Hagen-based Chandra Prakash Jha questions the processes of creating garments; talks about ecology and commerce and turning green to gold with his label Cocccon
By Asmita Aggarwal
The first thing you notice about Jamshedpur-born Chandra Prakash Jha is his brutal honesty and he will warn you before the conversation ensues that this novel trait, only a few have the fortitude to possess has got him into immense trouble in the past. Running a global business and the world has somehow calmed him down over the years, and so has his business partner Georg Andreas Suhr.
The young boy who grew up in the “We also make steel” town, run by the Tatas, known for producing the maximum number of IIT engineers, was different. His interests were not geared towards engineering, rather it was more “inner engineering”. So he sat watching how kumhars (earthen pot makers) crafting beautiful idols with their bare hands chiselling them to perfection. He often questioned how we all pray, but we never know who made this possible by giving us these Gods and Goddesses.
Prakash studied fashion in Delhi at a premier institute and then travelled to Milan for his masters. His experience at export houses wasn’t the best where he discovered how human labour was treated, he longed to change the system and refused to be part of it. A job took him to Germany where he met Georg and they launched Cocccon, (Creativity can care) in 2012 and he started a silk farm in Jharkhand, in the interiors, an Adivasi belt. It began with just two hectares and now it is almost 100 hectares of land where GOTS peace silk (Global organic certified standard) is produced. “The idea was to help Adivasi weavers become entrepreneurs. We like newer ideas seeing how much water (almost 10,000 litres) is used for the production of one pair of jeans. We worked on an alternative—make denim out of silk. Viscose has been tried but that involves cutting down trees, we wanted to find a better way to innovate and make denim eco-friendly,” says Prakash.
Cocccon, his label won the German Sustainability Award, and Prakash’s vision was realised and given global acknowledgement. And his observant eyes never miss out on what is happening in India whether it is people in Bangalore taking selfies when the river is frothing not realising it is the chemical waste from factories being dumped or the need to set up ETP (effluent treatment plants) plants in factories making lehengas. “Not many know that it takes a large amount of chemicals to make one lehenga and it’s dangerous to groundwater, education is a must and we need to change the designing processes to make it in tune with the environment we are living in,” he explains.
In 1996 when he started, there weren’t many designer brands he remembers taking a bus from his home in South Delhi to reach his college and most of his time was spent hanging out with his JNU friends after classes. “I wanted to know how the marginalised in society, think, act and what their beliefs are. My life hasn’t changed even after I moved abroad,” he admits. Prakash would rather spend time understanding how Adivasis live than hang out at a page 3 party in the city. You may deduce he is anti-fashion, but he is actually anti the oppressive system which needs to be pro-poor.
Adivasis he believes are the real inhabitants of the region, the rightful owners, but they have been pushed to the periphery, and if you look at their lifestyle they are the flag bearers of sustainability they worship nature, pray before they cut trees ask for forgiveness and respect nature. Everything they make has no pesticides or chemicals, their paints come from leaves or flowers it is actually what management books teach you. “They are the real proponents of Circular Economy, where we must use the resources till the maximum limit and regenerate these products. That is exactly what Adivasis do and what human beings in urban cities will now be forced to follow as a result of what we have witnessed over the past one year,” he explains.
What makes Prakash way ahead of his time, is his forward thinking approach to remain grounded to his roots, thus his FDCI X LFW show was a bridge between the past and the present, as dots and stripes merged to create a pattern for the future. He paid homage to the Jharkhand Adivasis in the background with the draped sari and the elaborate headgear, as the 20 garments showcased are fabulously zero waste, cut in such a conscious manner that the leftover fabric was used again to create something new.
Would you call this ethical, many would call it “fashion morality” where you think through each step of the designing game, not only looking at the end product. This is what makes him the only fair trade certified company in India, a rarity in the overflowing river of mass consumerism and heartless production. “Think before you buy, think about who is making it, think if you really need it, think about how you can give back to the earth that you walk on! Otherwise nature will show its fury and rudely wake you up,” he concludes.