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Digital Denim w/ Nece Gene at Helsinki Fashion Week

If you haven’t met Neha Celly, you're missing out on a beautiful soul! We share a lot of the same views on sustainability and when I heard about Nece Gene’s ethos, digital collection, and runway show, I had to know more!

I am a huge fan of using waste as a resource and when you told me that all aspects of Nece Gene’s physical products are made from Arvind Denim Mills’ waste, it was proof that a brand can use no virgin materials at all. Tell us a little bit about your brand!

I am the founder of Denim design and research house called Bluehemia and have been working in the denim industry with some giant denim mills globally and some small arty brands for many years. Been working with mills and brands, I know that beautiful denim comes with a downside too.

Manufacturing denim (in most cases) is a polluting process that involves toxic dyes and chemicals, many of which end up in our water supply. The denim industry also uses a tremendous amount of water, from growing cotton to creating the washed jeans.

Doing my bit of research on how the industry impact could be reduced, I recently collaborated with the prestigious denim company Arvind Mills to start a 100% sustainable brand called 'nece gene'.

'nece' here stands for necessary and focuses on buying mindfully and needfully. It happens to be my initials too.

The products in the brand include High fashion couture denim and some denim basics: all made from Denim Industry waste. Waste like: yarns, fabric scraps, small denim yardages etc.

To be able to use the waste which would otherwise reach landfills, is the main idea of the brand.

As a finalist of Helsinki Fashion week, 2020, our brand happens to be the world's first denim brand to present an all-digital 3D fashion show, having both digital and physical collections.

'nece gene' digital collection and the 3D show is all up here:

The 'digital apparel or cyber couture' does happen to be the most sustainable apparel as it's not created with any physical material. One just wears it in the digital space and that's about it. No landfills and pollution caused by it.

Are there challenges in finding the materials you need for the intricate designs you create? How do you work around this?

The idea is to create beauty around the waste I see at the mill and not the other way around, where we design fabrics from scratch to suit the styles. Arvind makes some beautiful fabrics, starting from Khadi, Ikats, natural indigo selvages, and some great indigo twills. From large rolls, small bits and scraps are left which aren't of much use to the mill. Most work happens at this stage where we segregate these bits and choose to create products out of them. For example, the current collection has used scraps in different Indigo shades in a gradation.

For me, sustainability doesn't need to come at the cost of design. People need to fall in love with the work first and when they know that it's also environment friendly, then it's an added advantage. The aim is to have more and more people indulge in the idea of closing the loop, by not giving up on the 'design' aspect.

At the beginning of the pandemic, there were a lot of questions around whether virtual runway shows will replace the physical shows. But, as we start to embrace the new normal, it feels as though the physical versions will remain. Do you think virtual runway shows will stand in place of physical shows for some brands? Or do you see it as an addition to the physical runway shows?

I think the brands that had to go for the digital shows, already had a clear idea even before the pandemic. For example, the brand Hanifa, they were so well prepared with this concept and hence had a great digital show, a few months back. The pandemic has definitely opened newer ways to showcase the products, whether these are virtual shows or Instagram at-home catwalks. But to fully replace the physical shows, the idea of meeting people, physically touching the fabrics, seeing the drapes on real bodies, looks too far fetched. I think what will happen is, the number of physical shows would drastically reduce, just like how the fashion seasons will see a reduction. The meaningful and conceptual shows will stay and the brands with a digital inclination or an urge to try new would try out digital formats.

What was the digital design process like for you as a designer? How did it differ from your traditional process? Are you likely to continue to do digital shows and collections?

The traditional collection making, starting from choosing the bits from the mill, sketching designs were all in full swing, when the pandemic hit. Due to this, the Helsinki Fashion week also changed their physical show to a digital format, where every single thing: the clothes, models, environments were digitally created on clo3D software. The company Scotomolab helped in converting these sketches to digital 3D garments and the company NDA Paris designed the environments. I did have to send detailed patterns of the collection out for them to drape the garments on the digital bodies. The digitizing process is very different from a traditional process as there's a lot you can see and do with real fabric and trims.

Testing out the drape of a particular fabric, to see a particular wash on specific denim, the fit, etc, it's all easier and better to foresee in a real garment making process. Whereas, in a digital process, it's great that one can see how an actual garment would look without making it. It's the closest one can get to a real garment feel.

With one digital show and collection passed, I think I'd now want to see how the physical pieces come out. Maybe next year again, I could use the digital format to see what the new collection looks like before actually making it. It does cut down on costs and time and is a step towards sustainability.

What does sustainability mean to you and what do you hope to inspire other brands to follow?

Sustainability is a way of life and hence very important to all that I do. The next generations deserve to enjoy the mountains and oceans just the way we did, so it's important that nature stands to be beautiful and flourishing even after many years from now.

For me, the most sustainable garment is the one that is not created in the first place, especially at this time, when there is an abundance of brands and products. The second most sustainable garment is the one that's made with no new raw material. Our brand uses no new raw materials, from fabric to trims to packaging.

I hope that all the brands become a little more conscious of what they do. Whether it is about being conscious if their workers are getting their fair wages and on time, or about using nature-friendly raw materials, or about making sure they are closing the loop by recycling. It'll be a big positive change if all the brands start by adopting one sustainable practice to start with.

Thank you, Neha for depicting the journey of creating a digital fashion show for Nece Gene and the inspiration to use no virgin materials in design. Neha and I have been curious to know the impact of Helsinki's digital fashion week, but this is currently being analyzed. So stay tuned to hear if the digital show is the 'hail mary' of runway shows and in the meantime, STAY DILIGENT FRIENDS!


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