Author – Jessica Dsouza
Reduce, reuse and recycle has become the buzzword among urbanites to reduce the heaps of waste piling up in cities in India. While plastic, paper and glass waste materials are being recycled to some extent, clothes are rarely being reprocessed. Textiles and clothing material are nearly 100% recyclable. More and more people are giving away their old attire for recycling, but huge time and energy are spent to change the physical properties of the waste material.
Upcycling clothes is a better way to reuse old clothes without going through the textile recycling process that is energy and resource intensive. This is not a new concept, since modern-day upcycling originates from the 1930-40s, when families had very little economic ability or material resources during the World Wars. Even today, upcycling is a way of life for people in rural areas of developing countries as raw materials are expensive, so they use what they can find to create handicrafts, clothing, baskets, jewelry and other useful items.
Traditionally, nomadic tribes in India produce some wonderful quilts and chadors from old rags and cloths. Now this trend of upcycling clothes is catching up among chic fashion designers who are creating some eye-catching dresses by making use of the best of the waste:
Shailaja Rangarajan started ‘Rimagined’ as an e-commerce website and to be one of the first firms in India to promote such upcycled products with an eye on ethical consumerism. Being a former techie and a volunteer with Whitefield Rising in Bengaluru, Shailaja’s starting point was a search for alternative modes of consumption using minimal resources and pushing products back into the economy.
All products sold at Rimagined.com are produced by underprivileged women from self-help groups in rural Karnataka. It has tied up with women SHG in an NGO ‘Joy At Work’ based at Whitefield, Bengaluru to manufacture products from their label. Today, over 30 small firms working in the waste cloth upcycling segment are selling their goods on Rimagined.com and it has now opened its first brick & mortar store. Embroidery workers and tailors produce materials such as iPad pouches from cement bags or used denim. They earn up to ₹5,000 to ₹12,000 depending on orders.
Goonj is a well-known non-governmental organisation (NGO) based in Delhi. Founded in 1998 by Ashoka Fellow Anshu Gupta, the Goonj project collects unused clothing from all over India to reprocess the materials to provide clothes, sanitary and many other basic amenities to people living in poorer communities across the country. Goonj’s 300+ volunteers includes mass participation of housewives, professionals, students, corporates, who help in sending over 20,000kgs of recycled waste materials every month! A vast network of 100 grassroots agencies across India also help Goonj reach parts of 20 states of India.
Goonj started its “Not Just a Piece of Cloth” campaign”, when its Chennai centre was flooded with old, donated clothes right after the tsunami that occurred in 2004. The campaign focused on making sanitary pads that are biodegradable after looking at the poor hygienic conditions of women during their menstrual cycle in villages and slums. Today, Goonj MyPads, whieh are eco-friendly, affordable and easy-to-use clean cloth napkins made of waste cloth are sold ₹5 for a pack of five. For these initiatives, Goonj has won the prestigious Development Marketplace award from the World Bank and was declared “Indian NGO of the Year” as well.
Chindi started as a fun project from Tanushri Shukla’s love for knitting. Along with a friend who loved to crochet, the duo started making small things and gifting them to friends. All the raw material was waste that was generated at Tanushri’s family-run wholesale garment manufacturing unit. There are tons of waste fabric that the tailors call ‘chindi’ that are generated every day and, currently, most of this leftover fabric is tossed into garbage.
The response Tanushri got to their tiny gifts was overwhelming and it organically grew into an organization. Chindi started working with women from Mankhud slum in Mumbai in 2015 and has developed itself into a design firm that handcrafts and upcycles knitted products. Tanushri also believes that the best-case scenario for Chindi would be that it becomes redundant and all organizations upcycle their own waste.
Manisha and Ayesha Desai are the brains behind Cornucopia, who aim reuse and work towards a sustainable way of life. They started off in January 2017, when they made products for friends and family, as an experiment that turned out to be a great idea. All that needs to be done is, express the desire to transform their old and used T-shirts, kurtas, dupattas, sarees or any cloth into quilts and bedcovers and they will do it. Right now Cornucopia has pick-up facilities in only four cities – Pune, Mumbai, Delhi and Gurugram – but they are planning to improve the process of pick-up and shipping.
Dharam Pal Woollen Industries
Dharam Pal Woollen Industries is a company belonging to the Jindal Group. Rejected wool material of every kind—furry caps, extra-large cardigans, overalls—arrive from across the world to Jindal’s recycling plant in the textile town of Panipat, Haryana. Roughly 20 tons of used clothes are piled up that lie in the midday heat in an open tin shed every day. These clothes go into the shredder for extracting flossy fiber. This raw material is then used to produce yarn for making blankets, school blazer fabric and red-and-black checkered drapes popular among the Masai population of Tanzania and Kenya.
Kavita Jain, an NIFT alumnus is the face behind Needle Doodle. She makes a range of useful accessories like fabric totes, watch cases, children’s backpacks, shoe bags, laundry bags/swimwear pouches. The majority of her bags were made from eco-friendly jute and cotton blend material which had a soft feel unlike the regular jute fabric. Further, there were handbags made out of denim material that were embellished with detachable colored tassels in beads, feathers, chains, etc. What is unique about Kavita Jain’s bags is that she using old bits of clothing to style bags that would otherwise be used as rags to wipe the kitchen platform.
Meghna Nayak established LataSita, a Kolkata-based boutique design firm that upcycles sarees into gorgeous one-of-a-kind garments. It doesn’t matter how many times the saree has been used before, Meghna Nayak makes any upcycled saree desirable. She wishes to inspire the world to have a more eco-friendly approach. LataSita makes both pret and custom designs with worn saris, and the price range varies from ₹2500 to ₹15,000.
It would be great if someone can upcycle our grandma’s sarees into a fashionable trendy dress. Roshini M, a fashion technology student based in Coimbatore does exactly that! Roshini takes brocade and other dress material such as Chanderi, Bandhini and silk saris to create cute looking traditional dresses for children and women. She just utilises the skills of a sewing operator and pattern master and completes each order in ten days. Roshini produces a range of Pattu Pavadai and skirts that cost just ₹1000-1500.