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'Repetition is cool and environmentally friendly'

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Monokrome's Maheen Khan talks about sustainable practices in the textile industry

Bangladesh is home to excellent craftsmen and local artisans, who are valuable resources for the country. As a major exporting nation, we are fortunate to have plenty of resources available in the clothing and textile manufacturing sector.

Avenue t sat down with Maheen Khan, Creative Director and Chief Designer at Monokrome, to discuss the sustainable and ethical use of those resources.

How did Monokrome come about? 

I was travelling in Australia last year when I went to the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne to catch two exhibitions – David Hockney and Viktor & Rolf. More commonly known as fashion artists, Viktor & Rolf’s exhibition transported me to a completely different world. I love clothes and always designed my own but what I saw that day at the NGV was something that I had not experienced before. Their artistic process introduced me to a whole different world of fashion. That’s when I decided to resign from my then job and go to Italy for training. After my training and travelling for about six months, I decided to take the plunge and Monokrome was conceived.

Is there a story behind the name?

I am a very private person, and always stay away from chaos. The fashion world has grown exponentially in the last decade. There are amazing designers from all over the world, who are doing fantastic work. To be able to compete globally, I needed a focus, something unique. I decided to work mainly with the colours, black and white, and their shades. Hence, Monokrome happened. The spelling is altered as a play on my name.

What was your motivation to get Monokrome off the ground?

I wished to be my own boss, perhaps. I wished to create something every day.

What are some obstacles that you had to face in order to make Monokrome a reality?

The main obstacle was myself. I've been working since I was 17, first as a student undertaking part-time jobs then full-time after graduating. The concept of owning a business, which comes with big risks every day and catering to a market which is quite small in Dhaka, was petrifying. But I did it anyway, because I did not want to live with a “what if”.

What has been the most difficult aspect of getting your brand off the ground and how did you overcome that?

The most difficult aspect was not compromising with my vision. I wanted to do minimal, quality clothing for women in Dhaka. That's what the brand is about. The associations with the brand were of extreme significance for me. That meant saying no a lot. I am still getting the brand off the ground as it has been a little more than a month since we launched. So I'm trying to overcome that challenge every day.

Tell us a bit about Monokrome’s clothing line. 

Monokrome’s journey began with its first collection called 'Identity'. With this collection, the main idea was to carve an identity for the brand’s self. It is an ode to minimalism and classicism, with a touch of quirk! Monokrome’s designs blend both femininity and masculinity. The products are designed for multi-purpose wearability, to be worn over and over again, because repetition is cool and environmentally friendly! The evolving role of women in society is a major motivation for the

collection, with a strong focus on fabrics and cuts that are comfortable and sustainable. I wanted to design using sustainable fabrics and make it sexy at the same time. As a woman, I observed a gap in the market in Dhaka, and wanted to introduce a brand that will hopefully help fill the gap.

What kind of fabrics/materials are you using? Can these fabrics be recycled?

Our choice of fabrics are cotton and linen, and wherever a playful incorporation calls for it, khadi.

We don’t use polyester, and most of our fabrics are 100 percent cotton. Cotton, linen and khadi are all made up of natural fibres.

When selecting your fabric range, how important is it to think of the implications of disposal?

At Monokrome, our main reason for not using polyester is environmental concern. We cut and use the fabric in a way, so as to minimize fabric wastage. All leftover fabrics are kept at our workshop as we are trying to come up with innovative ways to reuse them.

How have social media and networking impacted upon the way in which you work, brand and promote Monokrome today?

Social media, if used the right way, can be extremely powerful for a brand. The fashion world is highly integrated online and helps emerging designers to connect globally. Monokrome was recently published on Not Just A Label, a London-based online platform that features emerging designers from all over the world. Products listed on this platform reflect elements of sustainability with the slow fashion movement in mind. As mentioned earlier, brand associations are vital for the shelf life of a brand, and with the presence of social media, promoting Monokrome with the right focus is everything.

The garment industry of Bangladesh has been the key export division and a main source of foreign exchange for almost 25 years. What, in your opinion, may be the drawbacks that our garment industry is facing today?

I believe I am not well-equipped to answer this question. However, as Bangladesh has outperformed other major exporting countries recently on ethical compliance, this shows a continuous commitment to mitigate drawbacks that may have been persistent in the industry in the past.

What, in your opinion, can be done to ensure sustainable and ethical use of those resources?

Being a major exporting country, we have plenty of resources at our disposal within the clothing and textile manufacturing sector. For one, we shouldn’t take those resources for granted and start respecting the environment. I think we should educate ourselves more and more on sustainable practices in the textile industry and start breeding home-grown designers who will help with innovation.

When designing your clothes, what factors do you keep in mind to reduce the social and environmental impact of a product’s life cycle?

As I mentioned before, I design keeping in mind, minimalism and classicism. I think about the wearability of the product. I want our customers to wear the clothes in different ways and on different occasions. I design day-to-night/work-to-dinner wear, as between traffic congestion on roads and busy schedules, little time is left to go home and change. A limited colour palette also helps with minimizing wastage when fabric is sourced. Using no polyester, the fabrics we use are biodegradable.

What can consumers do to help ensure sustainability in the fashion industry?

Consumers can help in many ways by asking the right questions. At the Monokrome studio, we also have our workshop on-site. Our customers can see where and how their clothes are being made.

Do you have any grand plans for your brand in the future? Any future ideas and exclusives you can share with the readers of Avenue t?

Right now, I plan to create awareness of the brand in Dhaka. My future plan is to create a global brand from Bangladesh.