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Welcome to 2018. Talk is cheap, wardrobes are cheaper, and the rise (and rise) of fast fashion has all but led to an environmental crisis. In India, the story is still in its early stages and it could work for or against us. According to India’s Global Consumer Insights predictions, by 2030, our country could become the world’s third largest apparel market—a cue H&M, Forever 21, Zara and more apparel brands who have recently entered the Indian market are majorly cashing in on.
Beyond the shady underbelly of the fast fashion industry, lies the future of India—not as a global superpower—but as the world’s largest rubbish dump. India’s current use-and-throw line of thought contradicts what our mothers, grandmothers, and so on, have been doing for centuries, i.e. making use of everything until its very last breath. It’s more about repurposing items, over avoiding mindless purchases. Think about your old T-Shirt-turned-rag used to wipe down surfaces or the floor. Perhaps your favourite shirt at some point was also your older sibling’s favourite, before they grew out of it; hand-me-downs are a standard for a household with siblings. If you’re lucky enough to have your grandmother around the house, happily bustling around the kitchen, you’ll know that wet waste isn’t waste for her. Everything is reusable, whether it’s a bunch of roots for her magical herbal remedies, an all natural facial or even just as manure for her little garden; she ensures a good 80% of wet waste is used instead of simply discarded.
When I brought the same up around my co-workers, memory lane quickly weaved itself into a bright patchwork quilt. Comforting and revealing all at once. A map for how things could be with a little contemporary innovation, qlthough one was still harbouring resentment about her favourite old pajamas being recycled into pillow covers. The point to focus on here is that we’ve been collectively reusing and recycling for decades...so why are we stopping now? Currently about 40% of dry waste is recycled as PET bottles supply the textile industry and paper goes right to the paper mills. What makes for the remaining 60% of dry waste are lower grades of plastic and waste cloth. Ideally, waste cloth is sent to incinerators, cement factories, or more commonly, landfills. Depending on the material, a piece of cloth could take anywhere up to 20 to 40 years to decompose. You don’t have to do the math to figure that this means the rate of decomposition is far lower than the rate of growing waste.
We could go either way, it all depends on when the penny truly drops for a majority of our nation. Sustainability experts state that it is in fact emerging market economies who care more about ethical fashion by 65% as compared to a mere 32% by developed market counterparts. Surprisingly, India made up for a good 78% of the respondents, followed by 65% from China—proving that these two nations could potentially be the key to curbing these massive problems when it comes to waste textiles.
For starters, let’s talk about how you can get involved, along with all the clothes you no longer want.
Generation Z Y X ...W
The generation gap is what essentially comes into play here. Talk to your parents about their spending habits when they were our age. Brands were just about entering the Indian market and a majority of the Indian population remained conscious of their spending habits, as well as of their products. My mother still has her old bell-bottoms, dungarees, and vintage shirts hanging in her closet. I’m not sure I could say the same for anything from even my last shopping haul, and it’s a sentiment most people from my era can relate to.
Mindless disposal is the go-to solution for waste clothes, a factor increasing annually as a result of our growing economy (the richer a country, the more waste generated). In 1999, every Indian was approximately generating 1.01 pounds of trash per day, as compared to the 11.2 pounds of trash each resident in Hong Kong was generating. Today, the Energy and Resources Institute has stated that our numbers stand to increase five-fold by 2047!
Millennials as consumers are very aware—they know their brands, they understand trends and are generally conscious of all things ‘current’. It’s this exact awareness that needs to be tapped into, for a more environmentally conscious stream of thought. A few individuals have already begun paving a path towards a more sustainable lifestyle via eco-friendly homestays, giving up fast-fashion, and in general, simply being more mindful of their carbon footprint and its impact on the environment. They aren’t giving up their lifestyles, they’re simply making wiser choices—choices you could easily make too.
Here’s how you can start incorporating a few of these changes, without completely shaking up your norm:
I. Visit Your Local Tailor
Unsure of where to start? Just ask around your neighbourhood or workplace. Everyone’s got their own tailors, kitted out with certain skills - from those who can help fix your torn pants or shirts, to the more elaborate ones who can save your grandma’s old saree by turning it into a contemporary lehenga for you. Get your clothing items altered instead of replaced! It’s cost-effective AND saves you from losing out on an old favourite.
II. Second-Hand Clothing Apps & Websites
If there’s an app to prevent you from drunk dialing certain numbers, there’s definitely an app that’ll help you deal with waste efficiently. Currently, there are a number of applications and websites online that offer to either sell your clothes for you, or even allow you to trade your clothes for someone else’s clothing. Shopping for second-hand clothing or thrift shopping online is an option for several—and it’s an easy way to make money or even get yourself new clothes if you’re ready for a barter. Look up the app Spoyl and SnobSwap for a better idea.
III. NGOs & Churches
When you’re working in a metropolitan city, there’s hardly enough time to breath. So it’s understandable when one says they don’t necessarily have the time to visit a local NGO to donate old clothing. Well, heads up, we live in the year 2018—they’ll gladly come to your doorstep and pick up bundles of old clothes that are still usable. Share At Door Step specifically does the same.
While a church won’t necessarily come to your doorstep, you’re bound to have one in your neighbourhood that you pass by. Find a friendly Christian auntie and ask her when the church is next taking donations. This way, you know your old clothes will find a new home that’ll value it just as much.
IV. Brands That Upcycle Your Clothes
It goes without saying that if you’re looking into being more sustainable, you should consider looking into local brands who have a transparent line of production, allowing their consumers to make decisions based on the same. Not only will these clothes give you a longer shelf-life, you’ll know that they also come with a strong identity emboldened by ethics.
Upcycling is a fashion statement in itself—one that refurbishes an old, discarded item, giving it a whole new life. As the familiar phrase goes, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Brands like Doodlage, 11:11, Péro and more, weave pure magic out of ‘scraps’. Péro specifically, is known for their unique customizations of pieces handed to them by clients! In fact, a revamped jacket is what led to the very birth of this conscious label.
Designers aren’t the only ones focusing on this ethos of upcycling though, there are more like The Initiative who’ll happily breathe life into an old sari by turning it into a traditional Indian quilt, colloquially termed a godhadi. They’re even creating laptop covers, organiser books and more out of the same!
V. Drop Clothes Off at Commercial Stores
Of late, commercial stores—even though we have been ranting about them being the root cause of evil in this scenario—have opened their doors to those who need to discard old clothing. Marks & Spencer even organized a Clothes Exchange Programme that offered participants a voucher of INR 600. H&M too offers to take old clothes off your hands.
While there’s no direct way to have your clothes shipped here, we still thought it made for an interesting bit of information for those looking into recycling seriously.
VI. Where Clothes Go To Die (But Come Back As Yarn)
While the West has already been privy to this information for decades and sending second-hand garments to Asia’s largest textile recycling hub, it’s come to our country’s notice only of late. A regular day for most of the companies here involves handling over 75,000kg of second-hand clothes. Clothes are shredded, to extract fibre turning them back into raw material. From thereon, the raw material is repurposed accordingly.
There’s a plethora of options out there, if you look hard enough. It won’t be easy at first, but once you get into the groove of it all, you’ll have a whole new wardrobe at a quarter of the cost. (Though saving the planet is the real bonus here. Baby steps, but we’ll get there.)
If you know of any other companies, initiatives or things people do to recycle their clothes, let us know in the comments below.
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