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Compassionate fashion

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LIFE CHOICE: Clamour for cruelty-free clothes and cosmetics has been growing in India as more people opt for a conscientious lifestyle

What you put on your face or drape across your body should conform to your philosophy of life, say those who shun products that involve cruelty towards animals.

Chennai Vegan Drinks is an offline social group "powered by tofu", as its Facebook page declares. The group meets weekly and over cups of filter coffee made with soy milk discusses ways to initiate others into veganism. They share information about the best recipe for "tofu fish n chips" or discuss the latest range of colognes at Lush Cosmetics or the discounts Catwalk is offering on "crueltyfree" pumps.

If you are a vegan and believe that all animal life is sacred, it is no longer enough to abjure meat and milk. You also have to make sure that what you drape around your body and put on your face didn't inflict any pain on an animal.

Anu Chowdhary, a freelance digital strategist from Mumbai, wears cruelty-free fabrics so that means no silk, chiffon or georgette. And neither does she buy from a handful of designers who make crueltyfree clothes, like Anita Dongre, Anupama Dayal and Deepika Govind. And yet she has options to choose from. "There are so many alternatives in the market. You can, of course, wear cotton. Anokhi, Fab India, Cotton World spoil you for choice. Accessorize sells faux leather wallets, belts and bags, so does Baggit. You can buy saris made from artificial silk, faux chiffon, faux georgette at most sari shops. These are made from polyester fabrics, are cheap, durable, easy to maintain and don't make you sweat like real silk does, " says Chowdhary who as a student at National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad constantly experimented with faux silk.

Vegan fashion and luxury are well-established and respected in the West - cruelty-free diamonds and gem stones, faux fur products, faux leather footwear or luxury cruises and cruelty-free make-up are taken seriously. But in India vegetarianism and veganism often don't extend to fashion choices. Rina Shah, who owns vegan footwear brand Rinaldi, admits that most of her clients buy from her because of design and not because she uses faux leather to make shoes and accessories. "But awareness about vegan brands is definitely growing, " says Shah who exports most of her creations. She once gifted Natalie Portman - a vegan celeb - with a pair of riding boots by Rinaldi.

Like Shah, fashion designer Anita Dongre who owns successful pr?t-a-porter label AND, launched a vegan clothes line, Grassroots four to five years ago. "We use 100 per cent organic and hand-made fibres and natural dyes, " says Dongre, who follows a vegan diet.

From the temples of South India to the red carpet in Hollywood, it took Ahimsa silk a couple of decades but it is now the toast of the eco-friendly royalty. Ahimsa Silk, a cruelty-free yarn was developed by Kusuma Rajaiah in the early 1990s. A handloom technology expert, Rajaiah researched silk extraction methods and came up with a module in which cocoons of silk worms are put in a basket for up to 10 days. By then the moths break open the cocoon and fly away. The empty cocoons are then collected and used to create silk yarn.

Ahimsa Silk feels like the real stuff only it is less lustrous. "Its appearance is smooth, has better absorption, a great fall and is airy, " says Rajaiah who has patented Ahimsa Silk and also Ahimsa Jersey. Rajaiah says he exports most of the fabric he produces as in India people are still not aware of cruelty involved in creation of regular silk fabric.

Another area where awareness is growing is personal grooming. It is easier to get cosmetics and skincare products that are made without animal testing. In March this year the European Union announced a ban on import and sales of cosmetics that contain ingredients tested on animals. "With such a ban in place in EU we hope that more countries will join the campaign to promote cruelty-free cosmetics, " says Vivek Sahni, director Kama Ayurveda. According to online resources, chicken marrow, which is rich in glucosamine, an amino acid, is used in many lotions and moisturisers as it promotes skin health. Fish scales are used to provide shimmer in products like nail paints and lip colours. Kama Ayurveda, Forest Essentials, Lush, L'Occitane and The Body Shop are some brands that describe themselves as cruelty-free. Says Samarth Bedi, executive director of Forest Essentials: "Discerning consumers who appreciate 'natural' skin care, promote the use of environment-friendly products. People are beginning to realise that natural skin care is more responsible not only towards their skin but also their environment. "

Of course, sticking entirely to plant based ingredients does push price up but as Guillaume Geslin, country head L'Occitane India points out those who care about issues like animal rights are now ready to spend more.

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