10 Things You Should Know About Being Sustainable with South Asian Fashion 

Shopping for South Asian clothing is an exciting time for all of us. Whether it’s Eid, Diwali or your cousin’s wedding it’s an excuse to dress up in beautiful and extravagant outfits and spend time with loved ones.

Sustainability in the fashion space has become somewhat of a buzzword over the past few years. No doubt you are already familiar with the basics of sustainability; you’ve probably watched the documentaries, heard of the impact to our planet and maybe even sworn off fast fashion. It’s becoming more and more important to us as consumers to become aware and conscious of our purchases and how it impacts our planet.

According to a report by McKinsey & Company, it is estimated the global apparel industry accounted for 4% of total carbon emissions in 2018, and the fashion industry will emit 2.1 billion tonnes of CO2e by 2030.

But what exactly does “sustainable fashion” mean? In a nutshell, it’s a term that refers to clothing that is produced and consumed in a way that, quite literally, can be sustained, while safeguarding both the environment and people who make the clothing.

The South Asian fashion landscape

India has a rich history of beautiful garments such as the sari, anarkali and lehengas. And since the economic liberation of the Indian economy in 1990, Indian designers have emerged with products that have been successful on the world stage. India makes 95% of the world’s handmade textiles and is the world’s second-largest exporter of textiles and clothing.

As one of the world’s largest textile and garment markets, valued at over US$ 100 billion, with three-quarters from domestic consumers and a quarter from exports India has a pivotal role to play in the global fashion industry.

Here at Ayrela, we looked into the different things we must keep in mind as ethical consumers, and here’s what we learned.

1. Taking care of your clothes

It’s the simplest thing, right? If production of materials, shipping it from overseas and our overconsumption is causing harm to the environment, it makes sense that taking care of our existing clothes and investing in higher quality garments would make all the difference. According to Olivia Firth’s 30 wears challenge, in order to reduce your CO2 emissions and waste, you should aim to wear each item of clothing at least 30 times. This is only possible if you take care of your clothes. Wash them less, give them some TLC and treat them like you intend to keep them around for longer.

2. Sustainable brands

When cultivating an ethical wardrobe, it’s important that you seek out ethical brands. Lowering CO2 emissions, dealing with overproduction, cutting waste and pollution, promoting biodiversity and making sure that garment workers are paid fairly and have safe working conditions are all essential to the sustainability matrix. Many brands are taking these factors into account these days, so as consumers it’s important to keep an eye out for them.

3. Shopping second hand and vintage

Thanks to brands like Depop, Ebay, Vinted and Vestiaire Collective it’s now easier than ever to buy and sell clothes online. It will extend the lifecycle of your garments and ensure it doesn’t end up in landfill, while earning a secondary income. You’ll be able to create a wardrobe of unique items of clothing and who knows when you’ll find a one-of-a-kind designer vintage piece.

4. Upcycling, mending and repairing

The practice of upcycling South Asian clothes is hardly followed by consumers according to the responses The India Sustainability Report 2020.

A mere 4% of consumers admitted that they repurpose old garments, while another 4% said that they parked old clothes in trunks or closets. Only 2% reuse old sarees to make garments or for a decorative purpose. However, Pakistani fashion influencer Zahra Sarfraz, went viral when she upcycled her mother’s wedding lehenga and chose to wear it on her big day along with her grandmother’s jewellery.

5.Vegan materials

Synthetic and vegan fabrics also raise issues, in addition to those raised by fabrics made from animals, such as wool, leather, and fur. It’s important that you know that just because a material is labelled ‘vegan’ it isn’t always innocent. Get to know the fabrics you’re buying and how they impact the planet.

6. Fair wages and work conditions

Black Friday sales always spark controversy in the world of fast fashion. With many sustainability influencers asking, “if we are paying so little for a dress, is it really fair to the person who has made it?”

The ethical issues of the fashion business are intertwined with labour exploitation, poverty, and harsh working conditions in factories in South Asia. This isn’t news.

For years, businesses have been criticised for exploiting labourers and textile workers, paying them poor wages, and creating unsettling situations in their creative spaces.

7. Water footprint

South Asian fashion is known worldwide for its kaleidoscope of bright colours. However, with this bright truth, there is also a dull reality. When it comes to the environmental impact of fashion, dyeing is frequently disregarded as landfill and plastics are at the front of our minds.

According to the World Resources Institute, 5.9 trillion litres of water are needed yearly for fabric dying, while one cotton t-shirt uses 2,700 litres.

The push for more environmentally friendly fashion emphasises how destructive our demand for colour is. Up to one-fifth of industrial water pollution is attributed to the fashion industry, in part because to lax enforcement and regulation in producing nations like Bangladesh, where waste is frequently discharged straight into rivers and streams.

The discharge frequently contains a toxic concoction of heavy metals, carcinogenic compounds, dyes, and salts that not only harm the environment but also contaminate important drinking water supplies.

Eight thousand synthetic chemicals are utilised to transform raw materials into textiles, and the dying and treatment processes for textiles comprise 20% of industrial water pollution worldwide.

8. Microplastic pollution

Polyester contributes significantly to plastic pollution. When we wash our plastic-based clothes, whether it’s during the production process at garment factories or in the laundry at home, some of the polyester sheds off into the water in the form of microplastics that can get past even the best water treatment methods. These tiny shreds of processed crude oil have made their way to the tops of mountains, to the bottom of the ocean floor, and everywhere in between. In her book ‘Unraveled’, Maxine Bedat said “By 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean, by weight. You might assume that plastic is mostly straws, shopping bags, or water bottles. But a great part of the plastic crisis is largely invisible. Only around 6 percent of the total mass of plastic entering the oceans can be seen by the eye.”

9. Carbon footprint

South Asia has a high reliance on coal and natural gas to supply electricity and heat, which adds to its also increasing carbon footprint.

Globally, the textile and garment sector accounts for six to eight percent of total carbon emissions, amounting to 1.7 billion tonnes of annual CO2 emissions per year.

Adding to this, the demand for South Asian clothing in the UK or other countries around the world means another part of our carbon footprint we may not even think of is the way the item travels to us.

10. Leasing fashion

Circular models of fashion are more sustainable by design, and by leasing your South Asian wardrobe instead of buying a new item, you’re prolonging the life cycle of each garment. Like selling second-hand clothes, you make another source of income. However leasing means, the item remains yours, the earning potential is practically endless, and the item continues to go around in circles to prevent multiple single use outfit purchases.


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