How many times in the recent past have you said to yourself, “I have nothing to wear!” The social media has given rise to a trend of ‘fast fashion’ across the world. Fashion seasons are now shorter, and styles are getting outdated faster than ever before. In many Western cultures, the problem is very severe, with people throwing away piles of completely unwanted fabric in the trash. In India, it is probably a nascent issue still – but, one that is likely to spiral out of control soon. In this article, we explore the dangers of excesses, and make a case for responsible, and sustainable fashion.
When did Fashion become an Environmental Threat
Consider this, a typical pair of jeans takes 7000 liters of water to produce. That is the amount of water that can sustain the life of 35 people per day. Now, factor in the reality that every year, 2 billion pairs of jeans are manufactured in the world. And, this is only denim. So, if we are caught in a trend of quick discard of fashion, we are actively contributing to the disastrous water problem of the world.
Now, let’s talk trash! Globally, only 1/4th of the 80 billion pieces of clothing manufactured every year is recycled. The rest ends up in landfills, to be incinerated, only to release toxic chemicals used in the dyeing process.
The cost of fashion is reducing, and the accessibility growing, with the boom of the e-commerce industry. This lowers the need to reuse clothing, which means all the more pressure on landfills. There is no doubt, the world is drowning in excess clothing!**
The Situation in India
The problem should have been nondescript in India, right? After all, India is a poor country, that culturally wastes little. A large section of population in India has always recycled old clothes. However, India is a country of large numbers, so even a little adds up to a lot.
India’s consumerism is changing rapidly. A decade back, Indian middle class would purchase clothes once or twice a year. Today, urban India is buying clothes about 10-12 times a year, on an average.
Fast Fashion came to India in 2010, when Spanish retailer, Zara, opened its first store in India. City dwellers were hungry for international, relatively affordable, fashion choices in the country. They lapped it up. Zara opened 18 stores across India in a short span of 5 years.
Today, it is not just Zara. H&M and Uniqlo are here. GAP is trying to capture the imagination of the market. And, other international brands are queuing up. Indian retailers don’t want to miss the bus either. The Future Group has launched it’s Fast Fashion outlet, Cover Story. They have said that they are planning to update designs every eight weeks, instead of three times a year. So, fast fashion is here to stay.
What can we do then?
Well, it will be foolhardy to assume that we can roll back our consumerism, or love for fashion, or both. But, that doesn’t mean we cannot find an optimal way out. There are quite a few ways in which we can prep to tackle the issue. Here are a few we think are the most interesting:
For ages, India has had the concept of ‘costume renting’. But, renting of fashion is new and exciting. Quite a few companies, like Flyrobe, Swishlist, Stage3, LibeRent, are bringing beautiful, wearable fashion to consumers, on a rental basis. This solves the problem by making changing fashion available, without the need to own! These companies offer the option to rent for a few days, at a fifth of the cost, and with a small, returnable, deposit. Not having to buy clothes for every party is a huge relief, isn’t it?
One trend in fashion that can offset the impact of fast fashion, is fashion reselling. People have started using reselling platforms like Olx, Quikr, to sell used fashion. In fact, there are a few companies that have started exclusively offering fashion resell platforms. Special mention to Elanic and SimplySane for setting the trend.
This is not new in India at
all. For ages, Indians have found second homes for their used clothing. Today, there are organized efforts in that direction, pioneered by the NGO, Goonj! Goonj annually deals with over 3000 tons of material. They have established a parallel economy, and pay clothes for work, in 1500+ developmental activities. Goonj has literally taken India’s material trash, and converted it into usable resource for those in need.
Unfortunately, India has used this spectacular effort as a literal ‘trash can’. Last year, ScoopWhoop published the story revealing what India has been sending to Goonj collection centers in the name of donations. There were disturbing photos in the article, and items included filthy, soiled clothing, unwashed utensils, broken plastic, uneaten food, and garbage of all conceivable form. This shows a lack of empathy, and callousness towards the issue, that needs to be redressed. Used thoughtfully, organizations like Goonj could not only save India from the wrath of waste clothing, but also spin it into a economic resource.
This is right up India’s alley. Our mothers and grandmothers have been advocating this from time immemorial. Your dress is faded, make it a mop. Your trouser is torn, stitch it. Your kurta is ripped, re-purpose it into a satchel. The art of making quilts, using Kantha stitch, is gaining world-wide appreciation today. But, Indians, especially in Bengal and Odisha, have used this art to re-purpose old sarees into beautiful quilts, for ages.
Many companies in Northern India actually weave a new yarn from discarded clothes. Companies like RagBag collect old teabags, cotton rags, and plastic, and up-cycle them into beautiful bags. They also employ ‘rag-pickers’, and other economically struggling population, providing much needed employment opportunities. Even international brands have joined the recycling bandwagon. Last year, H&M launched their Conscious Exclusive collection of clothing. The entire line is created using sustainable material — like reused and recycled textiles.
Are there other ways in which we can mitigate the threat of Clothing Waste disaster? Comment below or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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