The fashion industry is one of the most polluting and wasteful in the world. After garments have been bought and worn out (some not worn out), they are discarded with, leading to over 84% of clothes ending up in landfills or being incinerated.
Some brands are turning these abandoned clothes into new pieces, reducing what would end up in landfill. Sari for Change, an example of this, focuses on repurposing saris and making new modern clothing while maintain the integrity of the traditional piece.
The sari is a renowned symbol of South Asian culture. With its presence in art and literature, the sari is a timeless piece, rich with Indian history. The six to nine-metre cloth is draped around the body, creating a versatile garment that has hundreds of different variations, unique to each of the two thousand ethnic groups. While the fabric is usually made out of cotton, it can also be silk, chiffon and organza and can be adorned with beads, embroidery, rhinestones or even jewels to mark wealth. Regardless of caste, the social class system in India, the sari is a staple among Indian women.
“I always used to experiment with saris. I love saris, it’s part of my heritage,” says Rayana Edwards, owner of Sari for Change.
She had been in the fashion industry for decades before she decided to start this project. “I love the way people pause and connect at boutiques,” she commented. She is interested in why people purchase clothes and the personal connection people have with clothes.
After contemplating where her future will take her next, Edwards had an epiphany. She realised the six-metre sari fabric could be used as a starting point to create an array of one-of-a-kind garments, breathing new life to these culturally rich pieces, from wrap dresses to pyjama suits.
But Sari for Change is more than just about upcycling textile waste. The organisation’s training hubs offer women education and training to provide them with skills for employment. With an unemployment rate of 32.5%, South African joblessness is at an all-time high. Sari for Change provides skill development to uplift communities by equipping them with the necessary skills to earn for themselves.
Edwards is concerned with what a woman’s immediate need is: “To put food on the table”. She trains women with the necessary skills to be self-reliant. “There is both a development and business component,” she explains. “These women ‘go back to school’ to learn skills, which we then buy back after they’ve graduated.” With the incubation hub at Thabang Primary school in Soweto, mothers can be close to their children, to make studying as a mother easier.
The curriculum prepares women with both technical skills as well as entrepreneurial skills, so that after graduating, they are more employable, equipped to supply brands or ready to start their own business.
Edwards has many plans for the future of Sari for Change. She hopes to have more incubation hubs, occupying at least 50 people in 2021. They have already opened to the export market, selling items in the US, Denmark and the UK and plan to continue to expand their market.
“I am not selling a product,” Edwards told Medium, “that’s an aside. I am providing a service in training future entrepreneurs in business skills and needle craft to create their own employment. They either become entrepreneurs, sole proprietors, or suppliers of skills, or distributors. I am selling consciousness, connectivity and continuity”.