Sustainability is not a one-step process, it is continuously making the right choice at every juncture.

Sustainable fashion Meet the fashionistas who upcycle and recycle every bit of clothTanaya
Features Fashion Tuesday, August 01, 2017 - 18:51
Written by  Priyanka Raman

Earlier this year, Eileen Fisher shocked the world when she said that the clothing industry is among the most polluting industries in the world, second only to the oil industry.

When we think of pollution, the mental imagery is usually that of coal-power plants or chemical waste flooding lakes and rivers. And yet, the very garments that we don have been impacting the plant negatively.

Did you know for instance, that manufacturing a simple cotton t-shirt can consume more than 5000 gallons of water? This means that while cotton may be biodegradable, as compared to other synthetic fabrics, it is not exactly eco-friendly.

While industrial dyeing of fabrics has made our wardrobes vibrant, these chemical plants may be putting our planet in danger.

And thanks to Fast Fashion, garments across the world are probably manufactured in developing countries and shipped half-way across the globe. The demand for quick and cheap clothes is rising and more clothes are being manufactured every day to meet the demand. Then, of course, there is the issue of disposal of these garments.

 Sustainable fashion

Although some brands like ESPRIT brought sustainable fashion in the 1990s, it's only in recent times that fashionistas have woken up to the dangers that their whims could be causing. Fashion bloggers and entrepreneurs alike are slowly yet steadily bringing about an eco fashion wave. Sustainable fashion or eco fashion is a philosophy which aims to be as friendly as possible to the environment.

Image courtesy: Shilpa in an upcycled skirt/

Shilpa Ramachandran, a sustainable fashion blogger, says, “Sustainability in fashion is multi-fold. It means the fabric must be responsibly sourced and the labour must meet ethical standards. It means the world should buy less and dispose lesser. Sustainable fashion to me means using more of what you already have. It means stopping mindless shopping and when you absolutely have to shop, prioritizing quality over quantity. Pollution threat by the fashion industry is real and it's high time people are made aware of this fact. The "I have a closet full of clothes but I have nothing to wear" emotion was made a fun and fashionable thing by the big MNCs who want you to feel incomplete. Sustainable fashion is about changing that attitude!”

Tanaya Das, a self-confessed handcrafted textile geek, adds, “I believe in investing in high quality, handcrafted, natural fabrics and clothing that one can have and appreciate for years. Being a conscious consumer isn't as hard as one may think, it is actually an amazing amount of fun to get creative without running to Forever21 every day. Especially in India we have such an amazing textile heritage that is a never-ending source of inspiration.”

One does not have to be a fashionista to believe in the philosophy and incorporate it in one's day to day life. Living in the subcontinent has some advantages that people living in the west may not be able to enjoy. Easy access to handlooms is among them. More and more people believe sarees are among the most eco-friendly garments simply because they can last for generations and even after they have lost their sheen and are worn out, they can be upcycled into bags, quilts, wash cloths and more.

Image courtesy: Rushika Gadani in a vintage weave

Rushika Gadani, a clinical dermatologist and avid textile lover says, “Sustainable fashion to me means to get the most wears out of what already populates my closet rather than chasing the mirage of the latest, the greatest or the most exclusive. I personally go by the concept of "30 wears", which in a nutshell stands for getting the most out of our existing clothes.”

Some others go the extra mile to initiate upcycling of sarees and starting groups that facilitate the trade and exchange of pre-loved sarees. After all, a saree you have are bored of may still be treasured by someone else. Vidya Ramamurthy prides herself in being an upcycler and revivalist. Her Facebook groups facilitate the exchange of pre-loved sarees among saree lovers & when the sarees have done their part, they can be transformed into utilitarian items like bags, potlis and other household items.  

Incorporating the philosophy to everyday wardrobes

Sustainability is not a one-step process, it is continuously making the right choice at every juncture. Over a period of time, this means going the extra mile to make sure you do the right thing. This does not mean one can’t be fashionably turned out.

Tanaya says, “I prefer to ethically source my clothing and accessories, buy from independent brands, buy handloom fabrics and get stuff tailored, wear heaps of vintage and one of a kind pieces, I DIY like a fiend and refuse to enter the H&M/ Zara type places and won't touch anything nylon, polyester, acrylic, rayon etc. I look at clothing labels constantly and can spot good silk from a kilometer away, I can literally smell out cotton, silk and linen from a pile of fabric scraps. I love to upcycle and repurpose pretty things. I am not afraid to experiment, it is all about having fun with clothing, I don’t follow any rules and I definitely don’t let anyone else tell me what to wear.”

Image courtesy: Tanaya/

Being mindful of what you buy and building a wardrobe that is versatile is important. This may mean investing in garments that not just last long but can be mixed and matched.

Shilpa explains, “Rule no.1 for me when I adopted sustainability was to not get rid of my old clothes just because they weren't responsibly made clothes. Throwing them only adds to the landfills and pollution. I am learning to make the most of what I have. I love shopping inside my closet and now I think repeating clothes is normal and a human thing to do! When I do occasionally buy clothes, I ensure they are basic pieces which I can layer and style in several different ways and I ensure the brands I buy from are responsible, sustainable brands.”

Those who are lucky enough to wear sarees in their everyday life have it easier than others. Simply because sarees last a lifetime and can be passed from mother to daughter or exchanged.

Rushika says, “I mainly wear handloom sarees in my professional life, so I tend to go for plain or textured sarees which can be paired with a plethora of blouses to keep things fresh as I keep repeating the individual components of the ensemble. Also, sustainability means shopping locally and reducing the carbon footprint of my clothings, as well as actively supporting local businesses like the friendly neighborhood tailor.”

Upcycle or wear them vintage

Vidya has taken it upon herself to not waste anything that enters her household. This has given way to many interesting upcycling projects. She says, “Restricting the usage of a saree as a saree feels wrong. I try to make waistcoats, potlis, stoles, cluth purses, bags & more out of my sarees.”

Image courtesy: Vidya; Upcycled bags/

The sky is the limit when it comes to upcycling. Tanaya loves experimenting with upcycling & DIY projects for her personal wardrobe. She says, “I have made sarees by sewing together multiple dupattas, hand-embroidered mirror work on denim, I wear vintage saree blouses as tops, make lehengas out of old silk sarees, make shirts from gauzy silk scarves and much much more.”

Rushika values vintages. Like old wine, there is something special about old weaves. For starters they are better woven.

“The value of vintage! I am lucky enough to be handed down a good number of sarees and also invest in quality pre-loved sarees... Rather than upcycling these, my primary aim is to wear them as sarees itself, because trends are fickle while sarees stand the test of time. They may not always be in pristine condition though, which is perfectly fine with me, and most flaws can be fixed with careful repairs or a quality dye job”

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