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Ethical Consumption Is Not That Easy

By NIMI RAVINDRAN

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A FEW years ago I read about a man who lived somewhere in Japan who had managed to create a perfectly Zen-like atmosphere in his home. All his possessions or every single thing he owned, including his watch, clothes, furniture and appliances, came up to just 100 items.

A friend of mine thought it wasn’t such a big deal. She went home, counted a few of her things and texted me “I was wrong. It IS a big deal. I counted 64 bras and panties, and I haven’t even started!”

I’ve never really been interested in fashion and I mostly detest shopping for  clothes. In fact, most of my friends say it’s depressing to see me in slightly torn T-shirts and very faded pyjamas. Feeling suitably smug I decided to count the things in my wardrobe and was stumped to count more than 150 items of just clothing. Granted, this was much, much less than what everyone I knew had but they weren’t the ones harping from the rooftops about not shopping, nor did they ever wear anything torn or faded.

In my wardrobe I found  outfits that I hadn’t worn in years, and others that didn’t fit me anymore and all sorts of other rubbish. And this was just the clothes.

There were books and appliances and furniture and so many other little things. Things I needed, things I didn’t need, things I just liked looking at, it was endless! I decided to postpone my aspiration to be like the Japanese man to a later stage of my life and carried on.  

Earlier this year I read a post on Facebook about how fast fashion was destroying young women. It was one of those articles with the typically sensational headline that’s become the trend in the media these days. I’d never come across the phrase ‘fast fashion’ before (I knew only fast food) so I read a couple of articles. 

They said that buying online, a recent phenomenon in India bolstered by apps and sites like Amazon, Flipkart and Myntra, was making everyone with a reasonable disposable income buy recklessly. People were buying jackets they didn’t need, shoes they thought looked good, dresses they would wear to parties they may never go to, and even outfits for the next trip abroad and all kinds of crazy stuff simply because things were priced so reasonably and it was all just a click away.

I must admit here that I’ve done it a couple of times too (not clothes though), but it’s been very, very controlled. There were posts on Facebook by friends who were crying for help because they had over 700 items in their wardrobe and still had no control over their compulsive buying.

So I did some further reading up on this horror called fast fashion and discovered that it took 7,000 litres of water to make one pair of jeans – that’s almost a tanker full of water. The tanker that you call for in peak summer because the Kaveri line goes dry in May! It’s enough to serve a family of four for up to 10 days.

Next shocking fact: it takes 2,700 litres of water to make one harmless T-shirt. Could this be true? I found it unimaginable. A person could live for 900 days drinking 2,700 litres of water and here I was wearing a T-shirt, that cost just Rs 350, that had used up that much water! Not so harmless then. 

Then it said that if your clothes had beads or embroidery or sequins it means it was created with child labour. Mine didn’t but all of this was beyond horrific. I went back to my wardrobe and counted, I was down to 54 items, but some of my T-shirts had too many small holes and the blacks had faded to ugly grey. I would need to stock up soon. But the thought of buying clothes made me feel sick.  “If you start thinking like that, you might as well stop living,” said my smart friend.

I started thinking about it – how one could live being slightly more conscious, without giving up on living altogether? Over a period of time I’ve stopped feeling guilty, it simply doesn’t help anyone. I have started figuring out ways to ensure that clothes get used as much as possible and also that they don’t end in a landfill. I’ve started to find ways to reuse and recycle and consume only when you absolutely need to.

At last count, I was down to 39 items. I think I’ve done the best I can, at least with clothes but I still have too much other stuff. Sometimes I’m happy and proud. On other days, I’m just pathetic.  But I’m working on it. One has to keep at it I think.

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nimi-minNimi Ravindran is a theatre director and the co-founder of Sandbox Collective, a performance and art collective based in Bangalore. In what feels like an earlier life she worked as a journalist covering art and culture for India Today and Magna Publishing.
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