WOW | Designs On You

CHAMPIONING SUSTAINABLE FASHION – Meena Gurung

Meena Gurung studied fashion designing from Dublin, Ireland, and ventured into her own clothing line called Bora Studio in April 2017.

While the world of textiles is governed by chemical colour palettes, Bora Studio uses natural dyes. “There’s a magnetic lure with plant based dyes”, says Meena.

Bora is a step towards incorporating sustainability in Nepal through eco-friendly apparel. They believe that fashion is a mindset and their colections aspire to reflect the importance of minimalistic and sustainable approach.

Anushka Shrestha from WOW talks to Meena Gurung to know how Bora Studio is different from other fashion brands. Excerpts:

What does ‘Bora Studio’ as a name stand for?

The word “Bora” means jute sack, and that particular sack plays an essential part in our daily lives. It has been used and reused over centuries and has a lot of history attached to it. While I was brainstorming the name for my company, “Bora” seemed like a perfect fit as it is made out of sustainable fibre. Like the jute sack, I want Bora’s products to be an essential part of every Nepali household.

What inspired you to start a sustainable fashion brand?

Becoming a fashion designer was a dream but little did I know about the real face of the fashion industry. After being exposed to the real cost of fast fashion, I realised how damaging the industry is to the environment. When I decided to launch my brand, sustainability and ethics were my core values as a company and spreading awareness through my work.

We all know by now with everything going around us – natural disasters, pandemic and climate crisis – how important it is to make sustainable choices not just about what we wear but with our daily life choices. It is our only hope for the future and the generations to come.

What’s the most challenging aspect of running a sustainable business?

Transparency. I must say because it is very hard to track down the supply chain – who, where and how? It is very easy to go to a shop and ask for the price of a fabric but it is a whole different story to find out how it is made and manufactured. Getting the right information and finding the main source is vital and hard. But slowly, I am figuring it out with honest conversations with the manufacturers.

Only purists and concerned environmentalists decried the use of chemical dyes and began to revert to natural dyes for hand-woven fabrics supported by textile activists and the guardians of handlooms.

Difference between plant based and synthetic dyes?

Plant dyes are obtained from nature and they are organic, vibrant and alive such as berries, barks, wood, flowers, leaves, roots, fungi and lichens whereas synthetic dyes are manmade and are obtained through heavy use of chemical and petrochemicals. Synthetic colours are dead, flat and unchanging and it is harmful for the health of the dyer, user and the environment.

Textile dyeing is the second largest polluter of water after petroleum in the world. It was unsettling for me to just use pre-colour fabric without knowing it’s source and how it had been processed. So, while doing my research on natural dyes, I found out the ancient techniques that have been passed down from generations and dates back to Neolithic period. Then, I decided to dye and print my own fabrics naturally and in a sustainable way.

Does the colour from plant based dyes wash off over time?

Yes it does. But I take it as a cycle of life. Nothing on this earth is permanent and it is not meant to be. I feel that naturally printed or dyed garments have a story to tell, you pick foliages in different times of the year and each season offers a new colour for you. It is constantly changing. In a way it is a living thing shedding its skin and changing colour every time you wash it. It gives a poetic feel. Also, after it fades out completely, it can be re-dyed and re-used.

What plant based ingredients do you use as dyes?

I do a lot of forest forging, see what is growing around me, and work with what is available within my surroundings. I mostly use wild ferns, banmara, titepati, nettle, mango leaves, pomegranate skin, marigold, eucalyptus leaves and bark, pine, berries, avocado pits, onion skins, spinach, lychee, etc… the list is quite long.
I love eco-printing. It is an ancient technique. Leaves and flowers are bundled in a roll and cooked for few hours. After the bundle has cooled down you open it and the results are
stunning.