After all the extensively destructive effects of the fashion industry on the environment and humankind, we are proceeding towards ways which can be more ethical to the environment and humans. People have started observing and have become aware of the ethical values coded with the brands. Consumers being more conscious about their choices make sure what kind of brands are they supporting while buying their products. In addition, from the company’s point of view, maintaining a certain amount of transparency with their consumers is necessary to gain trust and build good producer-consumer relationships. But it’s not always easy to exercise transparency with consumers. One should be aware of the activities and processes followed inside the organisation. Disclosure of internal practices to the clients is the second level of transparency.
Upasana, an Auroville unit tries to exercise transparency and be true to its consumers even knowing that it is still going through the process to achieve maximum sustainability in its business. Uma, the founder of Upasana shares her views about transparency in processes internally and towards the consumers and how Upasana had evolved from being tagged as an NGO to a design label.
1. What is transparency in business?
Uma - Transparency in business allows people to know about business activities and processes which builds trust and credibility. It is equally important in all the sectors be it government, corporate, service or educational. Transparency in fashion is vital because it involves many hidden unfair activities. In Upasana, we always knew who made our clothes, how are the activities carried out and where do we buy our raw materials from. It was easy for us to examine the processes for one reason that we are a small company. In a bigger organisation, keeping first-hand information gets complicated. But is internal transparency enough for us to prove that we are trying to be ethical in our ways?
Transparency in business is different from transparency in processes. Transparency also means that our clients know about our business and its internal operations. It is not just about the access to information inside the organisation but also the consumers’ awareness of it. There is exploitation happening around and I want to have a transparency around it. “What the industry does to the society as a whole and what it does to humanity and our planet is our concern.”
2. How did Upasana make a shift from its identity as a NGO to a brand and then making a move towards being a conscious fashion hub?
Uma - Upasana has always been a design company. It was made into an NGO in people’s mind due to our deep interest in social sector and our service to grass root community. We had to fight it out and reimage the identity. We have used our design and creativity to serve but I would surely not prefer wearing the crown of an NGO. I had to remould our communication to position Upasana as a design company. We see design as a creative space to bring change. Crisis and breakdowns are not frightening but empowering.
Currently, Upasana is building a space of conscious fashion that aligns all our activities in the centre of grass root communities including farming, weaving, dyeing, printing, etc. Upasana will turn into a hub of conscious business and fashion and inspire other design companies to take social responsibility. “We want to create communication around the idea that fashion can be beautiful, inspiring and fair at the same time.”
3. Did transparency act as a key element in this evolution? How important is it to exercise transparency towards consumers?
Uma - Transparency for me means turning invisible into visible. The fashion industry has dark sides for which we need to raise significant visibility. In general, we are aware and accept that fashion is the second largest pollutant on this planet. If this concern is made clear and transparent enough for the clients, they can make choices for a better world. “In Upasana, it is more important to keep a sense of integrity and holistic approach in our decision making as an organisation. Transparency serves as a part of it and not a destination.”
4. How does Upasana manage to track the activities happening in its supply chain and practice transparency?
Uma - As I discussed earlier, it is easier for a small company to exercise information. Big companies require more political efforts and administration processes to collect their precise data. It is possible to keep a check at all levels but small scale provides you the privilege to look into everything directly. This made it easier for Upasana. This has added to Upasana’s key strengths that we are able to keep a track on all the internal operations and implement improvisations wherever necessary.