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A Clean Wardrobe, a Cleaner Conscience

By KARUNA EZARA PARIKH

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THE first images of the Kerala floods I saw were not on the evening news or in the papers the next morning, no. They were on social media.

There were awful images of damage done alongside pleas to donate, pleas to reach out, pleas to help. At first, I watched silently in horror as the images went from bad to worse, as the death toll rose, as the central government refused foreign aid and the number of people living in camps rose each day.

The big question was – what can we do? We had logged on to Amazon.com and bought what we could through their wish-lists.

We had posted, reposted, and urged friends to spend their money on donations, and we had our hands joined in prayer as we hoped the situation wouldn’t get worse. I kept thinking – one person can only do so much.

And finally, with that thought in mind, I called my friend Sulagna Ghosh. Sulagna owns and runs a beautiful space in Kolkata called Sienna Store. A store with an attached café, the spot – known for its delicious avocado salads and pesto dips – is popular among creative young Calcuttans. Photographers, bloggers, artists, journalists, and designers are often seen here sipping coffee, doing impromptu shoots or finishing work behind their screens.

Sulagna, or Shuli as we call her affectionately, works with artisans in Santiniketan to create the gorgeous pottery that lines the shelves of the store, and the handmade dresses and saris that fill the racks.

When I suggested using Sienna as a space for a #ShopForKerala sale, she said yes immediately and offered to add Sienna’s previous stock from earlier collections to the list.

It was a Monday when I called her. We planned the sale for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Ambitious? A little. We spent the next three days sifting through our wardrobes, announcing the sale everywhere, and preparing ourselves for both the worst and best it could be. The idea was simple –

Go through our wardrobes and separate what we didn’t want to wear any longer/ had grown out of/ couldn’t use/ was too inappropriate for a charity box. Put it all on sale. Send all the money to Kerala. That’s it.

Friends who heard began adding what they could to the collection. The Burlap People offered to give us a number of bags from their old stock (and help us ship all the pieces!) and Kolkata fashion blogger and stylist Chikky Goenka added a number of designer pieces, upping the ante.

By noon on Friday, the usually earthy space bathed in indigo tones was done up like a New York thrift store. Everything from second hand designer dresses to vintage handbags and brand new sneakers sat pretty on the shop floor. And then the people began rolling in.

We sold in the store, we sold online, we sold till dusk and after and we sold till our feet hurt and our wardrobes were bare and our hearts were full.

We had hoped to make about a lakh. Most people thought that was ambitious, given the average price point of about 600 bucks. We made just over 2. Two lakhs. In three days. Selling old, second hand clothes.

Sitting down together over a prawn cutlet the following Monday, exactly a week after Shuli and I had first spoken about the idea, we were overwhelmed. What were we going to do with the money? Here’s what we did:

  • We had a friend, a young photographer called Upahar Biswas who was collecting funds to send a large amount of women’s hygiene and medical products down south. First things first, we completed her wish list of ₹15,000.
  • Next, we gave ₹50,000 to HSI India and completed 40% of their wish list for items required to help the stranded animals in need in Kerala.
  • And finally, the big one, we had heard about how Small Change had agreed to match a 5 lakh donation to Goonj, once it was completed. So we logged on to their site and checked what was required. They still needed just over a lakh. And that’s what we had. “We’d like to complete your five lakhs,” we wrote in. And we did. This enabled a 10 lakh donation to Goonj – one of the most reliable NGOs out there.

We sat back and watched in awe as the money transferred.

What had we just done?

Nothing at all. We had joined hands, that’s all. We had believed, that’s all. We had mobilised.

In a world where social media is becoming increasingly more empty day by day, we had found something wonderful we could do with it.

What was most reassuring was the way people had reached out. One man sent ₹5,000 extra just because. One man bought a scarf and said, “Charge it at ₹10,000.” People gave selflessly and it was beautiful.

What’s even better was that every single thing we sold was technically being reused and recycled. “So what did you get out of it?” someone asked me. Me? Just two things. A clean wardrobe. And a cleaner conscience. I’d say it’s a win-win.


Karuna Ezara Parikh is a poet and writer from New Delhi. She currently resides in Kolkata where she co-founded the sustainable company The Burlap People. She is a strong voice for a greener planet and women’s rights, having written extensively on both.

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