Arts and Entertainment

Creating a responsible fashion ecosystem

- SACHITRA GURUNG, Kathmandu

May 29, 2019-

Spread over multiple portable cloth-rails, clothes are neatly placed on hangers at the patio in Base Camp, a restaurant in Jhamsikhel. The crowd sifts through the clothes on display, occasionally holding one against their body to check the fit in front of mirrors placed around the space. But the people are not there to buy anything--at least not through monetary transactions--they are there to swap clothes with their used ones.

This event ‘Global Swap’, takes place every three months, and invites people to take with them any piece of clothing, in exchange for providing the organiser, Haushala Creatives, with their own used clothes--ones that no longer fit them or they no longer wear.

“The concept is pretty new, but it was amazing to see the number of young people who participated in that event,” says Rhea Pradhan, a fashion blogger, who participated in the first edition of Global Swap, on April, 2018. “It is one of the best ways to reduce textile waste.”

Due to the rise of fast fashion industries, people these days are buying more and more clothes--which in turn are becoming cheaper and more readily available. Since fast fashion clothes are cheap and easily accessible, people don’t think twice before discarding them, and most of these discarded clothes end up in landfills. These clothes, made usually from synthetic fibres, take about 20-200 years to decompose. Thus, in the name of following the latest fashion trends, people are failing to take into account the environmental effects such practices have.

In order to minimise such adverse effects, a few local organisations have started to follow sustainable practices--such as swapping, upcycling and using environment-friendly fibres and dyes while manufacturing their products--and in the process initiated a sustainable fashion movement in the city.

“Promoting sustainable fashion is a movement that sheds light on the adverse effects fast fashion has on the earth and on our health,” says Haushala Thapa, co-founder of Haushala Creatives, a social venture that ethically manufactures handmade fashion accessories and knitwear.

Thapa is also Nepal’s country co-ordinator for Fashion Revolution, a global campaign that demands the fashion industry maintain transparency in their manufacturing processes.

People checking out used clothes at Global Swap event to exchange with theirs. Photo Courtesy: Bishal Rajbhandari/ Haushala Creatives

A lot goes into organising an event like Global Swap, says Samanata Thapa, co-founder of Haushala Creatives. After someone drops off their clothes, the team at Haushala checks the clothes for their quality and categorises them into three groups according to their condition. The first two categories are wearable clothes and are displayed at the event day. The rest of the clothes, which they label as the third category, are used for upcycling--meaning the fabrics will be used to make cushions or pillows.

Samanata says she is hopeful that after being a part of the sustainable fashion movement, people will be more aware of their fashion choices and the movement will create space for dialogue about conscious consumerism and sustainable fashion in Nepal. She went on to explain with an example, of how manufacturing a T-shirt takes around 2,720 litres of water--which is almost one year’s worth drinking water for an individual. A big price for a T-shirt.

Another non-profit that is a part of sustainable fashion movement is Hattihatti, who upcycles vintage sarees to make kimonos, bowties, headbands, rubber bands, skirts.

“We have a zero-waste manufacturing process,” says Sunaina Singh Shrestha, marketing head at Hattihatti. “We use every bit of the materials we have to produce something usable out of it. Even after making kimonos, we make use of the leftover bits of the sarees to make cushions and pillows.”

Apart from swapping and upcycling, Haushala Creatives also uses local and natural resources to manufacture their products. They use local dhaka, and shyama, a cotton fibre that has canvas-like texture to make fashion accessories like bags and wallets. They are also  planning to use the leftovers materials from Global Swap event  to design new products. In the long term, they want to follow environmentally friendly dyeing process for their fabrics, says Thapa.

According to fashion blogger Pradhan, she became aware about the issue of sustainable fashion after watching a documentary titled True Cost.

 “I completely changed my lifestyle. As a fashion blogger and a fashion enthusiast I couldn’t unsee it, which is why I decided to advocate it and encourage others,” she says.

The 24-year-old fashion blogger usually collaborates with brands that do not harm animals, people and environment during its manufacturing process or as a finished product. She feels that there is a misconception about sustainable products as being expensive but they fail to see that they are durable and skin friendly.

One of the brands Pradhan works with is Bora Studio. Unlike Hattihatti and Haushala Creatives, Bora Studio is a designer brand that manufactures garments for both men and women. They use bamboo fibre to make the garments and eco-printing method to dye fibres.

 “I started out with Bora Studio in 2017. I wanted to make people aware about sustainable fashion in Nepal and also promote Nepali fibres,” says Meena Gurung, its designer and founder. “Why import everything from foreign countries when we have the resources, that too environmental friendly resources, and the skills to produce our own garments?”

But the sustainable fashion market is still at a nascent stage.

 “A majority of our customers are foreigners. The number of Nepali customers has been gradually increasing since this past year, which is a good sign,” says Shrestha of Hattihatti.

But they are still struggling to sustain themselves in the fashion industry. “We have limited categories of products and almost all of them are summer products,” Shrestha says. “We barely manage to survive during the winter.”

To stay afloat, they now work in collaboration with fashion designer Renu Shrestha to upcycle their sarees into designer wears.

Even Bora Studio gets most of its orders from foreign countries. According to Gurung, people in Nepal aren’t really aware of the adverse effects of the fast fashion industry on the environment and people’s health.  

But Nepalis have always had a history of making, and upcycling, garments and other day-to-day products like radi and gundri from natural resources, which was gradually replaced by fast fashion and industrialisation. “The practices have always been part of our social fabric to use sustainable materials to manufacture garments,” says Thapa. “We just need to go back to our roots.”

Published: 30-05-2019 06:30

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