Text by Zaral Shah. Photographed by Joshua Navalkar. Styled by Swati Sinha
I’ve often considered a shift towards more environmentally friendly living, and my first step has usually been to amass — from friends, social media and Google searches — recommendations of organic and sustainable brands. What I tend to overlook is working towards being green with the things that I already own. And while all of them may not be made from organic or recycled materials, they are resources that I neglected once their intended purposes had been fulfilled. So when I think of putting together a guide to introducing sustainable practices into our existing lifestyles — which are also currently affected by a nation-wide lockdown — the idea of DIYs using what’s available at home seems like a practical (and hopefully fun) option. I discover that old and worn-out clothing separates, empty cosmetic bottles, kitchen waste, fatigued furniture or any other scraps and remains have abundant scope for a second, or third, tenure as long as I’m willing to be a little creative — and patient.
With suggestions for sustainable projects from four innovative minds, I set out with old T-shirts, saris and dupattas, and stitching supplies. Making the first cut through a beautiful, albeit old, sari was tough but felt fulfilling when at the other end of the cutting and stitching emerged a decorative bag. Wrapping the seat of the chair I discovered is definitely not a one-man job, and required more strength than I had imagined. Stitching the kaftan involved a learning curve and some undoing to a few slanted lines, and the bio enzyme, which I was rather excited about, was an interesting experiment where I used kitchen ingredients to create something that’s not actually food. Overall, I’d give myself an A for effort.
VP – Strategy at digital marketing agency GenY Medium
Bioenzyme Floor Cleaner
– 3 parts citrus fruit peels;
– 1 part jaggery;
– 10 parts water;
– yeast (optional).
1. Add all the ingredients into a wide-mouthed, airtight plastic bottle. Do not fill it to the brim.
2. Keep aside for three months. Initially, open it every day for a few seconds to release the gas and eventually every third day. In case you want to speed up the process, add a little bit of yeast.
3. After three months, the peels should have settled down and a clear fragrant liquid will be ready. This is your bio enzyme. To replace your commercial floor-cleaning solution, you can use the bio enzyme as it is or mix with equal parts soap nut water and a few drops of your favourite essential oil. This is 100 per cent chemical-free, with no toxic elements for us to breathe in, and it doesn’t harm the soil once discarded.
“The first step is to question what our products are made of, who made them and what happens after we get rid of them? This can apply to anything, including clothes, food and electronics. Finding a like-minded community — offline or online — is important because your family may not be on the same page as you are. Also, remember it’s ok if you cannot make everything: living sustainably doesn’t mean making everything yourself. Look for small, ethical and sustainable businesses and buy from them.”
“I think commercially available beauty products are highly unsustainable, and DIYs can be considered instead. For example, make your own deodorant using coconut, essential oils and baking soda; a body scrub with leftover coffee, sugar and coconut oil; a moisturiser to suit your skin using coconut oil and other essential oils; face and hair masks from kitchen ingredients; make-up remover with coconut oil and reusable cloth. The list is endless.”
Proprietor at health and beauty brand Bon Organics
Cloth Tote Bag
– Sari/fabric with a border;
– T-shirt/thick fabric;
– sewing machine/ stitching supplies.
1. The border can be cut and used as the handle, and for the top of the bag.
2. Use the thicker material, like the T-shirt, as a second layer on the inside.
3. Stitch* the sides and bottom to create a bag-like shape. Add handles.
*If you don’t have a sewing machine, simple stitching could be implemented, employing a thicker or doubled/tripled thread. Any type of stitch will work as long as it holds and is reversed inward (so that it looks neat on the outside).
4. Fabric in different colours can be used to create diverse shapes and sizes. A little pocket can be created on the bag using a printed piece of cloth.
“We live in a plastic era. The first step towards a sustainable lifestyle is acknowledging the truth about one’s current lifestyle. Once we’ve understood the bigger picture, we need to start focusing on our daily decisions and activities and seeing how they affect and contribute on a larger scale.”
“Start with small baby steps. Converting to a sustainable lifestyle is not easy, but it is achievable. When buying any product, for example, it is important to look at the entire process. These bags can make good gifts or be used to carry produce.”
Some easy starting points:
• “Don’t get take-away food (unless you are using your own containers).
• Segregate your waste at home.
• Opt to refill where possible (at Bon Organics we accept empty bottles for refills).
• Stop using single-use or disposable items.
• Save on electricity.
• Invest in products that have multiple uses instead of just one.
• Walk or cycle when possible.
• Print only when necessary.”
Founder and Creative Director at conscious fashion label Vaishali S
Woven Chair Cover/Seat
– Old cushioned chair;
– coconut oil;
– thick cord/jute rope/muslin fabric.
1. Remove the worn-out cushions from the chair.
2. Polish the bare wooden frame with coconut oil.
3. Take a thick cord or jute rope and start wrapping it* around the now empty seat frame of the chair. Soft muslin fabric can also be turned into ropes.
*Make a knot at the left bottom end of the empty frame. Hold taut and continue to wrap the cord/rope from over the top and under the bottom panes till you reach the end of the chair frame.
4. Make a final knot, and your chair is ready!
“Growing up, I saw my mother live sustainably every day. In the simple things done at home, I saw the way we were all connected to nature. I implemented the same lifestyle that our ancestors have been practising, bringing the zero-waste concept full circle with our home decor and wardrobe pieces — we ensure that each piece of unpurposed fabric is reused.”
“Sustainability in India has been around for centuries now. It comes with practising a simple lifestyle, eating healthy and being mindful of the things that go to waste. Everything we do is connected. If we pay attention to ourselves and eat home-made food and ensure the clothes we buy are durable and of quality fabric, then we are being environmentally conscious.”
“As a designer, I have an ethical obligation as the fashion industry is the second-largest polluter in the world today. Since the conception of the label, we’ve been following a methodical approach in which we reuse fabric pieces and work exclusively with handloom weavers….”
Founder and designer at sustainable fashion label Buna Studio
– Dupatta/fabric (39’’ width, 64’’ length);
– tailor’s chalk;
– sewing machine/stitching supplies.
1. Lay your dupatta/fabric flat on a table and fold it in half (length-wise). Fold it again (breadth-wise) to find the centre front (for the neck) of your kaftan dress. Cut five inches from that centre front to define your neckline. Then, use a ruler and chalk to create a line towards the centre fold to make the ‘V’ at the front of your neckline.*
*Use tailor’s chalk to mark the side seams. Do this by measuring six inches outwards from your neckline and creating a line that travels all the way to the bottom of your fabric.
2. Sew** over the marked lines using a straight stitch on your sewing machine.
**If hand-stitching, a ladder stitch could work to close the seams on the sides. Or a rolled hem/side seam secured by simple stitch can be used too.
3. To finish the neckline of your kaftan, make a small, half inch clip in the centre of the ‘V’ of your neck and fold a half inch seam allowance under, all the way around your neck. Sew the neckline into place. You can also leave the edges raw.
4. Finally, if you’d like to belt your kaftan, create two small buttonholes on either side of the seams at your waist. Slide a sash or small strip of fabric through and tie. If you’d like to hem the bottom you can, or leave it raw.
“I would recommend that people buy from local artisans and repurpose old objects to infuse new life into them. The older generations have always passed down and repurposed old items. Today, with high disposable incomes and the influx of mass-produced brands, we are shifting to fast consumerism. We must instead shift from a wasteful mindset to clean and mindful living. Sustainability is no longer a choice but a necessity.”
“For me, having a sustainable lifestyle is about being aware of your impact on earth and consuming mindfully.”
“I got into mindfulness and meditation in my mid-20s, and it slowly started filtering into all aspects of my life and work — from repurposing my old furniture to veganism and recycling. I love crafts and DIY things, and I mainly buy things from a fair rather than a mall. The story behind handmade products has always excited me.”