Conscious Creators: Niha Elety (@nihaelety)
Niha Elety is a Designer/Sustainability Activist on Instagram and IE Beauty Topic Leader. She uses fashion, beauty, art, and heritage as a vehicle to bring awareness about sustainability and its importance. Her platform looks to amplify and incorporate South Asian heritage and BIPOC knowledge to bring inclusivity to the environmental movement. Niha is also the Founder and Co-Creator of Tega Collective, a sustainable fashion brand that champions Adivasi communities from India and their textile traditions.
Let’s start with your background! What was your childhood like? Can you think of any defining moments in your life that shaped you into the person you are today?
I have always been a visual person starting art and design work from the age of 5. I moved to India from the US when I was 11 and that's when I developed a lot of knowledge of sustainability from a South Asian lens and realized how ingrained it was in our culture where in the west it was an add-on that took a lot of effort. From the accessibility of locally-made textiles and fresh foods, to the flourishing cultural heritage, these systems were much healthier than what I saw in the Global North. But, unfortunately many countries like India are still reeling from the effects of colonization and capitalistic systems. That is what inspired me to advocate through art and design.
What inspired you to start your blog? How has it evolved since you first started?
In college, I studied biomedical engineering but I was craving an artistic outlet so I started my blog. Initially it was focused on just art and design but I realized incorporating my heritage and its connection to sustainability was important and could bring unique views to the climate movement. When joining the sustainability space full of advocates and leaders, I noticed that there weren't many discussions about culture and ancestral knowledge. Since then my goal has been to bring inclusivity and a variety of perspectives from BIPOC creators (the original sustainability leaders) to the environmental movement. Today and forward, I actively work to bring these conversations to the forefront as a topic leader for Intersectional Environmentalist and speaker on intersectional environmentalism.
What does sustainable fashion mean to you? What are some of your favorite brands?
I lived half my life in India and half in the US, and while living in India, “sustainable fashion” to me was just fashion because the production of textiles was inherently sustainable. Most consumers are aware of and participate in the process of creating their garments. India has a massive variety of regional textiles that use fibers like jute, cotton, linen, etc that are native to the region as the product of regenerative agriculture. These fibers are then woven by weavers on a machine or handloom and dyed, printed, and embroidered by artisans. Many consumers buy their fabrics and get them stitched by a local tailor which supports local economies and doesn’t exploit labor; the definition of slow and transparent fashion. With the rise of colonialism and the Industrial Revolution, our relationships with labor and the planet were cut and we became dissociated. Growing up surrounded by rich South Asian textiles, fashion was a vehicle for not only self expression but a relationship with my culture as well.
To me sustainable fashion means so many things but at its soul it is about restorative justice for people and the planet, and having intimate connections with the clothing process. By restorative justice, I mean reparations to countries in the Global Nouth for waste and outsourcing which reinforces neocolonialism. It means moving towards localized systems, restoring native fiber farming practices and use of garments, expanding the aesthetics we idolize, reckoning with the way we value clothing, understanding that our ties with land and labor are cut and we need to cultivate those relationships again, and thinking about wealth distribution.
How would you describe your style?
In a few words I would say vintage, colorful, and earthy. My style heavily draws from my heritage and the work of weavers and artisans in India. I love experimenting with vintage saris, kurtis, and colorful patterns, and juxtaposing them with western styles on my page. I accessorize with flowers and hair jewelry a lot like my grandmother once did.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to readers wanting to live more consciously?
The most important step is to repair your relationship with the land and labor. Once you strengthen that relationship, you will be able to understand that sustainability is not a one size fits all thing and that our earth and people need care and healing. A few ways you can give back more than you take is:
- Use what you already have to end of life
- Mend, repair, swap, and repurpose items to give them a new life
- Food sovereignty is so important so make a connection with agriculture and learn how to grow your own food; it teaches you how much goes into it and makes you more resilient in situations like our current pandemic
- Decentralized, place-based solutions are the most resilient for our planet and people whether it is farming, electricity, fashion etc.
- Look into your heritage and what your parents/ancestors have done for years. Make an effort to learn and practice their sustainable lifestyles
Can you recommend any clean living must-haves?
My must-haves for clean living are reusable cloth wipes, water bottles, bags, food storage containers, a way to compost, and skills to mend/upcycle. Most of these items I don't even buy and you don’t need to either. You can reuse glass jars from old pasta sauce glasses, tear up old bedsheets and make cleaning rags from them, and take old tote bags from college fairs and use them for grocery shopping.
What is one clothing item that you can't live without?
I can’t live without a nice pair of pants. Pants are really empowering for me and make me feel the most confident.
What’s it like being a BIPOC creator in the fashion industry?
It is difficult because a lot of narratives that are pushed are still rooted in point solutions or colonial mindsets which is how we got into this mess in the first place. BIPOC people are the most affected in the fashion space with unlivable pay and working conditions. Many BIPOC creatives like myself are dismissed and our solutions are thought of as “impractical” in places like COP26 even though they are tried and true in our own countries. We need our voices amplified and acknowledged in this industry and until we do that, we won’t reach healing.
Which Conscious Creator should we talk to next and why?
Kamea Chayne (she/they) from Green Dreamer podcast is an incredible force constantly questioning the industry and her own values in the sustainability space. They go deep into these issues interrogating the colonial, capitalistic, and regenerative aspects to different topics and present solutions as well.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this interview! You can follow Niha here.
Who should we talk to next? To nominate a Conscious Creator, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org