This woman is weaving high vibes into the Indian fashion industry
A wise person once told me that if everyone would just take care of their own backyard, the whole planet would be pristine.
Uma Prajapati, the founder of conscious fashion social enterprise Upasana, is doing exactly this. As a hopeful highschool graduate, I interned for Uma 10 years ago in my search for projects that were looking beyond the bottom line by taking care of the planet and people. I ventured to Auroville, an experimental community in South India, and found Upasana - a visionary project driven by the belief that:
’Fashion has power, the power to change lives. The lives of farmers, spinners, weavers, printers, tailors, designers and many more who have invisibly woven their souls into what we wear.’
Walking into Upasana’s open office and studio surrounded by red earth and rainforest, I saw Indian women of all ages donned in traditional ‘sarees’ bustling about barefoot with beautiful raw fabrics in hand. Being aware of the atrocities of cheap and fast fashion in Bangladesh and elsewhere, I thought: ‘every single textile factory and studio should look like this!’
Years later, Upasana has blossomed into a thriving company, transforming its own little part of the world, as well as rippling into the global fashion scene. Uma has built a wholly ethical structure into the company ‘from the field to the fashion runway’ by making sure that her fabrics are grown, spun, sourced and designed in a natural and community-centric manner. This means that the apparel is made in a way that empowers all communities involved, thereby conserving skills and improving living conditions. Not only does the company strive to be socially and culturally responsible, but it also takes care of the earth and our bodies by sourcing organic cotton and even infusing some of the collections with Ayurvedic herbs like neem or natural dyes such as indigo.
Uma was inspired to create Upasana after completing her fashion design degree in Delhi, one of the most polluted cities in the world, and moving to a more natural environment. After learning about the socially and environmentally destructive practices of conventional cotton growing in rural India driven by the chemical agricultural industry, she ventured to make a positive impact through an ethical design practice. With very few resources and a lot of motivation, Upasana was born and since its inception in 1997 the social enterprise has given life to the following fashion projects all over India:
Kapas – organic cotton project engaging families from Madurai
Small Steps – compact bags as an alternative to plastic bags
Varanasi Weavers – a project with the weaving communities of Varanasi
Tsunamika – a tsunami related project providing livelihood to fisherwomen
Paruthi – India’s local organic brand to support India’s organic farming community
Uma’s latest project seeks to impact the fashion industry through the Conscious Fashion Hub, with an annual anchor event taking place in the Upasana headquarters in Auroville. The project invites Indian and international design students, practitioners, environmentalists, social workers, business people and farmers to foster action and dialogue about ethical, slow, empowering and natural fashion. I attended the second event in 2018 that included an outdoor barefoot runway, where Upasana designs were modelled (and danced!) by diverse members of the local community of all ages and sizes. This is part of the brand’s inclusive culture that embraces all bodies and honours the ageing process as echoed in the philosophy:
‘We silently celebrate the fading of natural dyes as we gracefully watch ourselves change through time. We design for mortality while honouring life, nature and inner growth.’
Indeed, this spiritual element is reflected in the name itself, as Upasana means ‘worship’ in the ancient Vedic language of Sanskrit. Uma herself considers the business her yoga; the idea that we can also practice yoga through our work or action, when it has a positive karmic impact on the world.
- Tina Ateljevic