You will remember those who used to collect clothes by roaming around the houses and give utensils or any other items in return. Have you ever thought that they are making an important contribution in reducing carbon emissions and reducing wastage of resources.
Leela Vanodia has been going door to door collecting old clothes in Mumbai for 30 years. Leela belongs to the Wagri, a nomadic tribe of northern Gujarat, which has been a victim of social discrimination for a long time. Old clothes are the basis of livelihood of the people of this community. They give new utensils, plastic items or cash to people in exchange of old clothes. And then sell these clothes further. Leela says that she buys these clothes for around Rs.10 and washes and irons them and sells them for Rs.20 to 30.
Waghari people sell the collected clothes in the suburban market of Mumbai. This is a footpath market. By buying those clothes, traders sell them in remote villages, in places where people often do not have the money to buy new clothes. Every month about 40 tons of clothes go to the rural areas from one such market only. The goods that remain are mostly torn clothes and rags. They are sold to scrap dealers according to their weight. Factories buy those goods and use them for stuffing car seats or cushions.
Important role in circular economy
Communities like Wagri can play an important role in the circular economy. That’s why Bombay Recycling Concern, a social enterprise, is helping them. The company’s founder Vinod Nindrojia says that in one market only, the Wagri people bring 5 to 6 tonnes of cloth and thus help in reducing carbon dioxide. If these clothes are thrown in the trash, they will take years to decompose. About 80 lakh tonnes of cloth waste is generated every year in India. Often, they are dumped in dustbins or just about anywhere.
Worldwide, textile production has doubled in the last 15 years. Fast fashion is still promoting the use and throw habit of people. That’s why clothes are not being worn much. are quickly thrown away. The rate of wearing clothes has fallen by almost 40 per cent in the last two decades. Fashion industry is undoubtedly helpful in the development of economic growth but it is exploiting the resources on a large scale. Shruti Singh of Fashion Revolution India says, “The fashion industry uses more water than you can imagine. 93 billion metric cubes. This much water can be used for drinking by 50 lakh people in a year.”
So much water is being wasted for fashion. One way to save this waste is to reuse clothes. That’s why the global market for second hand clothes is booming. This market in India is just in the beginning. The main reason for this is the reluctance associated with wearing old second hand clothes. But young buyers in the cities are pushing for sustainable alternatives to fast fashion and have started adopting ready-to-wear clothing.
Earlier also it used to happen in the villages that the younger sister used to wear the clothes of the elder sister and the younger brother wore the clothes of the elder brothers. A new culture of economy is emerging in the urban areas of the country as well. The rising demand has filled the shops with second hand clothes and other vintage items.
Rising demand for thrift stores
Stylist and fashion designer Amit Diwekar is a regular at the affordable store in Bandra. He says, “We are all turning to sustainability, this thing is in high demand in fashion at the moment. That’s why it is right to recycle goods. It is not always right to produce new goods by wasting our resources.” The Bombay Closet Cleanse opened in 2019 where people can sell their clothes for cash. The company’s founder Sana Khan says, “The people who come here are not people who cannot afford new clothes. They are doing it because it is a lifestyle change.” It is estimated that the resale market may overtake the e-commerce market in the next few years.
Platforms like Reelv are among those helping India’s fashion brands to tap into the second hand segment. This is a circular tech platform created by Kirti Poonia and Prateek Gupta. With its help, brands can resell their products on their own websites. Kirti Poonia is very excited, “If you look at #thriftindia on Instagram in January last year, there were four lakh posts. Now there are seven lakh. There has been only growth since January.”
Some thrift stores are trying to bring women into their value chain. They directly buy the goods of their customers’ choice from the women. They are also like a one stop collection point for the sale of traditional clothes brought by women. If this model is taken forward, it can be useful in dealing with a major challenge of the Wagri people. Then women like Leela will not have to wander on the streets all day long. If steps are taken to organize their business, India can increase its share in the world’s second-hand market, worth $ 36 billion. And the Waghari community, which has made a valuable contribution to urban recycling, can also be recognized.