The fashion and textile industry is notoriously known to be one of the most polluting industries in the world, producing over 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, which translates to more emissions than air and maritime travel. This industry is extremely chemical-intensive due to the number of dyes and transfer agents that are constantly being used; water is often contaminated due to chemical treatments by increasing its natural pH, consequently increasing methane production and heat, and eventually contributing to global warming.
However, the textile industry remains the financial backbone of Bangladesh and keeping the same in mind, sister duo Incia and Kiara made up their minds to come up with a better way to go about things, thus giving birth to Dhaka Denims.
“My sister Kiara and I are fiercely passionate about the environment and have always looked for ways to be more sustainable,” Incia Petiwala, Co-founder and Creative Director of Dhaka Denims, told Apparel Resources, in an exclusive interview. “As international students, we have had the opportunity to learn about the climate crisis and the part that textile waste plays in contributing towards it. We knew something had to be done.”
Currently in her third year of majoring in Biology and Neuropsychology at the University of Toronto, Incia is extremely science-driven and has had the opportunity to directly learn from world renowned professionals having extensive knowledge on the current global crisis and the best ways to tackle the same. Together with her sister who is still in high school, these two youngsters are changing the way the world consumes fashion.
During the lockdown in late October last year, Incia found herself and Kiara discussing about the latest global fashion trends and thinking of sustainable designing practices – a progression that quickly led them to recognise the large untapped market in Dhaka for trendy and chic yet sustainable denim products.
“We started off by making denim/fabric masks, bucket hats and bags and posted them on Instagram and Facebook, and immediately gained traction and received overwhelmingly positive reviews,” Incia said.
Today, all Dhaka Denims products are made from 100 per cent recycled and upcycled fabrics, denims and materials, and are treated with an antiviral chemical before delivery. Called Fresche 4850 by Aquitex, the chemical is a special blue check chemical which is directly imported from Portugal. Dhaka Denims’ mission is to stay stylish while being safe and sustainable.
Growing up, Incia and Kiara have had significant exposure to apparel and garments owing to their father being closely associated with the garment industry though, neither of them ever expected to get into the industry, despite their interest in fashion.
“I’ve held different corporate positions as an intern, though I think the majority of our relevant experience came from watching our father work and seeing how this industry operates through him. In addition, our family has been moving all our lives from India, to Bangladesh, to North America and even Thailand. This, coupled with our education in exclusively international schools, gave us a unique perspective on what the fashion market in Dhaka was lacking, and how we could better cater to these markets in a sustainable manner,” Incia stated.
PRODUCT ASSORTMENT, PRICING AND USP
The product offering at Dhaka Denims comprises bucket hats, bags (purses, totes, slings, duffle bags, backpacks, pouches), masks, laptop cases, eye masks and hand woven belts. Each product category comes in different fabrics, customisable options and prices. The starting price for bags is 400 Taka, hand-woven belts is 220 Taka, masks is 200 Taka, bucket hats is 350 Taka, laptop cases is 350 Taka and eye masks is 230 Taka.
Every single material that goes into the production of Dhaka Denims’ products is made out of fully recycled and upcycled materials (including the zippers and buttons being used). All products are hand-stitched and made in a manner that prevents waste as much as possible.
The main material that Dhaka Denims works with is the denim fabric, and almost all their products have some form of denim featured over them.
Dhaka Denims prides itself as being one of the only brands in Bangladesh to exclusively sell recycled accessories.
“We currently target the younger generation, aged 14 to 26, though we have had customers who are younger and older than that. In fact, recently we have been receiving multiple bulk orders from various corporations and NGOs who cater to a wider demographic than we do. So, we’re happy to know that all ages and demographics are able to enjoy our products!” Incia highlighted.
BRAND PHILOSOPHY AND COMMITMENT
“It would be relatively easy to just cut clothes we personally don’t need and buy some extra material to use just so we can meet our demand and customer preferences exactly. However, we don’t do that,” Incia elucidated.
At Dhaka Denims, each fabric that is used is the one that the brand is certain will be of complete waste and will eventually end up in a landfill or be burnt like most textile waste. “This is because we made a commitment to ourselves and our buyers to engage and promote sustainable fashion. Of course, there are instances where some of the fabric or materials we work with are not traditionally appealing because of colour, pattern, etc., but that just pushes us to be more creative with them,” she added.
An ethical brand, Dhaka Denims prioritises integrity and safety over profits. The brand is completely transparent about their practices and sourcing of raw material; and in addition, they treat all products with an antiviral chemical to ensure safety of customers and team.
The brand also frequently donates a portion of its sales to various organisations in Dhaka such as Thrive, and partners with youth NGOs that are focused on women’s rights, such as Dhaka Rise.
“Consumers are responding extremely positively to our products, and care about our mission. However, there is definitely a learning factor when it comes to how important sustainable fashion really is,” Incia stated. “Most of our customers purchase our products because of their aesthetic and look, and learn about our mission and why we do what we do after they contact us. Hence, we make it a point that our brand communication is always reflective of our mission.”
To emphasise the sustainability movement and in order to educate their average consumer and social media followers, Dhaka Denims posts weekly facts about textile and garment waste globally and in Bangladesh.
TECHNIQUES AND DETAILS
Quality is one thing that the brand does not compromise on. Each product is padded on the inside with soft silk and cotton in an effort to ensure safety for customer belongings besides adding a luxurious component to the product at no extra cost to the customer.
The outside of the product is where the Dhaka Denims team actually sets loose – it is what they call, their ‘creative canvas’.
“We are constantly experimenting with new designs, fabric and colours to showcase something the general public hasn’t seen before in a global context. For example, few of our most successful products have been our ‘tag bags’ where we used old clothing tags and receipts and made purses and totes out of them,” Incia pointed out.
Another bestselling collection from the brand has been their ‘Time Travel’ collection, where their ‘Flower Power’ bag immediately sold out. This bag was a small denim purse with recycled flower fabric that was put all over the edge of the bag. Both of these products were hand-stitched, and each individual piece took hours to make.
The brand’s creative technique and attention to detail to provide a clean-stitched bag is what impresses most of their customers.
MANUFACTURING AND SOURCING
“We initially created the materials we use to make our designs, ourselves by using our own clothing and asking friends and family for theirs. However, after realising the magnitude of waste that takes place in Bangladesh, we looked at sourcing our materials from elsewhere,” Incia explained.
Soon after launch, Dhaka Denims partnered with over seven tailoring shops based across Dhaka (around Gulshan and Banani), who agreed to give them their scrap material and waste fabric that would otherwise go to complete waste. The brand went on to partner with six textile and garment factories as well, who have agreed to give them their rejected fabrics and washed panels.
This effort not only prevents these fabrics from ending up being dumped in landfills, but also prevents heavy chemical contamination from factory fabrics that end up in rivers and oceans. For pure or coloured denim, factory fabrics work better because of the impressive quality and quantity that the brand receives.
For their ongoing collection, the brand replenishes its stock almost weekly owing to how quickly they sell out. For products such as their ‘2D Bags’, which are more complicated to make, they restock every month or so, whilst limited edition products are not restocked, though the brand always opens such collections for pre-orders in order to have a fair idea about the demand size.
As of now, all Dhaka Denims products are manufactured entirely in-house from their unit situated in Baridhara, Dhaka. However, in the future, they plan to extend the outsourcing of certain products to local women through microfinancing.
“We would provide these women with the funds, resources and learning experience they need to create these products themselves, and then purchase their work,” Incia briefed, adding, “This would help our business by making it more efficient, but more importantly, it will empower these women by allowing them to earn for themselves and work at home while caring for their family at the same time.”
What initially started as a direct-to-consumer business where customers could purchase products directly on Facebook and Instagram, soon started gaining local traction with organisations reaching out in order to collaborate with the brand.
Most of these organisations belong to the NGO sector which purchase bulk orders. However, Dhaka Denims is in talks with a few more organisations and is open to cater to the corporate audience as well.
THE IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON THE INDUSTRY
It’s no surprise that the pandemic has not been kind to many large garment/textile manufacturers and global brands. With lockdowns implemented globally, and a looming economic crisis, shopping isn’t the priority.
Commenting on the same, Incia said, “Brands with quality products and strong ethics and values are prevailing. Leading brands like Zara and Primark have shown the world that sustainability and profitability can go hand in hand. The consumer is becoming smarter every day, they recognise good quality, and don’t mind paying a premium for a more long lasting product to a company with a moral code.”
Let us keep this in mind as we proceed on designing for the world. For the wonders that these two young women are creating in order to champion sustainable and ethical fashion, is nothing short of inspiring.
What started out as a small team of two with Incia and her sister, has today expanded into a six member team owing to the immense response and success the brand has received in such a short span of time.
In terms of product categories, Dhaka Denims plans to expand into home products and soft furnishings categories such as quilts, table settings and pillow covers, all the while improving and modifying their existing products to the best of their abilities.
“We want to be known exclusively as a sustainable accessory brand; the clothing space is far too concentrated, and there is a huge market for the type of accessories that we sell. So we want to keep our focus on that,” Incia explained.
Dhaka Denims currently stocks its products for purchase in-house in Dhaka, as well as on the brand’s own Instagram and Facebook pages @dhakadenims; however potential partners can also contact them on: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The brand’s official e-commerce website is due to launch soon, and Incia and Kiara are actively looking for locations where Dhaka Denims can launch its own pop up store.