Life As I Know It: Shubhangi Kothari

In the latest in our Life as I know it series, Eco-Age intern Shubhangi Kothari shares her journey in sustainability so far and the impact it has on her career and daily life.

As most of us today, I frequently get anxious about the irreversible impacts our simple acts of living leave on this earth and often question myself on what it would be like for the generations after us to live on a planet which is plagued by the after effects of our existence. At the same time, I am also aware of the wisdom of living sustainably has been left to us, as tradition and culture, by those who came before. Growing up in India, I hope to have built a foundation on which I can place the realities of today and build my sustainable life; I grew up with values of preserving and respecting society and environment and for me, these principles are the basis of the present concept of “sustainability”.

India was a developing nation where choices were limited and saving money was a priority. As a result, shopping and consumption remained a frivolous activity and not much time or money was spent on unnecessary consumption. But as a teenager, I was constantly under pressure of projecting a “fashionable” image to my peers. I was also enchanted by western brands and was constantly on a shopping spree. My wardrobe started swelling with garments and accessories which I seldom wore and most of the times these purchases joined the pile of unworn clothes – just to be discarded at some later stage. Instead of visiting the local markets selling handmade artisanal products, I started going to malls which had a huge line up of brands selling mass-produced goods. 

After completing my studies, I started working in a museum shop which was steeped in luxury and heritage but most of all in traditional crafts. I dealt with the artisans, worked with people older than myself and at the same time interacted with people visiting Jaipur from all over the world. The years I spent here modified how I perceived things. This time, my own conscious choice and my pride in Indian crafts made me more attentive towards products which were produced locally by Indian craftsmen. Back in India, my wardrobe consists of a lot of hand block printed textiles and my home is adorned with handwoven rugs, folk paintings and blue ceramic decorative objects. Buying from artisans is not just a simple transactional act – it is rather an exchange where I consume not just the product but also days of labour and resources drawn from the environment (with minimum possible negative impact). In my small way I try to motivate craftsmen by showing an appreciation for their skill and hard work, and in turn get encouraged by the impact I create on their lives through my actions. 

As every Indian child, I was brought up to make the best possible use of everything I had – from taking care of my clothes to make them last longer to keeping my books in a good condition so that they can be passed on to other children. As a child, more often than not, I wore my elder sisters’ clothes when they grew out of them and when they were no longer in wearable condition, my mother repurposed them to make either shoe cases or dusters. I do not remember a time when she simply threw out something because it wasn’t in fashion anymore. Similarly, living in a desert state where water was limited, we also grew up with a tremendous appreciation for nature and preserving whatever we could. In the early 2000s, my father installed a solar geyser to reduce our electricity consumption and also put in place a rainwater harvesting system at home to conserve rainwater. At every step of our growing up, my parents made every effort to inculcate in us the importance of making a conscious effort to function in harmony with nature as well as society. 

After coming to London to pursue my Masters, I began attending talks on sustainability and circular economy at Conde Nast College of Fashion and V&A Museum and consequently reading more about it. My budding interest in sustainable fashion, drove me to research actively about the topic and I wrote reports and research papers on the subject. I listened to podcasts on sustainable fashion and followed Livia Firth and Eco-Age’s work on sustainability. At home, I frequently spoke to my family about the need to make conscious consumption choices because the collective small changes we make to our lifestyle will make a larger difference. Lately, I walk out of fast fashion stores empty-handed and tried to ensure that I reach the minimum benchmark of #30wears (and beyond) for the things I already possess. Today, I am not overwhelmed by societal pressure when making a purchase and instead, a brand’s ethos on sustainability, nature, animals and other humans is much more likely to drive my buying behaviour.

Travel has also left a big footprint in the way I consider sustainability. Over the years I have travelled frequently to the Himalayas and what strikes me most is how the environment has to pay the price of human development. Better roads and connectivity, more houses and shops have changed the face of some of my favourite places. The sand dunes of Pushkar, the lush green hills of Himachal and pristine beauty of Kashmir are scarred by the after-effects of “development”. Dunes have become non-existential and hills have been cut to give space to buildings, advertisement billboards etc. The huge garbage dumps I encounter while walking amongst the otherwise serene surroundings breaks my heart. Since recognizing how human behaviour has affected our natural surroundings, I have become obsessively particular of how I conduct myself towards the environment as well as people – to have a minimum possible negative impact. I am not claiming to be perfect by any standards, but I believe I have consciously taken my first few steps in my sustainability journey. 

“Because we all share this planet earth, we have to learn to live in harmony and peace with each other and with nature. This is not a dream, but a necessity” – Dalai Lama

Read more from our ‘Life as I know it‘ series.

Discover the history of hand-block printing in Jaipur.