Why is Sustainable Fashion So Expensive?!

Most of my life, I’ve been a fan of natural fabrics. Cotton, linen, silks. Except for the few years when I realised that my dry cleaning bills could easily surpass my earnings, and I discovered the lure (courtesy a friend) of synthetics and cheap clothing.

I went through a phase of buying t-shirts for 100 bucks, and that lasted till I realised I never really stopped shopping. The t-shirts lasted one wash cycle, and I had to be back at the store to find new ones. Having grown up with the ethic of good fabrics, and a dislike of shopping, I soon returned to the branded stores to find that my choice fabrics were replaced to rayons and georgettes. They looked pretty, and unless you burned a hole in one, they’d look great and last forever. Except, they made my skin itch. But since the only other choice was skimpy banian material t-shirts, I succumbed.

Finally, as an adult on the other side of 30, I figured it is time to put my foot down and go back to natural fabrics. This time around, I did find natural fabrics, but the term ‘organic’ had also caught on, making these the new ‘cool’ waves. All your cool designers were espousing the virtues of natural, clean fabrics and driving up the price.

Pure, good cotton is hard to find today. The stuff we do get is so thin that I’ve to wear multiple layers of clothing inside to fulfil the purpose of clothing.

I’ve yet another purpose today in moving to natural fabrics that will last.

The pile of clothing that we discard ends up being in landfills. They do not serve other purposes. Nobody wants my discarded trendy crop top or sexy slit skirt. Nobody even wants my old jeans. There’s been considerable amount of news about the environmental impact of fast fashion. One such interesting (and really impactful video): watch here. Or if you’re not a video person, a fantastic piece by Bloomberg.

‘Fast Fashion’ has been the trend for a while now. Brands need to sell clothes, and if your clothes last you for a couple of years, how are they supposed to make money? Zara, H&M and several other top brands retail ‘fast fashion’ – trends that change every quarter, and clothes that do not last beyond the same period.

Setting aside the hassle of losing your favourite black top that made you look perfect and having to look for something like that again in 3 months, these clothes are piling up.

I want clothes that last.  I want good fabrics. And I want clothes that cause minimal harm to the environment.

Except, when I try to put all these three in the same box, the price tag is pretty hefty. And I’m left wondering why.

 

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Why Do We Refuse to Believe in Global Warming?

I’ve read about global warming for nearly two decades now. Earlier, it was a concept.

“The world could get too hot to live.”

Then, it was a slight warming. “Perhaps the world shouldn’t be getting so damn hot, because it’ll be destroyed.”

And yet, though there are certain factions who are alarmed about it, the fact of global warming is yet to sink into our collective mindsets.

It is hard to believe in global warming as anything more than reality, especially to us living in the cities, disconnected from nature. If the summer gets too hot, we crib and turn the AC on higher. If the winters seem colder, we pull on an extra blanket. If the food prices go up, we crib but shell it out.

Very rarely do we connect these things to global warming, or to our actions.

Global warming is not an isolated thing. It isn’t about eating beef, and leading to a rise of methane in the air because of excessive cattle rearing. It isn’t about using ACs or deodorants. It isn’t about deforestation. At least, not about all these alone.

I’ve been aware of our impact on the environment for a long time. Infact, with a family like mine, it was hard not to be. My mother would ensure that we switched off the lights and the fan in a room when we left it. She told us not to waste food. Some lessons stuck. Some didn’t. It wasn’t about the electricity bill or water bill. It was about the fact that we were taking something from the environment. She sowed the first seeds for our consciousness, though what we’ve done beyond that is entirely up to us. Perhaps I would’ve gotten around to thinking about this, but it might have taken more time.

I’ve grown up around farmers, and know what? Even farmers didn’t blame ‘global warming’ for freak rains and floods and droughts. They just called it nature. Sure, it is nature, but how long are we going to pretend that we aren’t impacting it?

The coral reefs are dead. There are several species that perhaps died out before we could even discover them. Every one of our actions has a reaction.

Yet, when a government proposes building an airbase on an uninhabited island, they don’t talk about global warming and how the destruction of species on that island would impact the broader ecosystem. This could be the same government talking about it otherwise, but they cannot afford to in that case because national security trumps global warming.

A real estate company that’s holding marathons to talk about this phenomenon is destroying lakes and rivers, forest lands. While they would market their apartment complexes as ‘green’ they wouldn’t talk about the price paid for it, and by that I don’t mean in terms of rupees. They wouldn’t talk about the ecosystems they’ve destroyed to build these apartments.

 

We do not have a consciousness about our every day actions. Actually, it is not possible to be. It is about living our life the way we want to. Plastic bags are convenient. We want to come back to a cool room, so we keep the AC running through the day. We want a cool car when we are driving, and keep the windows up and the AC running.

We throw around plastic bottles, bags and more on beaches. Various things that get into the water and choke animals and birds.

It used to make me wonder how this wasn’t just common sense. This wasn’t something that I was taught, at least not consciously. Do we really have to tell people that they are killing themselves and the world?

Why I Struggle To Join The Electric Car Wave

I first heard of Tesla back in 2008. Electric Vehicles (EVs) were yet to become commonplace like they are today. But Tesla was fascinating to me personally, as a tech lover, and the fact that EVs could look cool. The EVs I had seen till then honestly looked like funny little toy cars.

Of course, I never thought about owning an electric car back then, though I did think if I ever made the switch, it would be to a Tesla. Since it was a dream, affordability didn’t even enter the picture.

A decade later, when we are talking about EVs, global warming, pollution etc, EVs become an important part of our lifestyle. Or they should. Unfortunately, for a common man like me living in India, EVs are still a distant dream.

The look and feel of EVs has changed much in a decade. Reva, the electric car by Mahindra, was India’s most popular EV. But it looked like a little toy car, especially with their bright yellow, which was the most popular one. They’ve been around for nearly two decades or more. One of my college professors owned one, and she was a bit of a joke (not just because of the car). As an adult, I have to admire her eco-consciousness but back then, it just was funny.

Now, as someone who is concerned about the amount of carbon we’re pumping back into nature, I’d love to shift to an EV. But my choices are still limited to Reva, now known as E2O, alone. The car, along with its name, changed the way it looks as well. It looks like a compact little car, and I’ve seen it go pretty fast on the highway as well.

However, E2O comes with a price tag of over INR 10 Lakhs. That’s on par with any mid-sized car in the Indian market. Assuming you are willing to pay the price for being environmentally conscious, is the Indian infrastructure ready to support you.

I live in one of the largest metro cities in the world, and one of the most developed. Yet, I’ve not seen a single EV charging station in the city, let alone on the highway. That essentially means, despite owning a car worth 10 lakhs, I cannot take it out of the city. The E2O has a range of 140 kms approximately.

There have been several conversations about setting up EV charging stations, and apparently the future will even have stations where you can just swap out your battery instead of waiting to charge. Sounds great. But that day is not today and I’m not even sure when that day will come.

In the meantime, I remain an average middle-class Indian citizen who cannot afford to own two cars – which is what would be required if you want to own an electric car and drive out of the city frequently. In simpler terms, this means that being an eco-conscious motorist remains the privilege of a non-middle class citizen, or compromising your lifestyle heavily.

I was keenly awaiting the introduction of non-sedan hybrids, till EVs would develop enough by 2030. We aren’t really that far away from 2030 but far enough. India, however, decided to skip past the hybrid stage.

What this means for me? I’m going car hunting for yet another petrol car.

The Kashmir Floods

The past few days have seen Kashmir feature quite prominently on my Facebook feed. There are groups I’ve been added to where Kashmiris from all over the world are posting asking about their relatives who they haven’t been able to contact etc.

To be honest, the floods did not really enter my mind initially. As Indians, we are a little numb to news of disasters. There is a particular threshold any disaster needs to cross to evoke emotions in us. It is probably because of the barrage of news we read every day in the media – suicides, rapes, murders, terrorist attacks of some sort, Naxalities killing someone, kidnapping. We live among a gruesome society and we accept it.

In the past few years, there have been quite a few calamities. I remember very few clearly – the tsunami wave, the floods in Uttarakhand and now, Kashmir.

Of the three, Kashmir seems to have the least amount of information outflow and a lot of chaos. Perhaps it was always like this but this time we see it because social media has finally caught up with a lot more people and they are pouring out their confusion onto the net.

Perhaps it is because Kashmir has a more educated, affluent section of population with a vast number of them living outside the state.

Perhaps it is because it is Kashmir.

I do not know, and frankly, am not sure I care.

What concerns me is the chaos. Why is there so much chaos? As a country who has a fair number of floods every year, we should have a decent plan of action to put into play every time. I am not going to compare the disasters because each are different in their own ways. But… why isn’t there a 12-point protocol? Or if there is, is it being enforced?

Why did it take a week for Google & India to come up with a missing persons site? Why isn’t there any website where people can click on a location and see what is happening there?

I know it is easy for me to comment on this, sitting in an arm chair, far away from all the chaos. I know this requires vast amount of ground resources. But we have one of the best fricking armies in the world, some of the most intelligent tech forces in the world and enough hands and legs to populate… well, you know. So why can’t we do this?

Or is that the people are resistant to government information? There are no mentions of the number of deaths in the floods – and I refuse to believe that there are none. What is the after plan? The worst part of a flood starts after the water has receded. Looting apart, diseases are a major concern. Restoration of spaces is a major concern, especially in a place like Kashmir where winter shows its fangs quite harshly.

Has social media brought some major flaws to the front or are we lagging behind this time? Was it this bad every time?

And this being Kashmir, how long will it take for the religious sentiments to surface and clash? And bring the army into the front again for a different purpose? And how much will this affect rescue operations?

There are hints of that on the forums that have been created to share information. Hints of Muslims gnashing their teeth at the thought of the army helping them. The Indian army. There are hints of aggression. But is also beautiful to see many others, regardless of religion, ask those people to shut up and go away and stop stirring trouble when everyone has united for something. It is these people we would need to stand strong soon… because inevitably, there will be resentment from some section of the society that enough was not done, or not done soon enough or some such thing. Because amidst all this chaos, we see only the chaos and miss the little sunshine that is beginning to help in tiny bits.

And lastly, a serious environment question that a friend of mine posed:

Is anyone thinking why these floods are happening? Does anyone even think of the ecological reasons behind this? The overdevelopment? The way tourism has destroyed some of these lands, the way development has destroyed them and left them open.

” If glaciers are melting, the mountains are being deforested, the wetlands have disappeared, traditional flood outflow channels are silted up, and there’s too much construction for the local environment to bear, then even one excessive or delayed rainfall is going to create an unmanageable catastrophe like we saw in June 2013 and are seeing again now.” the person said. 

India is headed the way of growth and industrialization. Which means great for the economy. But when I hear reports of mining projects being authorized without bothering with the environment reports, reports being squashed in the name of progress, my mind cannot help but envision us traveling in futuristic cars with oxygen masks through barren lands littered with skeletons.

There is a reason environment groups exist. There is a reason why they are labeled crazy. Maybe they are. But perhaps you need to be a little crazy to be able to shout out your beliefs from rooftops and exist. But without them, who would check the uncontrolled greed of the corporates, our uncontrolled lust for ‘progress’.

We drive further and further looking for greenery and forests. We see civilization eclipse the quaint mountainside roads we used to drive by in sheer silence and awe. We see that the roads are better, but there are also a 100 shops alongside it. We do not realise that this is the progress that we are heading for. We will have better roads connecting all cities, and the trees and animals will be pushed into the background. I would rather drive on a bad road with trees than an awesome road with buildings.

Perhaps I sound idealistic. Perhaps in real life I do go back and do things that I crib about here. But we all do that. But if we all contributed a fraction towards what we believe in, the world would be a better place.

I love progress. But I also love my trees and forests and beaches and the creatures in it. I do not think their lives are any less important than mine simply because we are on top of the food chain.

What is the point of 100 smart cities that might have to be rebuilt every few years, and we have to breathe through masks?