Upcyling has a positive environmental impact and also shows how creative thinking can be transformative
Upcyling has a positive environmental impact and also shows how creative thinking can be transformative

Fashion: Incredible adventures of upcycled trash

Meet five people who see beauty in ‘rubbish’ and are transforming sarees and lives – something we could really be inspired by given the year we’ve all had
By Dinesh Raheja
PUBLISHED ON MAR 06, 2021 07:10 PM IST

There is only one word to describe the journey of a pre-used saree from Chor Bazaar, Mumbai, which winds up as an accessory adorning someone walking the streets of Milan. That word is ‘incredible’.

The creative upcycling of waste or pre-loved materials into desirable possessions is an idea whose time has finally come. Apart from making a positive environmental impact, making waste into items of beauty and joy shows how a little creative thinking and effort can almost always be transformative, whether it’s sarees or lives.

The HT Brunch November 2020 cover focused on the theme of upcycling
The HT Brunch November 2020 cover focused on the theme of upcycling

Meet five upcyclers who make gorgeous things of what we’d call waste.

“I recently restored a 60-year-wedding saree!”

Joy Bimal Roy, 66

Joy Bimal is turning old sarees into new
Joy Bimal is turning old sarees into new

The unfortunate death of Joy Bimal Roy’s sister, Yashodhara, unwittingly provided him with the impetus to embark on an upcycling (ad)venture.

“My sister had a fabulous collection of sarees,” says Joy. “I started experimenting with her torn sarees, adding pieces from other sarees in place of missing portions, thereby turning out an altogether new saree. When I ran out of pieces of her sarees, I began using my own embroidered stoles to make new ones.”

It was at this point that he realised his efforts were called ‘upcycling’. Enthused, he launched an enterprise named ‘Touch of Joy’ and began asking for sarees as donations.

Joy operates from home and donates the proceeds of his sales to Shanti Avedna Sadan, a hospice for terminally ill cancer and AIDS patients. He says, “It is a one-man operation and I handle almost every aspect; but I do have one tailor.”

“We turn discarded plastic bags into fashion”

Rajiben Vankar, 42

Rajiben is turning plastic bags into clothes
Rajiben is turning plastic bags into clothes

Rajiben, a widowed mother of three in Awadh nagar village, has her own brand, titled Rajiben, which converts trashed plastic bags into attractive clothes. She says, “We wash discarded plastic bags, cut them into strips, use cotton or nylon thread to weave them and then make clothes from them. We try to come up with new designs, styles and colours to stay abreast with market trends.”

In a month, her brand churns out approximately 50-70 pieces. She expresses gratitude to Radhi Parekh (of ARTISANS’) and “good people like Nileshbhai from Ahmedabad and Madanbhai from Pune”, who market her products.

“My husband and our society expect a woman to tend the house,” she says and adds: “I wish to provide work for as many women as possible and encourage women to stand on their own feet.” A year ago, Rajiben branched out on her own.

“Our sarees become bags, shoes, jewellery…”

Stefano Funari, 52, and Poornima Pande, 35

Stefano and Poornima are turning sarees into sartorial pieces
Stefano and Poornima are turning sarees into sartorial pieces

Originally from Italy, Stefano Funari quit a corporate job and started working in India at an NGO. In 2012, Stefano approached Fashion in Process (FIP), a research collective within the Politecnico di Milano University, and pitched a partnership to work on a project grounded on two concepts: upcycling and the saree. Today, Stefano is the managing director of the brand, I Was A Sari, which upcycled 56,758 sarees, totalling 2,27,033 square meters of re-purposed fabric last year.

The idea of upcycling the saree hit Stefano when he visited Chor Bazaar. He recalls, “I bought a couple of second-hand sarees and was convinced they could be transformed into something beautiful through a sustainable business.”

NIFT graduate Poornima Pande (35), the marketing and communication director of I Was a Sari, also left the corporate world because she “wanted to support a bigger objective than just personal gratification.” She exults, “It is ingrained into the DNA of I Was a Sari to empower women from not-so-privileged backgrounds to become the architects of their future.”

“Second-hand clothing is considered inauspicious. Why?”

Radhi Parekh, 61

Radhi is turning old thoughts to new ideas
Radhi is turning old thoughts to new ideas

Radhi believes that recycling, reuse, and repair is essential to India’s thrift economy. In 2011, she launched a gallery, ARTISANS’, at Kala Ghoda, Mumbai. “ARTISANS’ is aligned to the United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, which aims to put people and planet before profits,” she says.

“Only recently have ordinary people started collecting old sarees for their intrinsic value.”She finds textile reuse comparatively easy for the Indian consumer to accept. But concludes, “It will take some more time for people to value the uniqueness of ordinary materials that are transformed into extraordinary objects through the maker’s imagination.”

“People scoff: wearing stones as a necklace?”

By Gaury Pathare, 42

Gaury Pathare is turning waste to jewellery
Gaury Pathare is turning waste to jewellery

Gaury Pathare, founder Of Wandering Whites, crafts inventive jewellery primarily out of brass and copper industrial waste, and also from found objects such as stones, leather and waste wood.

Her upcycling journey started when she decided to fashion ornaments out of stones she collected from riverbeds all over India. Soon she began exhibiting her work at flea markets.

Gaury’s artefacts look like the products of alchemy, when you consider their source materials. She’s proud of a neckpiece made from the brass plate inside an electric switch. For her opening piece at the Lakme Fashion Week (LFW), she made a twisted artefact from Godrej locks.

Her finale piece for the LFW fetched Gaury around 40,000 but a few of her pieces cost a mere 1,900 “to create awareness about waste recycling.”

“Believe me,” she exhorts, “Brass and copper waste are expensive. The metals I get need cleaning but I do not believe in melting them because you are wasting whatever is created already.” Sustainability is important to Gaury.

Dinesh Raheja is a reputed film historian, columnist and TV scriptwriter who has been writing on cinema for over three decades

From HT Brunch, March 7, 2021

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