Amisha Ghadiali wearing an Ada Zanditon shirt. Photography by Ben Fisher

Amisha Ghadiali is founder of an ethical jewellery company amisha \\ elegance rebellion and of radical think tank, ThinkActVote (?!X) and previously worked as Associate Director of the Ethical Fashion Forum. At the moment she is in the midst of putting together her first book Creating The Future, a collaborative concept which hopes to bring together the voice of hundreds who are desirous of a better future. Known also for her 12 Rules to Dress By, I got the chance to speak to Amisha about her latest projects alongside discussing her inspirations and thoughts on the eco fashion industry overall.

Stephanie: Formerly a Politics student how did you become involved in the realms of ethical fashion?

Amisha: Well a couple of things. I had experienced working in politics, in the US Congress and in the Houses of Parliament, and I had enjoyed the experience but at the same time found some of the people and processes that I came across a little frustrating and removed. I am not into the idea of being a career politician, I think that the people that can bring the most to that realm are ones who have lived outside it and then use that experience to influence change with an understanding of the impact that it has.

Whilst I was working through my feelings on all of this, I was run over by a four wheel drive pick up truck… I recovered from the accident fine, but with the knowledge that I needed to do something creative and take control of my own life. From my jewellery label, the politics graduate kicked in, and I became interested in the bigger picture of the fashion industry. It’s such a great communication tool, with what you wear and buy, you are communicating who you are and what your values are. The fashion industry employs a sixth of the world’s population and it incorporates all of the issues that I was interested in tackling through politics such as poverty, fair trade, women’s equality, water, environmental damage and human rights.

Could you tell us about your jewellery line and the ways in which it has been sustainably produced?

I set up my jewellery line back in 2006. At that time, sustainability in jewellery wasn’t something that had any awareness. I tried to set it up in as socially conscious way as possible. I put thought into every aspect of it from the paper I printed on, to the packaging, to the amount that I placed orders, with sustainability at the forefront of how I made these decisions. I also created a model whereby I would donate part of my profits to charities whose work, focused in both the UK and the wider world, brought awareness to important issues. I knew that I wanted to manufacture in India, as it’s where my family is from and I wanted to spend time there working on something for myself and learning about my heritage in a different way.

The fashion industry employs a sixth of the world’s population…

The silver that I use is recycled, and I wanted to work with semi precious gem stones because of their healing qualities, so I found somebody who I respected to help me source these. The label is called amisha, with the tagline elegance rebellion. It has been a lot of fun to work on. I was designing in response to fast fashion. I was fed up of seeing all my friends buy and wear cheap crappy jewellery that just fell apart. I wanted to create something stylish and fun, that used crystals consciously and was made to last. There is now much more available when it comes to sustainable jewellery such as Fairtrade gold, 100% recycled silver and even some certified gemstones. I am currently looking into different supply chains for future collections, and am hoping to do a collaborations with another jewellery label later this year.

The Five Elements Collection (modelled by Summer Rayne Oakes) photo by Fiona Garden

What was the inspiration for your designs?

I think inspiration just comes from life. A moment, a feeling, an experience. Most of my collections have been just that. Some have been influenced by stone combinations such the as rainbow moonstone and black tourmaline which together create self-confidence and an ability to communicate clearly. Disco Skies was influenced by the shapes and sounds that come from the dance floor and the Five Elements was inspired by time I spent in an ashram in India. In the western world we think of there as being only four elements; earth, water, fire and air. This was because back in the day Aristotle said the fifth element didn’t exist because we couldn’t see it. In Indian and Chinese philosophy the fifth element is vital, it’s why the unseen moves. It’s space. The five elements are so natural and part of our lives that we are almost unaware of it. The swami taught me that balance of these elements both within ourselves and our surroundings shape our lives and our world. The deeper we contemplate each element, the more we can relate to each other and understand our place in this world.

What do you think is preventing eco fashion from becoming mainstream? Is it a matter of consumer mindsets; or is it down to technicalities such as price, lack of economies of scale etc.?

It’s complicated. Over the past twenty or so years we changed everything from what was a pretty eco/ethical method of production to respond to globalisation. Clothes were suddenly shipped to several different countries as part of their supply chain, manufacture in the UK mostly came to a halt, sweatshops were created, and we all started consuming like mad. This unsustainable way of producing and consuming fashion is new in relative terms. Sadly this kind of change was easier to create that undo. And so I think the barriers to prevent a sustainable way becoming mainstream are all of the things you mentioned. As consumers we have become fickle and lazy, and would rather buy something that feels right or that the magazine says to buy in that moment, rather than thinking about what we need and who we are. It’s easier to throw out a piece of clothing than it is to repair it, or at least it is in our head. I think one of the reasons that there is such a love of vintage out there is because you can feel how the clothes were made so much better to what’s available now, and that there is often more character to the clothes.

So maybe we will inspire our politicians to become ethical fashionistas… stranger things have happened.

And then in terms of the industry changing, the main problem is that their supply chains have become so complicated it is difficult to control. They have the fear that if they do make the changes, and at that scale, it will cost them and as a result their prices will go up. This becomes difficult if everyone else on the high street is not changing with them. What if their customers don’t come back? Some of them are being brave and decent enough to try and create change regardless because they know it’s the right thing to do.

I think governments have their part to play in this too. I think that there needs to be legation in place globally that rewards businesses that truly are creating good products and good jobs and those considering the environment, and a real threat of penalties for those that don’t. Wouldn’t it be great if everything that we bought had all the information on it that we required to work out if we wanted it? If everything said where it was made, who buy, all the different steps in the supply chain, how much people had been paid to make it etc. then I think, as consumers, we would just demand change, and companies would have to do it.

Which designers are your favourite and why?

There are many ethical fashion brands that I love, because the good ones are really pushing boundaries and coming up with interesting design solutions to our social and environmental problems as well as creating gorgeous collections. Looking at my wardrobe, these five stand out as brands that I love and wear. They are all London brands that show at Estethica as part of London Fashion Week.

  • Junky Styling – A brilliant East London brand that up-cycles clothes (mainly suits donated to charity) and creates well tailored pieces with a cool twist. It’s always fun wearing one of their dresses and telling people it used to be a man’s suit jacket or trousers. They also did a wardrobe surgery on two of my old coats, creating an original new one with all the features that I wanted and the memories of the fun had in the two old coats.
  • Ada Zanditon – Going to Ada’s studio is one of my favourite things. We always get lost in conversations about sustainable fabrics and environmental or social issues. Her work has a real depth because it is always inspired by something much bigger than fashion. The detail and structure in the design make you feel amazing when you are wearing pieces from Ada’s collections.
  • Partimi – Eleanor Dorrien-Smith pays great attention to detail on sourcing environmentally friendly but luxurious fabrics. The prints always have a wonderful story, based on photographs or paintings coming from nature. She often uses her grandparents’ Abbey Garden in Tresco, Scilly Isles, which has a collection of over 20000 plants as her inspiration. She designs in a way where you look and feel very womanly, but are also very comfortable, so that you are free to run around causing mischief in her dresses.
  • Henrietta Ludgate – Everything is made in the UK in her studio/shop in Whiteley’s shopping centre. She up-cycles and searches for interesting eco fabrics. I love the silhouettes that she gives to her pieces, and the drama and sophistication that her pieces project. They are as lot of fun to wear.
  • From Somewhere – Designed by the wonderful Orsola de Castro, who is also a co-founder of Estethica, this label is also based on the concept of up-cycling. But From Somewhere rescues fabric from the floors of luxury houses, and then creates clothing that has that luxury feel. Their pieces are often made up of panels of different fabrics and are always elegant. They also did a great collaboration with Speedo recently where they created dresses that are perfect for a pool party!

12 Rules To Dress By. Artwork by Joana Casaca Lemos

Could you tell us about the collaborative book you are making and what contribution you
hope it will make to the world of eco fashion?

The book, ‘Creating The Future’ is actually not strictly an eco fashion project but a more general citizenship one. I run a radical think tank called Think Act Vote (?!X), which provides a space for anyone to share their ideas of the future that they choose for the world and how we can think, act and vote to create it. The book brings together hundreds of voices, showing that all of us no matter what age, background, gender or occupation has ideas and personal experiences to share that can lead us to a brighter future. The book is launching in June and we hope to slip a copy to the PM and other leading politicians. It does mention eco fashion a few times, as well as other sustainable living ideas. We have also ran a number of creative activism projects with ?!X which will be featured in the book. One of these was the eco t-shirt design competition that we ran with Komodo. Leading ethical fashion designers also took part by customising a t-shirt creating beautiful show pieces. So maybe we will inspire our politicians to become ethical fashionistas… stranger things have happened.

In 2011 you recorded every item of clothing that you bought. In doing so what lessons did you learn?

I learnt a lot about my own spending habits such as if I am going through a slightly rough time, I want to buy loads of new things almost as if I believe that this will make it better.

But then I realised that I didn’t need to buy as much as I thought that I did, and that it was actually fun to put effort into what I bought. I started investing in some of my favourite designers and am building up a wardrobe that I would be proud to pass onto somebody one day.

You have come out with your 12 rules to dress by. If you could only choose 1 rule which would it be and why?

The twelfth rule is to have fun, and enjoy discovering the stories between your fashion I think that this is the most important one (and handily it pulls in the other 11 rules too). If you know where your new thing has come from, then you know if it fits in with your values as well as how and where it has been made. It’s all about the story.

How can we ensure that eco-fashion is not just a fad but becomes an undeniable part of the future of fashion?

It is not a fad, it is the future of fashion. It has to be. But awareness and change is happening slower than it needs to. I think that there is a responsibility on governments worldwide to create legislation that encourages sustainable business. I think it would be incredible if governments worked together a created global legislation that made transparency a legal requirement. If everything we bought, fashion or otherwise had a code we could scan to find out the truth of how, of what and by who things are really made, then I think that would change everything. The responsibility lies with brands and consumers too though. We all have a part to play in this future.

What can we expect from Amisha in the future?

I plan to keep pushing the sustainable agenda forward through fashion with my consulting and writing work. I met two filmmakers, Laurence McKenna and Rudy Taguri from doing my events series at Shoreditch House. We are working together on producing a documentary this year. We are currently looking for partners and sponsors for this and hoping it will have the power to create much more awareness about the issues surrounding what we wear.