Sustainable is that familiar word most of us have heard often. We are aware of the idea of promoting sustainability and how to move forward into a better future that is good for the planet as well as the people. Sustainable clothing is important as the fashion industry accounts for about 8-10% of global carbon emissions and nearly 20% of wastewater. This is really a sad fact but the obsession of buying new clothes for every event and hoarding them in our wardrobe is what makes it even worse.
Haushala Gurung Thapa Magar, Founder and Creative Director of Haushala Creatives as well as of Children and Youth First, is one of the pioneers who reintroduced and brought the idea of sustainable clothing in Nepal; but with a notion of making it accessible to all Nepalis. Once an avid shopper, Thapa soon realized that the amount of clothes she had was causing turmoil within her and upon research, she discovered the human and environmental impact that fashion was having. Her solution towards it was within her own closet; by utilizing each and every piece of cloth she had and not just buying continuously or hoarding it, but by swapping clothes and then repairing and redesigning them.
The concept people have about sustainability is mostly towards clothing. What is your take on this?
It is just not about wearing sustainable clothes but also about educating oneself on fashion waste and the people who make it. There is a sense of activism involved in it. A lot of people have no idea that it takes about 2000 liters of water to make a t-shirt, so just think of how much water has been used to make each t-shirt you own. So, when we don’t know the environmental impact of our clothes, we just keep on buying and buying and it eventually ends up in our landfill sites. That is an awful unconscious habit that is directly affecting the land.
According to you what are the important things to consider while considering sustainable clothing?
The two important things to consider for sustainable clothing is to know where your clothes are coming from, knowing at least what it’s made from and making sure that the people who make your clothes are getting equal, fair pay.
Can you tell us how you made sustainable fashion affordable?
When Haushala Creatives started in 2013, sustainable fashion was something not a lot of people knew about besides fair trade groups in Kathmandu. At HC we wanted to make sustainable fashion very accessible and easy for everybody to not just buy but also to understand. Very often sustainable fashion is considered elite and for the privileged, so we wanted to change that misconception. Sustainable is also considered very expensive and even if we go to any sustainable stores, the clothes are indeed expensive for an average earner. So we wanted to break that boundary and make it sustainable and accessible for everybody.
“Sustainable is not always about what you wear, but also how it impacts the environment and the people who make these clothes.”
Can you tell us about Haushala Creatives and how it functions?
Haushala Creatives has been around since 2013 so basically we do a lot of ‘made in Nepal’ things with knitting and stitching. Over the years we have made changes in the way we work. We used to make new things but now we have moved into three of our main ethos of reconnect, repair and redesign. We mainly focus on repair, because we feel that if we talk about sustainability, we should make sure that brands should be able to repair whatever clothes they sell or at least try. We want to encourage this idea so that everybody is doing it and not just us.
Do ‘made in Nepal’ brands provide fair wages to their employees?
I would like to believe ‘made in Nepal’ brands give equal and fair wages. Brands are in with Fair Trade Organization and now the stories of people who are making these clothes and or any items are coming up, it is good to know that people who are making our clothes are getting fair wages.
Tell us about Global Fashion Exchange?
During the end of 2016, I was approached by Global Fashion Exchange which does fashion clothing swaps all around the world. Founded by Patrick Duffy, they are based in New York and the whole concept behind it is you bring a certain quantity of clothes and somebody else brings a certain quantity and you swap your clothes with other people. But there are certain standards you have to meet. Here in Kathmandu when we do Global Swap, we also make sure by sorting clothes out weeks before the swap, designing how we showcase it and making sure that clothes are in good, wearable condition. Swap is all about learning!
When I educate about sustainable fashion, it has always revolved around understanding sustainability in traditional works of Nepal. Our cultural and traditional clothes were and still are designed in a sustainable way. It was made in a multi-purpose way so it could be worn time and again and in different ways.
Our module of sustainable fashion is more of an educator’s point of view, not just from a business perspective, because we believe when more people have knowledge about sustainable fashion, they won’t get intimidated by having to own expensive clothes to be sustainable. They can live a sustainable life by utilizing whatever they have and not buying unnecessary things.
Has the concept of sustainability changed over the years?
From 2017 to 2022 it has changed considerably over the years. I have seen more thrift stores coming up where people can buy and sell their clothes but a few years back, the idea of using second hand clothes was not considered good and it had stigma attached to it. People were hesitant and it was more of a status symbol. People are now more aware of the environment as well, and I think they are embracing this idea wholeheartedly.
How have Nepalis taken to the concept of reconnect, repair and redesign?
There will always be pros and cons; it is basically towards not buying a lot. There is also the economy behind our consumption but at the same time people also think these two complement each other. They really like the idea of reconnect, repair and redesign as there is also the idea that you can educate yourself about your clothes. People can learn about social justice which is intertwined with fashion.
Do you feel like sustainable fashion or clothing is basically centered in Kathmandu?
It is centered in Kathmandu but another good thing is that due to social media, we could reach people all over the country. Hopefully we can spread sustainable fashion all over the nation and we are planning to start workshop modules in Lumbini and Bhairahawa soon.
How did your journey towards sustainability start?
I used to be a shopaholic back when I was buying everything and anything. I have loved fashion since my younger days. There came a time in my life where I was surrounded by stacks of clothes all around me. I felt nauseated and sick which woke me up from this state of mind and made me conscious. I went into my own journey of understanding why am I like this, and how can it be solved? While going through this, I came to know about fashion waste, the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh and how everything impacts our environment. My first step towards sustainable fashion would be embracing my mother’s hand me downs shawls and sweaters. So that is how my journey into sustainability started.
What are the challenges you have faced?
There are indeed a lot of challenges when it comes to fashion and sustainability. There are people who really put their heart and mind to making sustainable clothes. The biggest challenge was to make the clothes affordable while selecting the right fabric and paying fair wages to the people making them. We cannot be purists in the world we live in today. The challenge is also to educate people and help them understand; empathy is the way forward for sustainability.