One cotton shirt uses up to 3,000 liters of water to make. One denim jacket takes 7,500 liters. That’s enough drinking water to last one person for six years! The fashion industry is the world’s second-largest polluter. The fast fashion industry, particularly, wastes around 93 billion cubic meters of water every year, which is enough to meet the needs of around 5 million people.
Recently, seven Indian artists and graphic designers came together to create specially commissioned artworks and comic strips that underline water consumption by the fashion industry. The participating artists—Priyanka Paul, Aditi Mali, Manasi Deshpande, Mehek Malhotra, Vinu Joseph, Param Sahib, and Sonali Bhasin—launched their artworks on their social media handles. The artistic intervention was organized by The ReFashion Hub, a collective working to bring together multiple stakeholders—including fashion businesses, textile bodies, industry leaders, young designers, artisans, and consumers—invested in wastewater reuse and management in the textile industry with long-term positive climate impact.
The aim was to raise awareness around the pressing issue of wastewater stewardship with a focus on bringing climate action to fashion.
Talking about the initiative, The ReFashion Hub’s Divya Thomas says, “By 2050, fashion will become the second-largest water polluter. It’s imperative for us as consumers, to come together to talk about the consequences of fashion on climate, as well as what each of us can do to make fair fashion choices.”
The artists were invited to design comic strips that capture a sarcastic take on producing a T-shirt, and the resources that it drains, with a key focus on water wastage. The resulting works showcase the absurdity of the industry, hoping that viewers take note and make responsible decisions.
As a child, Pune-based webcomic artist and freelance animator Aditi Mali fondly recalls being more excited to receive clothes that her cousin sister would outgrow than buy new ones. In fact, she finds reusing what she has so therapeutic that she has pretty much stopped buying new clothes. “I would like to revamp my T-shirts into cute tops and make them into bags instead of buying new ones,” says Mali.
Comics by self-taught illustrator and poet Priyanka Paul and Mumbai-based designer and visual artist Mehek Malhotra (Giggling Monkey) bring attention to the amount of water that our clothes consume. Through the project, Paul explored the ethicality and constant tryst we have with capitalism and fast fashion in terms of everyday practices and the functionality of clothing, the rise of thrift shops, and what makes up eco-consciousness. Malhotra’s artwork was made to start the conversation around the grim reality of the fast fashion cycle. “We can afford a 300 rupee T-shirt but we can’t afford to repair the damage it does to the environment. Buying responsibly and investing in the right fabrics is the key to being more understanding of the environment,” she says.
Political satirist, independent journalist, and video storyteller Vinu Joseph’s main objective was to make his audience aware of something they might have taken for granted all this while. “It’s challenging to convey something this serious in a funny comic video without losing the essence of the original subject,” he says about the experience. Designer and mixed media graduate Param Sahib agrees that millennials need to know that the damage is being done. His series is a fun take on how things are being made, and where we are going wrong—with a plea to start looking out for sustainable options.
Mumbai-based artist Manasi Deshpande’s sarcastic comic addresses the issue of greenwashing in the fast fashion industry. The ironic comic portrays a garment worker making a ‘Save Water’ T-shirt. The idea, according to her, was to show the hypocrisy of the fast fashion industry, the environmental cost, and the water pollution that tags along.
Further, Delhi-based cartoonist and illustrator Sonali Bhasin’s amusing piece has polka-dotted frogs narrating the cause of the loss of their aquatic habitat—a comment on the impact that wastewater from dyeing has on our natural environment. “What if nature talked back? What if you could see the impact of every impulse buy you’ve ever made, and how would that feel?” she asks.
The artworks are part of a series of dynamic, youth-focused programs and initiatives to raise awareness about water usage, including public video projections, installations, and the Fashion Forward Fellowship, India’s first fellowship focusing on wastewater stewardship. The five-week fellowship program ends in April with one winning sustainable capsule collection.
The next project by The ReFashion Hub and YWater launched a photo series by photographer Prarthna Singh to inspire young fashion-conscious people to rethink fast-fashion consumerism with more fair and sustainable choices. It will continue to promote traditional crafts and support local artisans through its textile exhibit Karkhana Chronicles.
Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world.