The Kumbhkaran in my closet…

Updated: Jul 12

Kumbhkaran is a rakshas(devil) in Hindu mythology. He was the younger brother of Ravan and is known for sleeping six months at a stretch.

Fast fashion has become our new oxygen. The fashion manufacturers are making more and more clothes if not for the need or greed of the consumer then why?[1]


After the 20th century, mass production started to provide the way we wear clothing. Picking the clothes off the rack was easy and people started adopting it quickly. Picking the garments from racks or ready-to-wear fashion became important after the world war in the 1980s.[2] The world wars also changed how we perceived the availability and length of fabrics even in today’s scenarios.


In retrospect supply chain stakeholders have become the brain behind closet purchases. A fashion supply system is a process of procuring the fabric, coloring the fabric, and manufacturing it to create clothing.

Picture by: Serliborn


The post industrial age engaged in creating easy manufacturing techniques, lowering the labor cost thereby adding the value of affordable buying. In India, Flipkart sold about 54 billion dollars during the Diwali sale in 2021 as reported by ‘business insiders’. The market allows any person of different ages, income groups, and gender to buy and buy in surplus.


The intent behind this blog is to understand the current needs of the consumer, and question what the fashion cycle is doing.


India as a country has surpassed many centuries, the scriptures fabrics were a pious element for human beings. Our value system believed in not even cutting the fabric. Draping the fabric to create a draped garment was used to cover the body parts. The females in every household, repurposed the old saris crafting pillow covers, rugs, mats, etc so as not to waste the pieces. Mending and repairing were common practices rather than throwing.


The Kumbhkaran...

The clothes which are sleeping in our closets for many days or months or even years are called post-consumer waste. Post-consumer waste is any garment or textile in the household which is no longer in use or discarded. When we buy more, we keep more. And ended up creating a Kumbhkaran in the closet.


In 2016 the Indian fashion retail sector accounted for 16% of sales which is believed to be increased by 35% by 2025. [3]


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Fast Fashion plays a crucial role in giving birth to the Kumbhkaran. People buy new clothes because of changes in trend, changes in season, boredom from old clothes, or easy availability of them. [4]



India exported - ready-to-wear clothing for approximately 6 billion US Dollars in the year 2021. When a garment is made, it goes through multiple processes for construction. The waste which comes out of the clothing while making the garment is easy to recycle, although once the garment is worn by the consumer, it is hard to recycle.


After the manufacturing process, each garment goes into washing and finishing processes. The finishing process includes chemicals like Chloride, sulfates, hydrosulfite, etc. These chemicals are used to give a shining texture to the surfaces, strengthen the yarns from wear and tear, and even decrease the washing needs. The layering of chemicals might create strength in the fabric, but it makes it difficult to understand the quality of the fabric.[5] In the recycling process, sorting the fabric according to its composition is the key to recycling. The chemical finishing makes it harder to not only understand the composition of yarns but also makes the recycling process costlier.


Globally two-thirds of 118 million metric tons of fiber production is synthetic in 2018.[6] The fibers are blended to improve the characteristics of each other and establish the best result. In creating blends, the manufacturers use polyester often as it is cheaper and stronger. Oil-based Polyethylene terephthalate is a combination created from plastic. The third is the blending of synthetic fibers, during the recycling process - each yarn needs to disintegrate which requires different chemical needs. The blending process makes it next to impossible to identify and disintegrate.


As the identification process is costlier and time-consuming it results in this fabric waste finding its place in a landfill.


India is still way better at reusing culture. India is the second-largest importer of second-hand clothing from European countries, Brazil, Indonesia, etc.[7] In India, many cities like Ahmedabad, Delhi, Chandigarh, Hyderabad, and Pune have a Sunday second-hand market every week. In a city like Chandigarh, there are more than two markets only for selling second-hand clothing at cheaper rates. Second-hand clothing is bought by people of various sections, gender, etc. The consumer intends to buy more when it is cheaper.


All these factors together question the direction of our disposal habits. Even if we try to change our habits, it is next to impossible to decrease the use of polyester yarn or blending yarns, etc.


Today, the larger population of India wears western clothing. Since western clothing are made by cutting and stitching different material together, it is very difficult to recycle it. Today there are approximately 10 landfill sites in various parts of our country. In India, 2,049,271 metric tons of textile waste are produced every day.[8]


We need to look back, to regain and reiterate.


An Urge to Question

With this blog, we want you to question our clothing choices.


The dynamics of supply chain and consumer needs should be refurbished into accounting for circular processes for making and selling. In India, there is very little research done on this topic. India is already going through a lot of issues in social and development aspects, is India ready to tackle the Kumbhkaran in our closet?


If you have reached here and wondering what one can do on an individual level then here are some things to practice.

  1. Conscious buying - buy according to the need, and check the material type.

  2. Objective donation - think before you donate, and understand where the garments are going after the donation.

  3. Second time wearing is okay - changing the mindset of oneself, wearing any garment many times is okay. Let’s take pride in holding on to old things like our grandparents and their grandparents did.

  4. Mending and repairing – let’s take that needle and thread and learn from our elders to repair on an individual level. There are ample DIYs available nowadays, let’s try to mend and repair before thinking of throwing.

  5. Raising awareness about municipal waste - throwing any synthetic waste in the municipal waste can create various issues.

  6. Multiple usages of one garment - wear and utilize one garment in multiple ways and orientations like our mothers and grandmas did.


The sleeping monster is scumbling at a slow rate, but we can't understand until and unless we don't open the doors of our closet.


Hope this blog makes you open your closet and fight the sleeping Kumbhkaran.


References:

1. Birtwistle & Moore, 2006

2. Bailey and Eicher 1992

3. BOF McKinsey Company, 2019.

4. Joung, 2014

5. Chi and Ho, 2012

6. Mateo, Meer and Seide, 2021

7. Norris, 2015

8. Kumar & Agrawal, 2020

 

Deepshikha Garg is an educator, designer, and conscious nature lover. Currently, she is working as an Associate Professor at Chitkara University. She has a keen interest in traditional crafts, traditional practices, and culture. As a part of the NID FDP fellowship, she practices sustainable experiences in teaching fashion and textiles. She believes in practicing what you preach.

 

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