Rethink: Fashion

An illustration of white t-shirts on a clothing rail with a pair of legs coming out the bottom of one of them.

Sustainability activist and Mumbai member, Bandana Tewari, says it’s time to wake up and change the way we shop

By Praachi Raniwala   Illustration by Andrey Kasay   Sunday 31 May, 2020    Long read

Mindfulness isn’t just for your daily meditation practice anymore. Today, it needs to become the driving force behind all your habits, shopping included. It’s a wardrobe crisis of a different kind, as the conversation on sustainability in fashion jumps from headlines to our very own closets. To paraphrase Anne Klein, clothes aren’t going to change the world (as much as they provide immeasurable happiness to some). The people who wear them will. How so? By understanding that every ‘add to cart’ counts.

To put it bluntly, conscious consumption is not an option, it’s the only answer. Sustainability activist, Bandana Tewari, has been at the forefront of this conversation on sartorial sustainability – not only with her words, but also as a special advisor to the Copenhagen Fashion Summit and an expert panelist for the Global Change Award in Stockholm. Having worked for Vogue India for 13 years, before venturing into activism in sustainable fashion, Tewari is poised to share everyday steps that will have a big impact, via small individual choices. 

It begins with taking responsibility 
‘In its consumer report that surveyed thousands of people across 50 countries, KPMG noted that people no longer ‘go’ shopping, but ‘are’ shopping online every minute with their smartphones. This frenzy has resulted in 34 million shipping containers being carted around the world every year, but so-called convenience has wide-reaching ramifications that we need to be aware of individually. One garbage truck of clothes goes into a landfill or is burnt every second. It is time we stop relying on everyone else to address the issues of sustainability, and take personal responsibility over consumption habits that certainly contribute to climate change. We need to now acknowledge how individual choices impact our environment.’

Less is the new more 
‘We are buying too much, and fuelling a consumerist doctrine of insatiability and disposability without accountability. As a result, we have allowed fashion conglomerates to fuel this need for more and more, faster not fewer. There is no point in looking stylish on a dead planet. Buy less. Repair, recycle and reuse. I advocate a #shoppingdiet – we go on all these excruciating diets to cleanse our body, so it’s time we did the same with our consumption habits, too. Refrain from buying new things for short bursts of our lives. The goal is to create less “stuffocation” – suffocation with stuff.’
A t-shirt with a face on it eating a pair of human legs.
Understand sustainability within the context of your culture and society
‘We are told organic cotton is very sustainable. But in countries like India, cotton (that’s extremely water resource-heavy) is over-farmed to the point that the farmlands have become arid. Do we use the water resources for drinking or for farming cotton? In India, organic cotton also comes at a very high cost of livelihoods to rural communities. Understand that just because something is organic, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s sustainable.’

Cheap and chic? Not quite 
‘When we purchase things that are cheap, we think it’s a steal and pile more into our carts. But the real cost of those clothes are being borne by men and women (mostly from developing countries) who make them while being overworked, underpaid and exploited. So, think twice when something is cheap. Think harder when your T-shirt costs less than a cup of coffee, because it means there is great disservice done to those who are invisible in the supply chain.’

Make more space for pre-loved fashion  
‘Buying second-hand clothes [from the many resale sites still running during lockdown] is a must to reduce inventory waste and dumping. In fact, the second-hand clothing industry is expected to grow 1.5 times the size of fast fashion within the next 10 years. In Bali (my home for now), my friend Daniella and I started Bali Swap, where loved clothes find new homes, not landfills. It’s a community event that encourages sharing, exchanging and respecting clothes and their makers.’ 

Curate a wardrobe that is sentimental, not trendy 
‘When my mother gave me her saris that were passed down to her from my grandmother, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I knew immediately that there was a sense of responsibility to hold onto them and look after them because of their provenance. If all our clothing purchases evoked the same sentiment, we would not throw them away and pollute the environment. I personally love buying clothes crafted from handmade textiles. I also like dipping into the cultures and communities where my items come from. When we sensitise ourselves about the many hands that toiled for those beautiful garments to grace our bodies, we become more aware that ruthlessly disposing of them is an act of cruelty.’ 
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