Why Go Back to Our Roots in Quarantine?

At SUSS we want to bring you insights from building a sustainable fashion community in India. What sustainable fashion even means in the Indian context and ask difficult questions as part of a wider global community. Today, let’s talk about a new way of life that maybe emerging in the time of Covid-19.

4 April 2020: A never before seen sight, ducks spotted on a main road in Delhi amidst a nationwide lockdown.

On the evening of 28th March 2020 in Delhi, India, a SUSS team call is in progress, amid a nationwide lockdown. In the background some birds chirp. Definitely more than usual. We joke about repeating clothes at home since there is no one to see us. And also marvel at the stars that are now visible across the Delhi sky. As this conversation evolves, someone piques how our parents and grandparents feel like this is a throwback to their childhood. We decide to dig deeper by talking to our family members. Our goal being to learn more about our sustainable roots and add to our combined understanding of sustainable fashion in the Indian context.

Quarantine conversations

Sarojini Garg, 81, sips her evening chai and makes a quick remark about the accompanying crisps — why is so little packed in so much? She then goes on to say how when she was managing a household, she would save up old boxes to store snacks which were bought at the local kirana (grocery) store without much packaging. Sometimes the kiranawala would give spare boxes that they had kept aside for such uses. Quite unlike our ‘Amazon‘ generation, she says, that orders boxes upon boxes and throws them in a jiffy.

And what about clothes? We ask. Growing up she had few clothes and early on learnt how to operate a sewing machine. Fixing a button was considered a necessary life skill and not a “DIY hack.” If a blouse as much as had a tear, she would quickly whip out her sewing machine and fix it.

Possibly, in lockdown is emerging a possible new (old) way of living.

Confined to our homes we’re putting as few clothes and dishes in the wash as possible and rationing food. We’re not buying new clothes because shops are shut and online deliveries are stalled.

Living like this is making us realize that we can actually get by without so many things. Question is — will we go back to hyper consumerism or will going back to our sustainable roots become the new normal?

Shalini Garg, 51, recounts how she grew up with different values than our generation — not hoarding, unabashedly repeating clothes, and buying less but of better quality. Values that were passed onto her from her mother. The result of which is hand-stitched clothes and sarees (traditional Indian drape) shared across generations, eventually passed on to us.

At a societal level, these values she says can be traced back to India’s freedom struggle where people in her words “were not focused on fashion but fighting for freedom” from the British. And as part of the “Swadeshi” (translates to own country, represents a movement to consume Indian made goods and reject British goods) movement, they only wore handwoven Khadi (Indian homespun cotton).

Today, we carry tote bags as a sign of leading a sustainable lifestyle. But our parents and grandparents were stitching tote bags from fabric scraps before it was cool and using them for grocery runs. They were happy with a few things — in essence being what we call minimalists today.

Anil Gupta, 50, adds how nothing was ever excess or waste while growing up. They knew their resources are limited both economically and ecologically, and learnt how to be content with whatever they had.

Sustainable fashion may be a new term for them, but they were practicing it before it became the new big thing. “See now, buy now” did not exist before. They were aware of the time and effort that went into making something and had emotional values attached to it. It wasn’t just about paying some money to own a piece of clothing. Their generation may not have had as many outfits as us, but they experienced more intimate connections with people around them. They were influenced by the experiences and stories of their neighbors and relatives rather than media influencers. A woman in their colony would knit not just for her own family but also for her neighbors and their friends. Relevance came from these connections, not from owning something new and shiny.

“UNLABLED” — our Design and Communications Coordinator, Muskaan, made this collection by upcycling her father, Anil Gupta’s, old shirts.

Quarantine reflections

In lockdown as we find ourselves physically distanced, we also find ourselves reconnecting with old friends or family members we’ve always shared a roof with. At the core is a sense of being in all this together, sacrificing for the greater good. At the core of SUSS is also a community, sewn together with our passion to solve for fashion’s biggest problems.

Piecing all this together we attempt an answer to the title — “Why Go Back To Our Roots In Quarantine?”

In a recent article, Arthur Brooks, a professor of the practice of public leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School, defines satisfaction as:

What you have ÷ What you want

This got us thinking:

Often we chase satisfaction by buying more things, trying to maximize the numerator. These last few weeks at home, discussions with our family and friends have made us realize that maybe satisfaction is all about reducing the denominator, reducing the number of things we want.

And that may lift the collective satisfaction of not just human kind, but also the planet. Because when we go back to our sustainable roots, nature blooms.

SUSS is a community to move the needle on sustainable fashion in India. You can learn more about us at here.

This article was written by Lavanya Garg, Co-founder, and Muskaan Gupta, Design and Communications Co-ordinator, SUSS.

A community and movement to start conversations, build collaborations, and inspire action on sustainable fashion. Homegrown in India.