An online short internship programme for students of Indian design institutes initiated during the COVID-19 lockdown period organised by WildRoots-India

Famous French Fashion designer Coco Chanel, who ruled over the Parisian haute couture for almost six decades once said: “Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the forests as well as in the urban streets; fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, in Nature and in what is happening around us.” Fashion is made of trends that spring and disappear along time. Fashion is all about appearance, and fashion designers always look for inspiration to kindle their creativity. Nature is a perfect way to recharge a fashion designer’s soul! Attractive colours, shapes, textures, and patterns exist all around in nature. Taking inspiration from nature gives us a fresh perspective on design.

There is an abundance of ‘design culture’ to be discovered from nature. The awe factor in nature is sure to inspire the creativity of designing – encompassing personality, colour and variety. The textures, colours of leaves, grass and water can be creatively used in fashion designing, and more ideas can be thought of. Many contemporary fashion designers put a lot of emphasis on nature based wearable designs and practical clothing. For example, Jattinn Kochhar, a New Delhi based fashion designer said: “My creativity to blend traditional natural heritage with urban influence draws its inspiration from nature.” Other recognised fashion designers whose collections fit into the nature-based design category including Viktor Dzenk, Tear Gas, Borodulin, Sophia Kokosalaki, Alexander McQueen, Rei Kawakubo, Jean Paul Gaultier, Hussein Chalayan, and Yohji Yamamo.

Building on this I envisioned a project in which students from various design colleges and institutions can come together, brainstorm on ideas and come up with some nature-based designs with the ultimate aim to inspire younger generations to find ways to raise environmental awareness and find solutions for local and global conservation challenges. The initial idea about this project was sparked during my interaction with Mr. Sean Southey, chair of IUCN’s Commission on Education and Communication during the Conservation Optimism Summit in 2019 at St. Catherine’s College at the University of Oxford. We discussed the ways in which the next generation of designers could be inspired to find ways to make people engage with nature and conservation. Wildroots-India subsequently turned ideas into practice and created the project. We set-up an online short term student internship programme in which students are mentored and helped in the development of innovative ideas.

Developing the concept: creativity supported by Nature’s inspiration!

Students from design colleges, primarily the National Institute of Fashion Design (NIFT), expressed their interest in the project and later we also had a few students from the Royal School of Fashion Design. An introductory online session was organised in which students were explained how the designs could be an amalgamation of ethnic and chic. Then they started brainstorming on materials inspired by nature that could make alluring designs. The students were motivated to do extensive research on various topics, and were asked to break the norms. Creativity supported by nature’s inspiration helps a fashion designer to excel, we believe.

For centuries, nature has been a great source of inspiration for artists. In contemporary times, it is not just enough to celebrate nature. Creativity of the fashion designers, with appropriate patterns and colour choices, brings clothes with timeless elegance, and makes customers marvel at the beauty of nature. The inspiration that nature provides to the fashion industry is a solid proof that Mother Nature is indeed fashion industry’s greatest muse. Contemporary design students need ‘creativity with purpose’ which will make a difference in their design ideology and perceptions, and make them better professionals. Nature based design is an experience. It is this experience that we are looking to explore, through this innovative project. It is a DESIGN REVOLUTION!

The designs were made by Ankita Ghosh and Kabyashree Bhowmick, student interns for this project

Biswajit De is the Founder President of WildRoots-India, an organization for Climate, Environmental, Biodiversity Awareness & Conservation Education, based in Guwahati, Assam, India. Recipient of the National Green Mentor Award, Govt. of India and Global Teacher Accreditation from the British Council & Cambridge Education Foundation, a Nationally acclaimed illustrator & designer, he uses art and design to connect the youth and communities to activities and programmes related to environmental protection, climate change mitigation and conservation.