How sustainable is your Sari?

I love Saris. 

But until recently, I had no idea what most saris are made of and how sustainable they are. What do words like Chiffon, Organza, Georgette mean anyway? And that’s why i did some digging. Here are the most commonly used materials in Saris, Lehengas, and Salwar Kameez, and what their environmental, labor, and animal cruelty impacts are.

1. Cotton

Cotton comes from nature, so it must be good for the environment right? WRONG!

Cotton fabindia.jpg
Image Source – FabIndia

Environmental Impact – HIGH.

Surprised? Here’s how – Most cotton farmed today use Genetically Modified Seeds (GMO), and require large amounts of pesticides. Also, cotton farming requires huge amount of water. To put things into perspective, according to The Guardian it takes about 22,500 litres of water to produce one kg of cotton in India. 

Labour Impact- HIGH. Pesticide usage in cotton farming leads to health issues, respiratory diseases and cancer in farmers and nearby communities. Additionally, conventional farms are now so dependent on GMO seeds, and pesticides, that the income from cotton harvest is sometimes lower than cost of inputs. This has led to Cotton farming communities to go into debt and has even led to a lot of farmers tragically ending their lives.

Animal Cruelty – Pesticide usage impacts health of animals living at or around the farms.

Biodegradable – YES.

2. Silk

Sabyasachi silk

Silk is extracted from silkworms, and so it is a natural material. However, silkworms are likely to be killed in the process. So the decision of whether to buy silk or not, i guess it comes down to your personal values. Alternatives to conventional silk are provided at the bottom of this article!

Environmental Impact – LOW

Labour Impact – LOW

Animal Cruelty – HIGH. The process of making silk requires the killing of the larvae when the cocoon is boiled.

Biodegradable – YES.

 

3. Chiffon

Chiffon colorauction.com.jpg
Image Source – Colorauction

Chiffon is not a type of fabric, but rather it is a term used to describe different types of fabrics that share the same quality – sheerness. Chiffon is a type of material that is light, thin, and transparent. It can be made from Cotton, Silk, Polyester, Rayon, or Nylon.

Environmental Impact – Now the impact of Chiffon really depends on what our chiffon Sari or Dupatta is made of. Is it nylon or polyester ? Well then it was derived from petrochemicals and will not biodegrade for hundreds of years. Is it Cotton? Impacts of cotton are mentioned above in Item 1 ’Cotton’. 

So when we’re out to buy a Sari how do we know what the Chiffon is made from? It is very very hard. Most smaller store owners will not have this kind of information. 

However, if a brand is selling Silk Chiffon, they will usually have this information out there, because it is more expensive than the others. 

Labour Impact – Depends on the material it is made from. Labour impact is HIGHest if the Chiffon is made from Cotton.

Animal Cruelty – HIGH, if it is made from Silk.

Biodegradable – YES, if it is made from Cotton, Rayon or Silk. NO, if it is made from Polyester.

4. Organza

Organza toraniofficial insta
Image Source – Torani

Just like Chiffon, Organza is not a type of fabric, but rather a term used to describe a type of fabric that is sheer and very low density, and can be woven from Silk, Polyester or Nylon.

Environmental Impact – Depends on the material it is made from.

If your Organza Sari is made from Silk, its environmental impact will be fairly low. However, if it is made from Polyester or Nylon, it comes from Petrochemicals, which uses great amounts of energy and causes pollution.

Again, if a brand is selling Silk Organza, they will more than likely communicate this to the customer, and will also be higher priced than regular Organza.

Labour Impact – LOW

Animal Cruelty – HIGH, if it is made from Silk.

Biodegradable – YES, if made from Silk. NO, if made from Polyester or Nylon.

5. Crêpe

Crepe  indianclothstore.jpg
Image Source – Indian Cloth Store

Crepe is that fancy crisp fabric we find in Saris, high fashion dresses, scarves, wrap dresses, and such. Crepe can be made from Wool, Silk as well as Synthetic Materials like Polyester.

Environmental Impact – HIGH if it is made from Polyester, and LOW if it is made from Silk. 

As for Wool, this depends largely on the supply chain of the wool. While inherently the process of extracting wool does not use a lot of energy, factory farming of sheep in the wool industry has led to a rise in carbon emissions in the process of Wool extraction.

Labour Impact – LOW

Animal Cruelty – HIGH, if it is made from Wool or Silk.

Biodegradable – YES, if made from Wool or Silk. NO, if made from Synthetic Materials

6. Georgette

georgette fashionvibes.net
Image Source – Fashionvibes.net

Georgette is a type of crêpe fabric that is made from Silk, Rayon, Viscose, or synthetic fibers like polyester.

Environmental Impact – If your Georgette is made from Silk, the environmental impact is likely LOW. If it is made from Polyester, like I’ve mentioned before, the impact is VERY HIGH.

But what if its made from Rayon or Viscose? These two materials are derived from plant pulp after all, right? True. However, we do have to note that in the extraction of Rayon or viscose fibres a high amount of chemicals are used, which are toxic for the environment, and these chemicals are most often dumped unchecked into rivers or into the soil. 

Labour Impact – HIGH if made from Rayon or Viscose. Labour working in manufacturing these fibres are often exposed to harmful chemicals without access to protective equipment.

Animal Cruelty – HIGH, if it is made from Silk.

Biodegradable – YES, if made from Silk, Rayon or Viscose. NO if made from Polyester.

7. Satin

Satin colorauction.jpg
Image Source – ColorAuction

Satin is a type of weave characterised by its shine, softness, and gorgeous ‘drapability’, making it a really popular fabric for Saris. In the past Satin used to be made exclusively of Silk, but now it is found to be made from Silk as well as Polyester and Nylon.

Environmental Impact – HIGH if it is made from Polyester and Nylon, and LOW if it is made from Silk. 

Labour Impact – LOW

Animal Cruelty – HIGH, if it is made from Silk.

Biodegradable – YES, if made from Silk. NO, if made from Polyester or Nylon.

 

8. Synthetic

synthetic

As the name suggests, Synthetic Saris are made from Synthetic materials, most popularly, Polyester. These are sometimes are cheapest Saris on the market. Ive even seen them sold in the streets of Delhi for Rs.100 per Sari. I’m not even kidding.

Environmental Impact – VERY HIGH. Polyester is a product of the Petrochemical industry and uses a whole lot of energy to produce.

Labour Impact – LOW

Animal Cruelty – LOW, unless there is an oil spill, in which case its a disaster for marine life.

Biodegradable – NO

 

9. Velvet

velvet keepmestylish.com.jpg
Image Source – Keepmestylish.com

According to goodonyou.com  – The word “velvet” refers to the structure of the fabric, not the actual fiber or material used. You can recognize velvet thanks to its short pile, raised loops, tufts of yarn that cover its surface.

Velvet can be woven from a host of materials including Silk, Cotton, Linen, Wool or Synthetic fibers. How to tell what kind of Velvet your Sari is made of? Given the lack of transparency in the industry it is very hard. However, rest assured, if you’re buying Silk Velvet, I’m pretty sure the designer or the brand will mention this and the price will also reflect it.

Environmental Impact – HIGH if it is made from Synthetic Materials or Cotton, and LOW if it is made from Silk or Linen.

Labour Impact – HIGH if made from Cotton.

Animal Cruelty – HIGH, if it is made from Silk.

Biodegradable – YES, if made from Silk, Cotton or Linen. NO, if made from Synthetic Materials.

How can we buy Saris sustainably?

In all honesty, when i started researching this subject , I had no idea that the findings would be so depressing. The industry is, generally speaking, very polluting. The same applies for Lehengas and Salwar Kameez. But sadly there aren’t a lot of viable alternatives.

But like Esther Perel says ‘Not all problems have solutions’. I guess its up to us to find solutions to this particular problem. Its up to budding designers as well as industry leaders. Here are some alternatives that already exist.

  1. Soy Silk – As the name suggests, this fiber is made from Soybeans. Varnuyathe from Chennai, Ritu Kumar from New Delhi, and Bhu:sattva, Ahmedabad are known to have used this material in their Saris.
  2. Peace Silk /Ahimsa Silk – Made without hurting the silkworms, this silk is actually made in India. You can learn more about this on the Ahimsa Silk website, where you can also purchase saris. There are a host of other brands on the internet selling Ahimsa silk saris, but it is yet to hit the mainstream silk market.
  3. Organic Cotton – The crop is produced without the use of GMO seeds, chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Look for the GOTS certification.
  4. Vintage and Second hand – Borrow your mom’s, aunties’, sisters’ Saris and Lehengas. Turn your mom’s old Sari into a brand new Lehenga. Find a vintage Sari at a local or online thrift store This is the best and most sustainable option. Rewear.in, Nani’s Closet,  Dohoran Nepal are awesome online stores that sell pre-loved Saris. Borrowing and thrifting are the most sustainable options out there.
  5. Rent – There’s a bunch of online as well as offline ethnic wear rentals out there- Stage3, Antidote, WRAPD, to name a few. USE THEM!
  6. Ethicus Vertically integrated, organic cotton, hand woven, sari company. ethicus.in 
  7. Amit Aggarwal Gorgeous modern Upcycled, Recycled Saris. (If you can afford ‘em. They’re pretty pricey!)

Disclaimer

  1. This is a very complex issue, and when I say impact of a product is ‘Low’ or ‘High’ it is not as simple as that. It is highly subjective, and I am by no means a certified expert. The purpose of this article if to help consumers get a general idea of what their garments are made of, and the relative impact of these materials.
  2. I realize that there are more problems presented than solutions here. If you are an expert on this matter and can offer solutions or introduce us to brands that do, please leave a comment.
  3. Can you shed more light to some of these issues? Please do! Like I said, I’m no expert. Just someone seeking answers !

Sources

https://globalcommodities-silk.weebly.com/environmental-impact.html

Marc Jacobs – masterclass.com

https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/mar/20/cost-cotton-water-challenged-india-world-water-day

https://organiccotton.org/oc/Cotton-general/Impact-of-cotton/Risk-of-cotton-farming.php

https://globalcommodities-silk.weebly.com/environmental-impact.html

https://sewport.com/fabrics-directory/chiffon-fabric

https://sewport.com/fabrics-directory/organza-fabric

 https://iwto.org/sustainability/tbc-environmental-impacts-of-wool-textiles/

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/what-is-satin-fabric-a-guide-to-the-types-characteristics-and-uses-for-satin#fabric-care-guide-how-do-you-care-for-satin

 https://goodonyou.eco/material-guide-how-sustainable-is-velvet/

5 thoughts on “How sustainable is your Sari?

    1. I agree.. The simple thing to understand is that anything synthetic takes a lot of energy to produce and does not biodegrade. And we may or may not know it but a lot of our everyday materials are made from synthetic products. !

      Like

  1. Very nice and informative post. The sooner everyone realizes how polluting this industry is, the better it is for the environment. We as a species need to take this seriously to make this planet a better place for generations to come.
    Every bit counts!!!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s