In the wake of our current crisis, we see–deeply and prominently–the detrimental human impact, us as a collective has had towards the environment. One of the more cultural aspects of our existence is tied to our clothing and our clothing is tied to our identities. Using sustainable and non-exploitative methods to buy clothes is, quite literally, an act of justice. Olivia B Waxman, in her Time article about thrift shops, states that “The industrial revolution introduced the mass-production of clothing, changing the game. The more affordable it became to buy new clothes, the more people thought of clothes as disposable.” Evolving our intense bonds with our clothing is vital to discard customs of mass-consumption. Progress need not be exploitative or linked to cosmetic standards of luxury and wealth, which in-turn destroy the very land we live on.
Chayvu, a garage sale project and second-hand shop, hones in on and supports healing our relationships to clothing and commodities. Envisioned and ideated by Namrata Iyer, Chayvu is an incredible propelling arc of her own sustainability and environmental justice journey. We ask Namrata about the concept of a ‘thrift shop’, traditional eco-friendly Indian practices and the hurdles of growing a small sustainable business.
To begin with – how has your personal journey with sustainability developed? What pushed you into exploring and standing for this lifestyle?
Many influences got me to care about the environment as I do today. I think I grew to be quite a sensitive child. Under the influence of my older sister, I stopped bursting firecrackers during Diwali when I was 7 years old and stopped playing Holi when I was 13. At 17, I deep dived into the commercialisation of animals and went vegan. Finally, all of this came together and made sense to me under one banner, after watching the film, Before the Flood. This was perhaps a starting point into me actively reading more about what was happening in several industries, and since I was about to pursue a major in Fashion, I considered it my responsibility to understand the hypocrisies of the industry I was entering and not add to the problems that exist by continuing the same practices.
Photographs by Mihika Das
When and how did Chayvu branch from this journey? What was your initial vision – do you think this vision has expanded or changed in any way now?
Chayvu came from a very curious, juvenile exercise of wanting to clear my wardrobe out. I remember looking for places to sell my clothes online, but in vain so I would already swap garments with my friends. As a curiosity stunt, I asked people on my Instagram if they would be okay to buy my closet, and surprisingly, I received a pretty good response on it!
Two successful Garage Sales have got me thinking into the kind of impact we are making and could potentially make. This simple gathering we had, had caused people to think about sustainability, begin shopping second hand (a BIG barrier in India), and make tinier but more conscious choices. I’ve left a lot of ventures and ideas on my laptop/ journal, but I’d be crazy to not take this forward.
What does the idea of a thrift shop, essentially, symbolise to you? Do you have any particular influences?
It symbolises excitement, to be honest. Because you never really know what you’re going to manage to find in there, and sometimes, there are some steal deals hidden among racks of clothes. I’ve naturally been influenced by a lot of western literature and media where thrift stores are depicted are treasure troves. Metaphorically, I also look at them as very consciously curated environments. Of course, you would start a thrift store to make some extra bucks, but there has to be a reason you’ve chosen second hand over first.
As a fashion designer yourself, what would you like to share about sustainability elements in fashion?
There’s a lot of nonsense floating around. As designers, we carry a lot of responsibility as to what can influence people and what enters the market as a whole. That’s also what makes it exciting – you have all this power to control what people buy and influence how they buy. Many designers are doing the job well, and thrice as many who are not – so the question boils down to an individual – why am I designing this, how can I make this with lower environmental impact, but still have it do the job? How can I reduce my waste during production? What will happen to it after disposal? Does the world really need this? If you’re able to answer existential questions like these, with relevance to today, you should be able to direct your choices more thoughtfully.
Is there anything you would like to remind people of when thinking sustainably about their personal style choices?
Try to keep it simple. That’s so anti-climatic, haha, but don’t complicate the rules for yourself. But for longevity, try to stay away from impulse buying, treasure your garments, and find different ways to make yourself look beautiful in them. Maybe even get clothes tailored instead of buying them off big brands – that way you can make sure you don’t share a part of your personality with 7000 other people.
Photographs by Mihika Das
As a small, growing business, how do you inculcate your values of sustainability while keeping in mind the expansion of your business?
I think it’s about constantly reassessing your values. With every decision you make, you must question if it aligns with your principles, and what your brand stands for. As owners, we have the advantages to make the right calls; and it’s only easier in the beginning than when well established.
It’s very baseless to say, money doesn’t matter, because bills still come to you. Here, you could evaluate if you can reuse already available resources over virgin ones. Alongside this, you could educate your audience about your prices and your value chain (transparency builds trust), and most importantly, just do the best you can do at that moment, but be very aware of what you would have done alternatively. Because in a couple of years, you will have the money, and you should be able to choose cause over greed with pride.
It might seem like having plastic cups for an event is okay, but it hits you differently when you see a tempo full of them going straight to the trash, and all because you allowed it to happen.
The dominant model digitally today is Instagram accounts – how did you come about choosing this model of thrifting specifically? How is Chayvu different, are there any advantages or disadvantages to this model in comparison to digital operations?
I never expected to have more than one garage sale, and had no plans of scaling. However, a friend suggested, it would help in marketing my event, possibly be useful to sell unsold pieces online after the event and even invite an audience for another sale in the future. It seemed logical, and so after much thought, I took to it; and I think it’s our strongest form of communication today. It works wonderfully, because I get to talk to my audience about things that concern us as a community, and have conversations about topics that worry us as caregivers of society.
And it reflects in the relationship people want to share with an online brand. They now know we’re here for a real cause since we speak passionately, and not to join a passing trend. Instagram’s algorithm probably messes with us too, but I haven’t seen it as a big hurdle (yet!).
One of the things that makes people hesitant about living sustainably is the notion of the high price tag attached to it. Would you agree that sustainable living is expensive – if not, what steps have you taken personally to feasibly budget changes in your lifestyle?
I have weakened my relationship with consumerism – I buy a LOT lesser than I did, and I buy responsibly (or try to!). I’ve realised I don’t need new shampoo bottles or drawers of expensive makeup. I’m just more at ease now – I don’t need things to feel I’m a part of the game.
I reuse items like glass jars, take out containers, old pouches, paper, and so on. I’m teaching myself to widen my aesthetic range to invite tastes more Indian and homely so I can make use of things lying in the house.
Photographed by Namrata Iyer
I use shikakai to wash my hair, medimix for my body and carry my bottle almost everywhere. My family shops in bulk and runs the laundry only when full. I don’t dry clean and mostly hand wash silks or certain embroideries (dry cleaning is almost always unnecessary), I eat plant-based and walk distances below 1.5 km (or use public transport otherwise). I try not to eat packaged junk and use a menstrual cup (it’s economical in the long term). And of course, I only buy second-hand garments now.
By reducing half of my expenses, I do end up saving a lot of money, which I don’t mind spending on the more expensive sustainable options. Try not to pressurise yourself to switch your life overnight. 4 years ago, if you told me only to shop for clothes when needed, I would probably repulse the idea. But it’s second nature now.
In context to the above, we’ve often read about how traditional ways of living in India are sustainable and feasible in itself – in what ways can we borrow inspiration from Indian practices today?
Let’s see if we can add some things.
Steel dabbas, earthen pots, homemade everything, cooking in over take out, buying from your local grocery and vegetable guy, growing some vegetables at home, making your grandmother’s soap recipe, her handwash recipe, her shampoo and conditioner recipe. Wearing your mother’s clothes, stitching and mending them. Spending less, caring more, not constantly indulging in unnecessary luxuries. Living like a middle-class Indian family, because you eventually realise the earth is on fire mostly because of the lifestyles of the rich.
Photographed by Namrata Iyer
I’m barely close to my zero waste goals and there are SO MANY people who have the opportunity to do it better than me in scientific, political, humanitarian ways. It’s important to continue your education, maybe not all at once, but spread out over time.