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Fashion
May 13, 2019

Are We Really Making Mindful Fashion Choices?

Text by Rushmika Banerjee

It is time to step back from our harmful sartorial mindset and embrace fashion that is sensible

How many of us are guilty of having a secret, locked-up section in the wardrobe that has clothes you never wear? A T-shirt that you never liked or those pair of denims that will never fit you. I even have a few dresses with their tags intact – gifts that never saw the light of the day. What do you do with the surplus?. Mumbai-based Back Alley’s Thrift Shop encourages you to donate these clothes to their bi-yearly two-day event, which sells pre-used clothes, accessories, books and even home décor items at throwaway prices. The entire proceeds from the sale, in turn, go to various animal charities and women empowerment initiatives that the sisters support. Founded by cousins Maya Bhogilal and Radhika Dhawan in 2012, this set-up helps tackle the industry’s biggest concern – burgeoning landfills. Bhogilal says, “When I got married in 2012, I cleaned up my closet and realised that there are so many pieces in my wardrobe, which I had never even touched. This bothered me. So, Radhika and I sat down to decide what to do with all that stuff. And the idea of a vintage thrift store started taking shape – a concept that is more prevalent in the international market. We found enough clothes in both our closets, which were in good condition. Our criterion was simple – we made sure to only pick things that we would buy again. We figured if we could donate so much to this event, there had to be more people out there who would have more.” Bhogilal and Dhawan’s pop-up store springs up twice a year – once before summer starts and the second time before Diwali.

Fashion that looks good and does good
While conversations around the fashion industry being one of the largest pollutants in the world have are frequent. One thing, however, that isn’t being addressed enough is that of the surplus clothes and resources that are already present in the system. Designers are gradually creating circular business models, brands and social welfare entrepreneurs are simultaneously educating and encouraging the consumer to make mindful fashion choices. Donating the surplus to charity, swapping clothes within a like-minded community or creating products out of recycled plastic are some of the ways one can contribute.. The idea behind this – waste less and reuse as much as you can.

Modern-day recycling
Fairtrunk is another interesting initiative that encourages people to participate in clothes-swapping activities. Founded by Darshana Gajare in 2016, Fairtrunk is a sustainable platform for fashion and lifestyle brands and it does more than just asking people to exchange clothes.  It’s an online marketplace that curates ethical brands, provides end-to-end services to upcoming sustainable labels and organises Fairtrunk Offline – a three to five day event filled with talks, seminars and other interactive activities that aim to spread awareness about sustainability. Gajare says, “Our services programme is actually helping small and medium-sized businesses understand what circularity means in fashion. We help them identify the raw materials and ethical production vendors or connect them to national and international wholesalers and retailers. As we have worked with so many brands over the years, we realised that there was this gap in the market where big factories were not entertaining smaller labels because of their order quantities. Hence, we have built this network of vendors and brands to help them bridge the gap. When we do offline events we get to interact with the consumer and build an ecosystem for a sustainable lifestyle. I think it is important for us to galvanise the  movement in India.”.

We usually partner with this NGO that Evelyn Sharma runs called Seams for Dreams to help us with the seed inventory. They do a lot of fundraising events and donation of clothes for charity. They also have a wider network that includes celebrities and fashion designers who help them in this cause. So how it works is, if you are coming for a swap, you get clothes from your wardrobe that you no longer wear. We don’t encourage people to get stuff that is torn and worn out. We also do a quality check to see if it is in good condition so that we can put it on the swap floor. Once that is done, we take an hour to set it up and then invite people inside,” explains Gajare.

Besides these social initiatives in Mumbai, a mobile app called This For That allows people to swap pre-owned pieces from each other’s wardrobes, simply by uploading a picture of the product online. Founded by Nancy Bhasin in Delhi, there is no money involved in the process and you get to upgrade your wardrobe for free. Meanwhile, Bengaluru-based Dhaval Mane, who works in collaboration with Global Fashion Exchange – an international platform promoting sustainability in the fashion industry – organised the city’s biggest clothes swapping event last year. Over the years several Indian designers and labels such as The Label Life, Quirkbox, Veruschka and Whim by Poorvi have also donated surplus bags of clothes to this cause.

Pani is an Indian swimwear label founded in 2018 that caters to the Indian woman’s body type. Along with promoting a social message of body positivity, Mumbai-based Leila Veerasamy is also creating her products out of Econyl – a yarn made in Europe using fishing nets and recycled plastic waste. However, the designer does not create her swimwear line in India due to lack of proper labour laws and equipment for stitching knitwear or stretchy fabrics. “We decided to manufacture in Sri Lanka because it is a well-known hub for swimwear and athletic wear.  The government and industry are more transparent there. They also focus on working with premium brands. These brands are, in turn, able to provide ethical working conditions and basic amenities for their workers along with the appropriate wages,” says Veerasamy.

A fair price
What is driving the purchasing powers of millennials today? Great deals on a budget and value for the money spent. The scale of sustainability is not merely based on how organic your lifestyle is. It covers a gamut of practices, which also involves being sensible towards your purchasing habits. Bhogilal says that the prices at her thrift store start at a 100 and go up to 5000. Last year somebody had even donated a Stella McCartney jacket with the tags still on so they sold it for about 4500 rupees. Similarly a second-hand Prada bag or a Tarun Tahiliani blouse was purchased without a second thought. Even at Pani’s official website the price starts from 1800 rupees.

Similar to change, sustainability begins at home. The way to offset having to shell out more for sustainable clothing, is to consume less and repurpose more. Like Vivienne Westwood taught us – ‘Buy less, choose well and make it last.’

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