In today’s world, where climate change has become a hot topic, the call to switch to more sustainable alternatives to fast fashion has become an urgent need. While buying from thrift stores has become a popular option rather than buying from brands like Zara or H&M, there is an alternative possible right here in India.
It is the use of textiles of India. Indian textiles have a rich history in South Asia and have played an important role in its social, cultural and economic life.
Since the 2nd millennium BC the technique of mordant dyeing, which gives vibrant colors that do not fade, has been used by textile workers to produce far more advanced textiles than the west.
The 21st century has seen the massive rise of fast fashion. Coined to describe the turnover of designs that transition from runaways into current fashion trends sold at cheap prices, it became very popular in the 2000s.
Examples of fast fashion brands are Zara and H&M which create thousands of styles all in touch with local trends, have limited quantities of a particular garment or item like shoes or handbags, and are made of cheap low quality materials like polyester.
Fast Fashion & offshore manufacturing
Most importantly, fast fashion is reliant on offshore manufacturing where workers are exploited by being paid low wages, without necessary rights and unsafe working conditions.
Using textiles made in India however, due to their social heritage, helps employ craftsmen from rural areas who often work in tandem with the people creating clothes from the material and help combine the khadi cloth with local skills like dori, chikankari and modern dyeing.
Despite the risks of exploitation and economic woes, it is relatively safer due to the community involvement factor in the process.
Polyester pollutes water
The worst consequence of fast fashion however, is undoubtedly the impact on the environment. In order to continue selling these clothes at low prices, they are made out of synthetic materials responsible for polluting our water bodies.
To be specific 35% of all microplastics are from these synthetic materials. These fibres are made of polyester which tends to release far more carbon emissions than other materials like cotton.
Plastic is also extremely slow to degrade and continues to degrade in the ocean for years to come and when it does finally break down it creates a toxic substance which has a devastating effect on marine life and marine ecosystems.
Materials like khadi on the other hand have zero carbon footprint and are eco friendly. Khadi is also organic because its production does not require intensive energy consumption and it does not generate any toxic waste or by-products in the process.
Khadi is sustainable
In India a high consumption of fast fashion has set it up to become the world’s 6th largest apparel market but it is not too late to rethink our fashion consumption. Even though western fashion and brands that mass produce clothes are trendy and catch the eye we must increase our consumption of Indian textiles.
Khadi is one of the most sustainable Indian materials and can refer to any natural fabric which is handspun like cotton, silk, jute or wool.
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Large Indian brands like Ritu Kumar have been sourcing khadi for over a decade due to its low environmental impacts. Khadi can also be combined with other Indian crafts providing employment to large sections of India’s population.
One drawback however, is how Indian fabrics are expensive due to the amount of effort and labour it takes to make these high quality clothes making it difficult for most people to purchase them regularly.
However, schemes like the government’s Production Linked Incentive scheme are aimed at boosting domestic manufacturing and if more programmes like this are implemented they might continue to help create larger employment opportunities and scale up business in the textile sector.
The Atmanirbhar Programme also allotted 1.45 lakh crores to boost the manufacturing sectors including textiles. Acknowledging textiles as environment friendly and doing mass public campaigns on their benefits as opposed to fast fashion will also help spread awareness of their advantages against climate change.
The Scheme for Integrated Textile Parks is one of the flagship schemes of the Ministry of Textiles aimed to assist small and medium entrepreneurs in the textile industry.
The key to increasing the consumption of Indian textiles lies in combining modern tastes with traditional crafts making them more relevant and attractive to current consumers.
A more thought out approach to design and quality as well as encouraging new age designers to source raw materials and sustainable options will ensure that there is no compromise in the attractiveness of the product.
The economy can be driven from the grassroots by opting to go local and by returning to our roots we can do our bit to curb climate change in the Indian subcontinent.