Retracing My Steps

Retracing My Steps

It is a household ritual that, perhaps, all of us born in the pre hi-fashion chains, gigantic malls, trend-o-meter driven era, have been a part of. I was reminded of it recently when I was reading Padma Desai’s autobiography ‘Breaking out’. Remembering her childhood spent in Surat, Gujarat during the 1930s, she writes”…innovative recycling practices that established mother and father as genuine environmentalists decades ahead of their contemporaries in the west.” Her parents continued the practice till the very end, much to the amazement of their grandchild who detailed, “When Papa’s shirt is worn out, grand mother first removes all the buttons after which it is used for dusting the furniture. When it goes into tatters, grandmother cuts it into pieces, rolls them up and uses them for lighting fire.”
I remember my mother, who was very fond of cotton saris, would starch and wear them forever, meticulously getting it darned and storing in neem leaves during winters, till the colour faded. After which depending on the condition of the sari, it was either given away or was quilted together with other cotton saris and made into soft mattress covers. Eventually the worn out covers were traded for brand new stainless steel utensils.
This nation has been an eco friendly one even before the term was coined, where conscious, sustainable choices were routinely made. We bought our garments that were grown organically by farmers, lovingly woven by master weavers, dyed in vegetable dyes, stitched in innovative ways and hand embroidered. We wore it with deference ensuring its longevity and these handcrafted, one-of-a-kind garments were given away to future generations as heirloom pieces. Unknown to us, we were wearing haute couture on a daily basis.
The advent of inter-net changed it all, swiftly and surely. The traditional garments felt ‘dated’ and the looks ‘aunty ji’ like. Trendy export rejects, offered at throw away price, got our loving embrace and we thronged Fashion Street and Janpath, never mind that the ‘Smash’ t shirt would be smashed beyond help in a couple of washes.
Today these garments are choking the developed nations. In US alone, 11.1 million tons of textiles end up in landfill. An average American throws 70 pounds worth of clothing every year out of which only 15% get recycled.*
An estimated 350,000 tons of used clothing goes to landfill in the UK every year. An average UK household owns around £4,000 worth of clothes – and around 30% of clothing in wardrobes has not been worn for at least a year.**
We are swiftly catching up with this dismal future as India’s apparel consumption is expected to grow at twice the global rate and from 2010 to 2015, per capita apparel consumption will increase by 50%.***
At this point in time, we are in a highly vulnerable state with mass advent of international and national fast fashion brands. Affordable price point and syncronisation with accelerated fashion cycles push us into buying a leopard print jump suit where future wearability is uncertain but what is certain is the ethical disposability conundrum.
To overcome this, there is a thumb rule that I go by. I do a quick enquiry
1. Where will I wear this garment?
2. Is there a functional lifespan? How often can I wear it?
3.Can I actively use it for 3 years?
4.In case I change my mind, will my daughter/ niece be a happy recipient of such garment?
5.If all else fails, what will I do with it?
I try to buy something that I truly love and will wear to death and well, recycle it post its demise. More often than not, the ‘cool’ garment and I part amicably at the store floor. I come away thrilled with the realization that the money I save on not buying four such garments will take me closer to a stunning, one of a kind dress that will live with me happily ever after, in a land which is s tiny bit greener for it.
*USA Today Environmental News
**’Valuing our clothes’, a report by WRAP (Waste & Resource action Programmed).
*** US Census Bureau, EU CBI.


My own Perennial Pieces
Rajesh Pratap Singh’ shirt. A gift from Nisha that I’ve worn and worn forever.

Deepika Govind’s kurta. A khadi asymmetric fitted tunic with delicate work

Denim cropped jacket from a hi street brand that I’ve been wearing for 8 years.

A handwoven stole by Soutache.

Palazzos by Upasana presents many wearability options.

Block printed with vegetable dyes on silk. A stole from Pracheen.