Sustainability advocate and Tega Collective founder Niha Elety on ancenstral knowledge and her South Asian heritage

Meet Niharika Elety

Niharika Elety grew up in the southern city of Hyderabad where preservation and conservation percolated in the family value system. After moving to India from the US at an impressionable age of 11, she developed a curiosity and thirst for knowledge of sustainability from a South Asian lens and realized how ingrained it was in BIPOC cultures. “From the accessibility of locally made textiles and fresh food, to the flourishing cultural heritage, these systems were much healthier than what I saw in the Global North,” says Niharika. But unfortunately many countries like India are still reeling from the effects of colonization and capitalistic systems. And that is what inspired Niharika to advocate through art and design.

Sustainability, heritage, culture and fashion are the recurring themes of her artistic explorations and designs. When joining the sustainability space full of advocates and leaders, she noticed that there weren’t many discussions on culture and ancestral knowledge. Since then, her goal has been to bring inclusivity and a variety of perspective from BIPOC creators, whom she calls “the original sustainability leaders” to the environmental movement.

“I have always been a visual person starting art and design work from the age of 5. Living in halves in India and the US, “sustainable fashion” for me in India was just fashion because of the production of textiles that was inherently sustainable.”

On consumerism and sustainable fashion

Most consumers in India 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, and linen that are natural to the region as the product of regenerative agriculture. These fibers are then woven by weavers on a machine or handloom and dyed and printed or embroidered by artisans. Another common practice is consumer buying their fabrics and getting them stitched by a local tailor, which supports local economic and manual labor which is by definition a slow and transparent form of fashion.

With the rise of colonialism and the Industrial Revolution, our relationships with labor and the planet were cut. We became dissociated. Growing up surrounded by rich South Asian textiles, for Niharika, fashion was a vehicle for not only self-expression but a relationship with her culture as well.  “To me sustainable fashion is a powerful lens to explore the problems in our systems and that goes deeper than just environmental friendly fabrics and fair wages,” explains Niharika. She is actively working to bring these conversations to the forefront as a topic leader for intersectional environmentalists.

“I am currently reading Consumed by Aja Barber which discussed consumerism and its relationship with fashion, colonialism and climate change. It forces us to reckon with our relationship with purchases as well as the broken systems and how they hold up inequities in wealth, slavery, racism and environmental degradation.”

Influences and inspirations

As a digital creator, inspiration for Niharika also exists in the digital space. One of her favorite accounts to follow is @greendreamerkamea that talks about sustainability from all the nuanced views and helps decolonize a lot of notions around agriculture, fashion and capitalism. Her South Asian artistic series has gained immense prominence where she delves into the histories of different art and block printing techniques through a unique photography medium. Her recreations of Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings of women are also quite popular amongst art lovers.

What may seem a revolutionary move in making sustainability accessible and approachable; Niharika’s philosophy is essentially a trickle-down in her family. She loves rising with the sun and follows the circadian rhythm. “I love to wake up with a fresh mind and soak in the quiet in the morning in my garden.” She also loves cooking vegan recipes and often shares them on her Instagram.

“My friends and family describe me as overly passionate, creative and unconventional. I always take time in my day to have afternoon tea with my loved ones, give them a call or just spend time together in the house with a lot of food! I also have an amazing eco-community online that has influenced me to do my best but take rest as well.”

Way forward

Niharika is also the founder and co-creator at Tega Collective, a sustainable fashion enterprise that champions Adivasi communities from India and their textile traditions. Tega aims to highlight the traditional colors, patterns and natural symbols of the Adivasi communities by co-creating and collaborating with them for capsule collections. The Collective is set to launch in spring 2022.

With the growing need for representation, how does Niharika find ways to separate her love for art on a personal front? Is there a pressure to perform better than she already has? “It is a pressure I constantly feel especially when people are not as engaged as they used to be. I try to surround myself with inspirational things and remind myself that doing the best I can in that moment is more important. Growth will follow as a result,” she says.

As a woman, Niharika’s superpowers that help her excel at work are her empathy and compassion, something, she says, is lost a lot in this capitalistic world. Her message for the readers is – Hold on to your roots and heritage and reimagine it for the future.

Niharika’s will and determination is truly changing the face of Global Fashion and is helping thousands become more aware and be the change. We are beyond grateful to have her as part of our #AmrutamFamily!


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