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Let’s Get Thrifty: A Guide to Sustainable Fashion

We have become extremely brand conscious in India, with the increase in earning power of the middle class. We are quick to judge people by their attire and logos stitched onto their outfits. People are likely to judge you more harshly if you tell them you buy secondhand clothes. I worked at a charity thrift shop when living in London for a while and it changed my ideology about garments, shopping, and fashion. I haven’t come across a single thrift store in India, so I wanted to take this opportunity to introduce India to the idea and ideology of thrifting.

The concept of thrifting is that people donate their used clothing items, which are then refurbished and/or re-sold. There is a perception that second-hand clothes shopping is dirty or somehow unhygienic, but that’s far from the truth. At EcoDhaga, all items received are first sorted according to their lifespan and use case: thrifted items, for donations, and materials suited for upcycling. We also keep an eye out for items that are too worn out, to be sold or worn. These items are recycled under our No Thread to Waste initiative.

Once the clothes are sorted, we check each item carefully for stains, wear and tear, and general condition. There is a whole process involved before the clothes are made available for resale. I should also mention that in the thrift store, I was working at in London, I occasionally come across high-end brands that were sold at a steep discount. Even at EcoDhaga, conscious fashionistas can get high-end brands at up to 90% off their original retail price. Often, these were never worn by the owner or worn a time or two at maximum.

“I once found a pair of Fendi Boots for £300 knocked down from a £1900 retail price. They were a size too small, unfortunately. I almost had a Grim Brothers’ thought moment, but decided against chopping off my toes to fit into the shoes at that price.”

The thrift shop was also an interesting way to explore new brands that you may not have come across on the high street or in the malls in your vicinity.

You can find daily essentials for a budget steal. During peak winters, I remember buying myself a coat for £15, only to find out later that it was pure cashmere. As a student, saving money always felt good. As an earning/struggling millennial, saving still feels good, although with the bombardment of advertisements in India, the opportunity to do so seems less.

Lastly, shopping from thrift stores kind of eased my conscience about the environmental cost of my purchases. Working at the thrift store definitely made me introspect about the waste problem and how I fit into it.

Let’s take our vivid imaginations for a drive. We are complacent in our ignorance. We live in denial about how and where our waste ends up or is ultimately treated. Imagine, on a long drive with your significant other, you notice a hill near your city. That’s odd; you never knew your local terrain to have hills so you drive closer to check out this potential scenic view. As you approach, your senses are assaulted with the stench of a city’s waste that was not segregated. Smell something fishy? That’s our unsegregated waste, and clothing items trashed by households in India make up almost 51% of it.

So it stands there, a hill of waste, towering over you, taunting you about the economy in the boom. It is urging you to go back into your bubble world of consumerism where you can shop to make yourself feel better and forget about where your waste truly goes.

If we collected the total waste we generated, right at our doorstep for an entire year, we would maybe start to see the point of the advice ‘waste management must begin at home’.

Thrifting can reduce waste, and maximize the utility of a product. Until the thrifting culture takes root in India, I can leave you with a few suggestions on how to practice consciousness to reduce waste and curb the environmental impact of your fashion choices in your daily lives and your coveted wardrobes:

Mend your clothes: Get them rafoo’d or cover that old stain with new embroidery or that rip with a logo tag.

Redesign your old clothes: I found a like-minded tailor in my city, who was very enthusiastic about upcycling my mom’s old sarees into modern ethnic outfits for me. So far, he has helped me recycle 4 sarees into a sharara, 2 lehengas, and a gown with a cape. This supports the local artisans and people who rely on tailoring to earn their daily wages in my local community.

Upcycle your old clothes: Worn a dress too many times? Cannot get that stain out of that jeans? Turn it into something useful around the house. Turn your old shirt into an apron or turn your old saree into curtains!

Set up a clothes swap with your friends, family, or siblings: I don’t believe that t-shirts should be gendered even if they are, but I shop from the men’s t-shirt section because they are longer and have more design options in round necks. I constantly swap t-shirts with my brother who also likes wearing round-neck t-shirts.

Fashion for rent: Nowadays there are rent-a-runway-type companies that are disrupting the fashion industry. Be a rebel and rent an outfit this festive season.

It’s time to be a little mindful of how our actions impact the environment, and just a little effort can go a long way.

Thrift with EcoDhaga

With every purchase you make from EcoDhaga, you are doing so much more than just thrifting to help us close the fashion loop. Every paisa earned at EcoDhaga helps us donate it forward, upcycle products with the help of the local artisan community that we hire, upskill and train and recycle every scrap fabric responsibly.


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