The discourse on the damaging impacts of the fast fashion industry on the environment has become more prevalent in recent years. The reports are alarming and experts believe there is a crucial need to bring about change in production methods and consumer habits. According to the UN Environmental Programme and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, textile production (including cotton farming) uses around 93 billion cubic metres of water annually,contributing to problems in several water-scarce regions. They also claim that a half a million tonnes of plastic microfibres produced by the fast fashion industry are dumped into the ocean every year. “By 2050, fashion will become the second largest water polluter. It’s imperative for us as consumers, to come together to talk about the consequences of fashion on climate, as well as what each of us can do to make fair fashion choices,” says Divya Thomas from The ReFashion Hub, a collective that brings together stakeholders in wastewater reuse and management in the textile industry. To highlight the issue of wastewater stewardship, The ReFashion Hub invited seven young artists from India to design artworks that raise awareness about water consumption in the fashion industry.
The artworks were launched on February 10th on the social media handles of the seven artists: Priyanka Paul, Mehek Malhotra, Vinu Joseph, Param Sahib, Aditi Mali, Manasi Deshpande and Sonali Bhasin. In the form of comic strips and digital illustrations, the artworks present a tongue-in-cheek take on what goes on behind the process of producing fast fashion clothing. “Using a language that speaks to consumers of fast fashion, [my artwork] was made to start the conversation around how bad the ground reality of the fast fashion cycle really is, we can afford a Rs 300 t-shirt but we can’t afford to repair the damage it does to the environment, buying
responsibly and investing in the right fabrics is the key to being more understanding of the environment,” says Mehek Malhotra, the founder and CEO of Giggling Monkey Studio. Priyanka Paul, a 21-year-old self-taught illustrator, points out in her comic that ‘it takes 5.9 trillion litres of water each year for fabric dyeing alone’.
Vinu Joseph, a visual storyteller and political satirist, created an animation that highlights the problem of textile waste and pollution. His amusing video shows a garbage dump, where a pair of trousers narrates its life story to a t-shirt and other discarded clothing items. ‘After all, 85% cent of all textiles go to the dump each year,’ he writes on the caption of the Instagram post sharing his animation. The illustration made by fashion designer and artist Param Sahib shows a t-shirt with an ironic tag that reads, ‘Making this t-shirt took away 2.5 years of your drinking water.’ Param Sahib, a mixed-media graduate from National Institute of Fashion Technology, Bengaluru, runs the fashion label Param Sahib Clothing. Putting the spotlight on the absurdity of the fast fashion industry, his artistic intervention aims to change the mindset of consumers in the direction of responsible action for the environment. The artwork sparks a conversation about the importance of questioning the source of the clothes that we wear and not just the final output.
The artists have laid stress on the environmental problems caused by fast fashion consumerism, while also exploring the solutions for those problems
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Manasi Deshpande is a digital communications specialist and artist based in Mumbai. Her comic underlines the problem of ‘greenwashing’ by fast fashion brands. Major fast fashion brands label their clothes as environmentally conscious, which makes consumers ignore the underlying negative consequences faced by the environment. Deshpande also sheds light upon the state of garment workers on Instagram, ‘Fast fashion industry is the second largest polluter after oil and most of the garment workers are from developing countries, who receive low wages in return and have to face health hazards.’ A webcomic artist from Pune, Aditi Mali shares her work on social media under the handle ‘@goodbadcomics’. Her comic shows a t-shirt explaining the environmental harm caused by fast fashion. She also mentions alternatives to fast fashion, such as buying secondhand clothing and shopping from small businesses. “I’ve pretty much stopped buying new clothes. Except for the time I got very sad and gave in to buying two pieces of clothing from Instagram thrift stores. Some of the Instagram thrift stores are cool but I see most of them gentrifying the whole thrifting thing which is anti-purpose,” says Mali. She adds, “Not everyone can afford to go off fast fashion because of its accessibility but there are also inexpensive ways to stray away from it. We’ve all got a lot to learn and then a lot more to apply.” Talking about her art she says, “I just wanted the t-shirt to do the talking about how it comes to be and where it ends up being, as the t-shirt knows more about its life than I do, because I’m not a t-shirt.”
The comic strip designed by Sonali Bhasin, a Delhi-based cartoonist who shares her work on her Instagram handle ‘@sonalidoodles’, uses humour to reflect on the harmful impact of fast fashion. Her comic shows frogs narrating the loss of their aquatic habitat, the cause of which is linked to the clothes in her closet. Through her artwork, Bhasin also draws attention to the textile effluents in Mumbai’s Ulhas river. “My piece is intended to be a comment on the kind of impact that waste water from dyeing has on our natural environment,” says Bhasin. “We rarely see the impact of our consumption habits, especially when we live so far removed from nature. What if nature talked back? What if you could see the impact of every impulse buy you’ve ever made, and how would that feel? Also, I really wanted to draw polka-dotted frogs,” she says.
The artworks are a part of a larger campaign by The ReFashion Hub. The artists have laid stress on the environmental problems caused by fast fashion consumerism, while also exploring the solutions for those problems. Whether it is by using striking colours or by adding an element of comedy in their work, the artists have used their personal touches to design thought-provoking pieces that effectively communicate the idea that your impulse buy might make you happy for a day, but will affect the water and air for far longer.