why I am not concerned about people copying my techniques. What is ‘mine’ and how did it become mine in the first place? Physical resources are common property loaned to us from Nature, and intellectually almost nothing is truly original.
Fear is the driving factor that makes people want to protect what they have – even those who are share are always holding something back for their own security. What is the fear about eventually?
Even though everyone knows how to cook, new restaurants are opening constantly. Rather than fearing imitators I would rather spend my time improving on my own skills.
Design I saw that in your interactions you seemed to be addressing the inherent creativity in everyone and simply trying to trigger it. How do you feel has design education encouraged this or inhibited it in students? If you had to set up a design school how would you do it?
I would first and foremost create a campus in a fabulous natural setting where people are simply drawn to come and be there for its location ! Both students and teachers would want to come and spend time with us irrespective of what they earn. Each person on the campus would earn and learn – we would build our campus together and learn by doing – which is the only way to really learn anything.
Premier educational institutions should be reinventing the design education paradigm through path breaking decisions. This is the only way we can attempt to design a sustainable society by breaking out of our current paradigms – that we will be successful at this is not guaranteed but it has to be tried.
One should be completely fearless in design – even if you are designing for greed – be completely greedy – if you aspire to own the entire world you will also become responsible for all of it!!
Knowledge is built through imitation – none of it is original – we are all always learning from each other.
Thinking vs Doing You say you feel that over thinking is a hurdle to the intuitive flow of inspiration – how do you keep this flow alive in your self ? Do you stay away from defining a thought process?
When I started reflecting on who I am, I observed several things about myself that made me realize that in general I am quite at peace with the way things are. I don’t complain much and I don’t ask for things to be different from what they are in the moment.
Presence of mind is the most important thing for me – if our brains are constantly preoccupied by the past or the future they cannot be free to respond in the moment. By allowing your brain to function spontaneously in the moment we are giving it a gift it badly needs. For this you have to believe in your brains capacity to survive in any condition. The more you create this space for spontaneous and intuitive response the better you get at it.
It is not your job to survive – your mind and body are fully designed to do this for you.
‘Thinking’ limits this capacity and tries to control it. We create an image of ourselves and will go to any length to protect this image – in short our ego.
Is it really possible to teach anyone how to make this internal shift?
You have to start very young.
India You have travelled the world and seen many cultures – what is it about India that keeps you here? What do you see in the future of India – are you optimistic ? Do you think India has some thing unique to offer to the world and what might this be?
I am surely a product of India – we all are – a result of the climate and locale we grow up in. I believe the climactic conditions affect our psychology so deeply and this is what create cultural difference. Our world views emerge out of this and we are either open or closed as people because of it. People in colder climates tend to be more withdrawn and self absorbed whereas warmer countries make people gregarious and community oriented.
I prefer India because basically I love Indian food !!!
Is the response to your Button Masala trainings different in other countries?
Yes I do find that people who come to the trainings abroad, tend to take it more seriously and apply it with more sincerity to their work – however in India with some audiences its more of a fad. I am hoping that it brings about an inherent shift in our approach to garment manufacturing in India if I can teach the technique to a lot of people here.
We are hoping that your work can bring solutions to poverty. Do you think this is possible? How?
Its too large a question for me to answer right now – however I know that this technique has brought me a lot of joy and that it saves me time and money. If poverty alleviation is basically about saving time and money then this technique will help the poor.
Anuj with the Beauty of Recycling team and the groups he trained at the Sangam Girl Guides Centre, Pune.
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