An interesting meme about “Lifecycle of a tee-shirt” went viral a couple of years ago across the Indian subcontinent; it was extremely relatable. It showed how in this part of the world a t-shirt is worn on special occasions for some time after its purchase. Then it is worn inside the house, and then, while sleeping. The fourth phase is its use as a replacement for a kitchen towel and finally, it is an integral part of the moping team in the house before it takes the last breath and turns into pieces.
I accept that this is how we have learned to make the best use of the things we have bought; the optimum utility of any given product. I would also like to highlight that this way of lifestyle is not bad at all. Over the last weekend, while having a video call, I saw my SanoAama wearing a sweater that is almost 30-year-old. And I am not kidding because I can recall the year I first saw her wear it, provided that it was the first year she was wearing it.
When I asked her why, the answer was simple and blunt: “Because it is still warm and comfortable, and I keep it clean”. And why should she throw it away? According to research, in 2020, an estimated 18.6 million tons of clothing ended up in landfills. The changing fad has its contribution in filling these landfills. The need to keep up with fashion makes people constantly buy products they hardly use.
In simple terms, fashion can be defined as a popular and latest style of clothing, hair, accessories, or mannerism. It is a vast spectrum of things but let us narrow it down to clothing and shoes, which are actually basic needs. The Western fashion industry has been hyping sustainable fashion of late. It means the products are designed, manufactured, distributed and used in environmentally friendly ways. But we South Asians have been taught to choke any product to its last breath.
We proudly accept the lifecycle of the t-shirt, because it is true. Most of the time our purchase is on the basis of our needs (we don’t deny that we all have a good middle-class mentality which helps us decide between need and want). Our color choices don’t go beyond red, blue, gray, and black; these colors camouflage any dirt or stain. Honestly, I am not mocking anyone here. I genuinely think it is a practical approach.
Where the West is only just starting a thrifting and minimalistic lifestyle, it has long been a part of our culture. Swapping clothes between sisters and friends is nothing new for our community. At least in my circle, the things we are tired of wearing or using, we give to our sisters or cousins. Especially sarees and ethnic wear that we do not wear for more than three-four times—it is rational to give them to someone. It will be new for that person and the life of the dress/shoes will be prolonged.
Popular thrift stores in the US like Selinsgrove and Goodwill sell used products and use the income generated for philanthropy. I can buy a Ralph Lauren pullover for only $4 in Goodwill, which can be $145 in a store. So what it is second-hand, it is in mint condition and is a beloved women’s brand!
In Nepal, particularly in Kathmandu, most of the new thrift stores are for profit. The in-house culture of swapping and giving away used clothes is now a business model. It can be considered a good initiative for sustainable fashion. Yes, we still look down on the use of second-hand products. Of course, we do have a culture of sharing but it is only inside the family. One thing with thrifting is that you are buying stuff from an unknown user. It is important that the stores properly sterilize them before selling, which is a challenge in Kathmandu with the shortage of water supply. That said, we can still bring them home and wash them before their use.
Why I am saying all this is, sometimes I look at the amount of clothes people purchase and I wonder if they use it. Even I do impulsive buying. And with that, I started practicing one rule, “if it doesn’t fit me for two years, I give it away. If I don’t wear it for three years, I give it away”. I prefer to donate clothes than to give them to someone I know. I offer my friends if they want them. I make sure that if it is unwearable, I would rather make it a mop than donate it.
This is the smallest thing we can do for the environment. It is okay to wear the same boots for five years until they wear out, it is okay to make the best use of your expensive jacket. This is the real sustainable lifestyle where we are still stylish in our own way and also contribute to saving the environment.