How to be a Sustainability Champion without spending

The concept of sustainability is gaining a lot of momentum and we all want to play a part in it.

As hackneyed as the word may sound, there are several renditions of it.

It guides your purchase patterns through use of products that are organic, ethically sourced and support of brands that are homegrown and local.

However, being sustainable doesn’t always have to mean an expenditure. You can contribute to this movement without spending a penny.

I have repeatedly said that we Indians never had to be taught ‘sustainability’.

Wearing hand-me-downs, reusing our clothes till they became a duster is a common feature in our households. Maximising our products and juicing out every bit of value out of the things we use, is ingrained in our minds. Reusing and repairing is seeped in our culture.

But that is fast changing. We are now a generation of ‘Have money, will spend’.

Our disposable income and the advent of online shopping has given consumerism a huge boost.

Our blinding imitation of everything American is worrisome. But then, consumption is required to keep the economy moving, especially so in this era of VUCA (vulnerability, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity).  

Demand needs to bounce back. People need to get their jobs back.

That said, lately, inhuman human resource policies of large fashion conglomerates’ have been exposed.

Their offshore production facilities are nothing short of slavery with long working hours, low pay, non-payment of overtime and usage of unfair means to keep them employed.

As Gandhi said, ‘There is no beauty in the finest cloth, if it makes hunger and unhappiness’.

There is no beauty in the finest cloth, if it makes hunger and unhappiness

Mahatma Gandhi

In the last 2-3 years, India has grown aware of these issues. Even though we know that India is one of the production hubs for brands in USA and EU, the atrocities are levied towards our own labourers.

I am sure you know that H&M fired a 1200 labourers without warning this July.

And therefore, conversations about fair labor practices and ethical fashion concern us as more than our western counterparts.

Supporting fast fashion brands, means supporting these atrocities.

The objective of this blog is to help you play a part in the sustainability movement without making a hole in your pocket – in fact you can be a sustainability champion without spending any money.

So how can we take a more mindful step towards sustainability without spending a dime.

  1. Take the 30 wears test

You will buy if you can afford. And fashion is becoming increasingly affordable these days. But, if you really are concerned about the planet and its people, yourself and your clothes, you will want to ask yourself this before buying – Will I wear it at least 30 times?

If the answer is no, then perhaps you should rethink it.

Let me share a perspective with you- to demonstrate that this rule/test is not so hard to achieve:

You go out for work, with friends, on dates, with family and so on. Chances are you own at least 30 pieces of clothing – one for each day. In the least.

If you buy a dress, make it a point to wear it at least once a month. I understand repetition of clothing impacts your image. It happens to me too.

But if you decide to wear it at least once a month, you can wear it the not just the entire year, but for 30 months – that’s 2.5 years.

Now, if you want a piece of clothing to last you for 30 wears, you will definitely want to purchase a durable and quality piece. Something that’s classy which even when repeated, stands out for its class. So, instead of getting something from Zara or H&M, where you will get a top or dress for say a 3,000, try a homegrown brand. Instagram is a great place to find brands who have an ethical brand philosophy.

2. Evaluate the Cost Per Wear

Imagine you are buying an outfit from Zara that’s worth 3000/-. You would wear it say thrice over the next 3-6 months. After having worn it for a few times, you might get tired of it.

You might feel that people have seen it already. Or it is possible that the trend has changed, and the outfit is no longer relevant.

If you’ve worn the outfit thrice, effectively, the cost of wearing that outfit was 1000/- per wear.

Cost Per Wear is computed by dividing the price of the outfit by the number of times you wore it.

In a few months, you might feel the urge to buy another one. Given that trends change every 3-6 months, you might want to shop those many times a year.

Averaging to 4 purchases a year, you could end up spending say 12,000 rupees on trendy outfits. (Obviously assuming the average price of an outfit is 3k).

Imagine now that you wore that outfit say 10 times, instead of 3, the cost per wear reduces to 300/-.

That’s a much better CPW.

The definition of cost per wear

Better still if you apply the 30 wears rule, the cost per wear would come down to 100/-

The question is – would a Zara outfit last upto 30 wears? I don’t know.  

Here is another scenario: What if you bought something that wasn’t trendy – but classy. This classy item would work with multiple pieces. It might cost more than 3000/-

So, imagine a white silk shirt – a classy piece right?

You can wear it with a jeans, with a skirt, and with a saree even.

Yes, it could be pricier. But, you would’ve gained an outfit that would last.

It would suit your personal style and not to mention, it would be an organic choice because silk is a natural fibre.

3. Adopt Minimalism

Read my blog on Decoding Minimalism here.

Live with fewer things. You will realise, one doesn’t really need so many clothes, so many books, so many pieces of jewellery, bags, shoes and so on.

The pandemic has certainly taught us this. We can live with fewer things and doing less.

I am in no way saying don’t buy. It is not possible to live a life without buying things.

But ask yourself, do I need it.

If the answer is a resounding no, then reconsider it.

Before making the impulse purchase, sleep over it.

I am sharing something I had not intended to write in this blog, but I am doing it nevertheless because it important.

Handloom and Handmade

In India, the entire textile sector is divided into powerloom and handloom.

The difference is that in a powerloom machine, in a single day 50 meters or more can be woven. In handloom, the weaver is actually sitting behind a pit loom or frame loom and manually does the warping and wefting. He/she effectively churns out 5 -6 meters of cloth per day.

In doing this, he/she makes less than 5,000/- per month.

Handlooms make only 15% of the entire cloth production of our country.

Dyeing of yarns, hand-printing, embroidery all of which constitute the pre-loom and post-loom activities also fall under the ambit of handloom sector. All are high level workmanship which are all manual. They require skill and technique and have been handed down through generations.

All these artisans either work independently or work under middle-men and master weavers.

Many of these weavers are under bonded labour- either at the hands of the Government or private organisations.

Next time you want to purchase something, buy handloom.

If you buy twice a month, make one of the purchases a handloom product.

With this awareness, you would be helping a weaver or an artisan. You will be protecting a dying craft and you would be promoting that which is inherently Indian.

My closing thoughts – sustainability is a way of life. It is meant to simplify – not complicate.

The western cultures need to adopt it, but we are ingrained with it. It is in our DNA.

It is only best that we apply it for ourselves.

Leave your thoughts, comments below. Or better still, email me on