CLIMATE CHANGE ISN’T WAITING FOR YOUR SIESTA: Making better bets on Indian wardrobes

As the Earth's temperatures rise, the very fiber of our being is threatened. Fashion certainly plays a role in the downward spiral that our ecosystem is taking, and NJAL Contributor Rini Bankhwal is here to share some pulse-pounding realities that the industry as a whole must grapple with before it's too late, while looking to the changing practices that India's fashion world is taking now.


There is a final verdict on climate change that is cast in iron. It’s called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and its Special Report. The report is special in more way than one—for starters, it is absolutely terrifying. It asserts that unless net carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are brought down to zero by 2050, warming above 1.5°C is practically inevitable. 

To get a quick picture, imagine an ecosystem collapse, ocean acidification, mass desertification, and coastal cities being flooded into inhabitability. Mind you, this minor change in temperature is our worst best-case scenario. It means that 1.5 degrees is the difference between a world we can adapt to or a life-threatening planet. And it is a huge ask of humanity in such a short window of time.



India, the seventh largest country in the world by area and the second most populous in the world, emits 6% of all the world’s CO2 emissions and houses the top seven worst cities in terms of particulate matter pollution (according to World Health Organization).

In India, we already know that. It's an agenda that's often blasted by news channels as a means for propaganda during election seasons. But the real action is far from taking place. 

According to a report by the Indian Institute of Sciences in Bengaluru, the average per capita CO2 emissions from Delhi, Greater Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Greater Bengaluru, Ahmedabad, and Hyderabad is almost double that of the entire country’s national average CO2 emissions. India's rapid economic growth, has created a larger consumer base with a growing demand for materials. It has one of the highest densities of economic activity in the world, and a very large population heavily dependent on natural resources for its livelihood. By 2020, pressure on India’s water, air, soil, and forests is expected to become the highest in the world. India, hence, is among the countries most vulnerable to climate change.


Even though the fashion industry is moving towards environmental responsibility, the ecological impact and carbon footprint of the sector remains a cause of concern. Cumulatively, the fashion industry produces about 20% of global waste water. Furthermore, 85% of textiles end up in landfills or are incinerated when most of these materials could be reused. Also, about 10% of global carbon emissions are contributed by the fashion industry. In addition, the textile industry has been identified in recent years as a major contributor to plastic entering the ocean.


All the pollution already in the atmosphere will keep trapping heat for years, no matter what we do. But on their own, current greenhouse gas levels are unlikely to raise temperatures another half degree or more. Which is to say, how much global warming continues from now is basically in our hands. Starting now. 

What is the world you want to fight for? And more importantly, how can you get there?

1. Ask your brands #WhoMadeMyClothes.

Traceability is defined as supply chain visibility that enables the tracking of the social and environmental impact of production. And it is a prerequisite for identifying and improving the environmental, social, ethical, and financial impact of fashion production. 


Since the early 2000s, fast fashion retailers such as ASOS, H&M, and Inditex have profited off of their ability to generate, at a vast scale, rapid translations of runway fashions into low-priced clothing and accessories. Asking brands this question creates an external pressure for them to be transparent and sets new standards for a cleaner supply chain. Incorporated as one of Fashion Revolution’s primary agendas, #WhoMadeMyClothes made over 2M impressions globally last year and led to multiple brands coming out with their supply chain details to share with their shoppers!

2. Switch to better brands.

Brands who are conscious about their production and social economic factors are aplenty now. According to analytics from the UN Comtrade, India is the top importer of used clothes—clothes that would have otherwise ended up in landfill—that are broken down into yarn and then re-woven into fabric used to make blankets. There are several homegrown brands that have utilized concepts of the circular economy to utilize raw materials, or they have just switched to better raw materials altogether and designed out wastage. 

No Nasties is a 100% organic, 100% fair trade, 100% vegan clothing brand based in Goa, India. They work with a cotton farmers' co-op and a sustainable factory for sourcing all of their products. It's the real deal. Global brands like Adidas are already working on closing the loop on wastage. In 2016, they launched three new versions of its UltraBoost shoe made out of plastic found in the ocean. They teamed up with an environmental initiative, Parley for the Oceans, to create the shoe and within a year sold over one million pairs. Closer home, brands like Doodlage and Chindi recycle textile waste into garments and accessories. ‘I was a Sari’, the winner of Circular Design Challenge conducted by IMG Reliance earlier this year (the challenge tested the shortlisted designers on circular fashion—a concept that aims to reduce landfill waste and increase the longevity of clothes), places pre-loved Indian saris at the heart of a new style, and empowers female artisans from Mumbai to become the designers of their own future. Korra, a denim brand based in Delhi, chooses natural or recycled raw materials with an emphasis on sourcing each element locally. They also ensure that the design, materials, processes and equipment make their products purposeful and durable. There is an assurance of quality end-to-end as each piece is made by a single individual who remains accountable for the full product.

3. Repair, repair, repair. 

Think of your family heirloom or a hand-me-down and the time it got damaged or looked worn out. What did you do? You looked for ways to keep it longer since it meant something to you. We’ve obviously lost the emotional connection with our clothing over the years. The availability of fast fashion and the coming of e-commerce means that we can get a new outfit delivered straight to our homes ahead of an event. Oftentimes buying a new piece of clothing is more accessible than repairing. But the beauty of repairing is that it can be learnt and can be done at home. In a country like India that prides itself in handmade skills, it is often easy to repair at home. Many corporations such as Dell are working closely with designers to create circular systems (opposite of a take, make, dispose system) for waste such as electronic gadgets that are no longer in use. 


4. Find ethical ways to acquire a new wardrobe.

The resale industry is going to be valued at 59 billion dollars by 2020 and the apparel industry is going to make up 49% of that whopping number.

The ways to acquire a new wardrobe have certainly become more innovative, while simultaneously being good for the environment. Swapping exchanges are now popping up everywhere in the country. In fact, now you can do it over an app. This for That helps you raid other fashion forward closets, by simply allowing you to give up on some of your pieces for swapping online. While they are primarily online, they’ve conducted several successful on-ground swap meets across major cities in India. 


Organizations such as Seams for Dreams aims to provide appropriate clothing to the less privileged members of society in India by collecting second-hand clothing and raising funds and awareness through various fashion events. The Global Fashion Exchange has a fairly active events calendar across metropolitan cities and is looking to expand within India at a rapid rate.

So, what are you going to do? Let's work together to shift these negative impacts one day at a time. 

Rini is a culture vulture and marketing communications expert who moonlights as a storyteller. Her favorite F words are: future, female and fashion. For India related initiatives of Fashion Revolution, reach out to the author at [email protected]. To read more from the author, check out her website, here.