Uma Prajapati, the founder of Upasana, embodies this quotation to the fullest. Based in Auroville, India, Upasana is the overarching company comprised of multiple different brands of sustainability from organic clothing, tsunami relief, waste management, social responsibility, empowerment and growth. Since working with the brand to increase consumer literacy about organic cotton, I’ve been completely inspired.
I spent some time talking with Uma today and what she had to tell me absolutely overwhelmed me. I wasn’t overwhelmed in the sense that I felt panic or loss of control, but in a sense that I was utterly affected by her story.
Uma came to Auroville in 1996 and after a year founded Upasana. Her aim was to bring India’s textiles to Auroville, so after sourcing from around 16 different states, the company began to develop traditional textile and fashions. It wasn’t until the devastating tsunami hit India in 2004 that Upasana started to transform. This devastating natural disaster killed nearly 230,000 people and affected the lives of 1.7 million in 14 different countries. The company was working to help pick up the pieces through various social projects. Uma ended up working with organic cotton farmers and became profoundly changed with what she learned.
“When I began to work with cotton farmers, I began to know our big brother, Monsanto. I had no idea. I didn’t know there was a seed mafia. I didn’t know that there was a chemical mafia. I didn’t know farmers were committing suicides due to the way the whole economy is structured. They feel so vulnerable. The whole thing hit me so hard,” she said.
Because of this, in 2010 Upasana declared that it was consciously taking the step into becoming organic to support the farming community. She told me that it just blew her mind when she found out that 25% of the world’s insecticides and pesticides get used in one single crop of cotton. She continued to reveal that fashion is corrupt at the very base level, that it can’t even support the people working to produce the crops necessary to create clothing.
Uma questioned her role in all of the mess. “And in that process I chose to align my action and my thought process to the future and the light of the future, not so much thinking about who has to change right now. It’s me who will change and it’s my organization who will change and I will align myself to the future. This is where the sustainable fashion as an option came to me, that if I had to continue doing fashion, it will be only this or I’m done.”
It was this point in the conversation that really made me sit back and examine the world and the people who comprise it. What are we doing to our planet, to our people? If all fashion companies and all of the segments that make it up changed to operate in an ethical and sustainable way the total global carbon footprint could be drastically reduced and countless lives could be saved. If more leaders of companies had Uma’s mindset, the world would be in a much better state.
The future of Upasana lies in international expansion. “It’s time to tell the story to the larger community.” Uma had purposely avoided that route because she wanted to serve her own country and domestic market within India, first. She continued, “now, I’m ready to take this story of a small brand venturing into a fashion and trying to bridge from the farmers to the wearer to the whole line of organic.”
I asked her where she thinks the future of sustainable fashion is headed and without any hesitation asserted “sustainable fashion, it’s the only way!” If we want to we can choose to continue to do what we are doing and destroy the planet, but eventually we have to think about the future. The future lies in sustainability and a conscious lifestyle. It’s not just the fashion industry; many things need to change.
Uma’s passion and dedication to making a difference is exactly the inspiration that the world needs to achieve the larger goal. In a world filled with people and companies whose only concern is to make money over everything else, Uma is so refreshing. But, in addition to her commitment to make this world a better a place, her positivity and optimism for the future makes me hopeful that change can actually happen. I hope my contribution to the effort has even a minor impact upon perceptions of sustainability as a whole. I hope people make the change.
By Alexa Pizzi