Suhani Lotlikar shares her journey as a fashion stylist with a passion for sustainability. 

As a stylist, I often find myself in situations where my work is judged on my appearance. From interviews to onset jobs to family events, there is a sense of expectation to be dressed as a fairy of fashion. Don’t get me wrong: alongside styling celebrities and models, I do love to dress my best for every event! But it isn’t as easy as grabbing the latest trendy clothes off of a rack from a high street store for me. In the past few years of working with various fashion moguls and gaining formal education on the subject, I have learned about the dark side of the industry.

In my first year of university, I took a class that focused on sustainability in fashion. “Let us all take up a noshopping challenge for twenty-five days – no stationery, no clothes, nothing on your must-have list,” the tutor announced in the very first session. While many of us moaned and declared it as impossible, I was very keen on trying this task. As I began to analyse my wish-list I realised that the only thing I needed to complete the challenge was self-control. I began applying my learnings about sustainability into all my other classes. I started to notice my inclination towards art forms such as drag culture, against couture shoes of luxury brands. It helped me understand the part of the fashion industry I really wanted to contribute to and be a part of. I practiced re-purposing and re-wearing my outfits, which helped me understand the application of design principles too.

In the process of researching about minimalist living, I landed on the blogs of many creators who showcased their practice of sustainability in their everyday life. e. Having observed the small actions each one of them took to substitute things of consumption in their day to day living, I noticed that the goals they set for themselves were realistic, allowing space for mistakes and slow change. As a fashion student, my wardrobe was surely the place to start with.

Do we really need new clothes every month? Do we really need that many pairs of shoes? Do I really need that pair of shoes because the popular girl in my class has one? The answer was simple – being aware of the difference between need and want. So, I began to devise my own system to track my fashion consumption patterns. During this period, I travelled to London where I was introduced to the concept of thrifting. 

When I decided to transfer to the Arts University in Bournemouth that year, I was most excited to experience the many cultures of fashion. There was no one or two specific university student outfits anymore. There was a pool of unique personalities showcasing individuality through various styles. That’s when it hit me – this is the true purpose of fashion, to help us express our personalities without the pressure of perfection and judgement. I experimented with my existing clothes every day and produced looks that made me feel confident, comfortable, and like myself. I played safe by investing in solid and muted coloured clothing. Eventually, I began try prints, patterns, textures and colour.

It was challenging to go through this process because as a stylist, I felt like I had to have my style sorted. Once, a guest speaker – a famous fashion photographer from London – said, “How old are you? I have photographed some of the biggest names in the fashion industry and I am still exploring my photography style. Stay curious.”

Sharing my student house with another sustainability enthusiast opened doors to many more such practices and possibilities. Once I worked on a 13-day long project for a multi-brand e-commerce platform amongst a team of five extremely versatile stylists. When I walked on set the very first day, each of their outfits caught my eye. They were wearing the colour of the year, the trendiest coordinated sets and the chunkiest jewellery. Yes, it was truly intimidating as it made me question what I was wearing. At the end of the day, I found myself digging into my clothes to find something that looked like their clothes.

But I eventually realized that I was hired to bring my perspective and personality to the racks. It is hard to not compare yourself to others and want more things to keep up with the ever-changing world. However, self-control, perseverance, and courage are what it takes to be true to yourself.

One of my recent topics of interest has been accessorising. I thought about buying a classic tote bag for daily use. As I applied my process and looked through the bags I currently have, a screen-printed muslin tote caught my attention. This was bought in the fundraiser sale at my university for the Graduate show. The feeling of happiness that came from the story behind this piece was way beyond just another synthetic leather tote. To cherish this feeling of exclusive items, I now buy my accessories and jewellery from small local businesses.

Over the years, having practiced styling as a profession, my willingness to buy clothes from high street brands has vanished entirely, for I have tasted the glamour of classic pieces alongside the adaptability of each garment in my wardrobe. My lifestyle has not entirely become minimal or sustainable, but I am learning and growing every day. I am often told that my awareness of the fashion industry’s dark side is what makes me want to practice sustainability. Awareness, however, is just the beginning.

I have experienced through education, analysis, application, and accessibility that this is part of my individuality. My goal is to feel happy about every item of clothing that I own and not invest in items that put me back into the circle of fashion consumption. It hasn’t been easy, for I am told many times that my style is too kitsch, too bland, and even too untrendy for my profession. But my ability to style personalities with a touch of sustainability make me a unique stylist.

Today, when I see people walking to the back of the store of a high street brand and grabbing sale clothing with missing buttons and lipstick stains on them, it makes me feel grateful for my education and willingness to change. Taking control of my fashion consumption has led me to find my own personal style. Now with almost five years of maintaining a good balance between thrift buying limited consumption, I have managed to build myself a classic, repurposed, and fashionable wardrobe.

You can read more of Suhani’s work on suhani17.wordpress.com and on Instagram by following @suhani_lotlikar 

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