Closing the loop: Recycling textile wastes

This Noida-based upcycling service provider is using the power of collaboration and design to tackle the problem of textile waste.
An artisan working with discarded fabric at the Paiwand studio in Noida.
An artisan working with discarded fabric at the Paiwand studio in Noida.

Ashita Singhal is proof that observation and creativity go hand in hand. While pursuing her post-graduation in fashion design from Pearl Academy, Delhi, the Noida resident observed firsthand the bulk of waste that was being generated in a single classroom of design students. “I often wondered, if this is what is happening in the classroom, imagine what is happening in the industry at large,” shares Singhal. Next, only a few months later — when Singhal was completing her internship — she noticed another aspect of textile waste. “I saw how conscious designers were saving waste rather than discarding it due to limited resources or even access to solutions in order to upcycle such waste. As a result, they were storing it; and they had warehouses stored with waste.”

Out of sheer curiosity — and for the need to tackle the environmental crisis caused due to discarded fabric — Singhal drafted a simple, yet effective, action plan. “I procured some textile waste and started cutting them into strips; I then started weaving them into handloom fabrics. From those fabrics, I created jackets.” What Singhal discerned as an elementary idea, unknowingly, turned out to be the start of a small business. Recalling a major event that was an impetus for her taking the entrepreneurial plunge, she shares, “I converted the whole idea into a business plan—we would procure textile waste from design houses, repurpose them into textiles, and sell this back to the design houses. In this way, they [design houses] could create a sustainable range for their clientele.” Her innovative strategy won her the 2018 edition of the Global James McGuire Business plan competition, for which she received a grant of $25,000. Little did Singhal know that the upcycling service provider, Paiwand, which she set up next—at the outset it may seem like an outcome of the aforementioned event—was just an incipient channel to get to grips with the issue of textile waste.

Taking the first step

Launched in November, 2018, Noida-based Paiwand (the brand name is derived from the Hindi phrase ‘Paiwand Lagana’, which means to patch up a garment) has a team of about 20 employees. Till date, they have collaborated with about 16 companies — design firms, export houses, fashion labels, and more. Using handwoven upcycled textiles to incorporate on the face of a console unit made by Faridabad-based design studio Mangrove Collective; making furnishings for Delhi-based luxury furniture store, Sarita Handa; creating upcycled saris for Kolkata-based fashion house Naina Jain; teaming up with Kuwait-based Een Studios for minimal aesthetic womenswear; crafting pillow covers from handwoven upcycled leather fabrics in partnership with Punit Jasuja’s interior design store, Second Floor Studio—the list of their design alliances can go on. Recently, they also worked on a range of footwear (they used leather scrap) for Noida-based OCEEDEE Shoes. “Leather is one of our biggest projects—we introduced Wleather [woven leather] a year back by weaving leather and other discarded textile waste together to create handloom.”

Most times, Paiwand works in tandem with the fashion or decor houses to create collaborative designs. Singhal adds, “We have a strong design team. Once, we receive the textile waste, it is sorted as per different colours and fibre types. Later, our design team sifts those swatches and creates samples out of it, keeping in mind the aesthetic and brand language that the designer has to offer. It is a collaboration model; even designing is part of it.”

It is likely to assume that while working with discarded fabric, especially in domains such as fashion and lifestyle, there would be at least a fraction (and more) of waste created from the used waste, mostly due to design challenges. Singhal puts our speculation to rest by mentioning, “Smaller scraps can go into fillers of cushion, quilts, and blankets. We are currently researching to build other products as well. We are in the process of collecting a certain quantity, and it can be used to create yarn so we can develop our own products. The idea is to replace textiles with upcycled textiles across categories.”

It’s about teamwork

Environmental challenges cannot be tackled alone; collaboration is the key to dealing with eco-issues. While working with export houses, design houses, fashion brands, would be ideal; Singhal’s network goes beyond just the fashion fraternity. She elaborates, “We have multiple channels: designers across the world send us their textile waste, and that apart, we work with the ragpickers’ community. We also source waste from katran [scrap] markets, and have a tie-up with secondhand sari vendors. Sometimes, we also receive post-consumer waste [especially through social media platforms such as Instagram where they put up specific requests for clothing—white shirt or black T-shirt etc.,—and patrons usually oblige].”

Just three years into the business, Paiwand has already introduced hand embroideries while also working on handloom weaving (for which they use textile waste instead of virgin thread). Singhal shares, “Delhi used to be the hub of handloom weavers, especially for dhurries and bedsheets. We are giving employment to weavers who have lost their jobs and are running out of business because of the introduction of power looms. We set up a unit where we encourage weavers from Delhi and the outskirts of Delhi. The idea is revival of handloom craft by introducing waste as a raw material to explore the craft.”

Educating consumers to understand the value of upcycled products is something that the design fraternity is constantly working on. Elaborating on this, Singhal adds, “The Indian mindset is usually such that they think ‘why is waste so expensive?’. But with awareness, such a notion is declining. Consumers are now open to the idea of buying upcycled products. I have seen a gradual change in the mindset, and that also comes with awareness. We need to educate the clients who come to us and tell them about the craft, so that they can appreciate it and then make a purchase. Spreading awareness is important so that upcycling can happen on a larger scale and such projects are accepted.”

The price point of sustainable and upcycled goods is usually on the higher side, which can also pose a retail problem. Singhal addresses this, “To be honest, in India, people are more willing to buy things from virgin materials. However, we do not want to promote mass consumption. So, having a limited audience that understands what we are doing works for us.”

Talking about the power of collaboration, she concludes, “Initially, no one would agree to collaborate with us, but now designers are very open to it. Since market awareness is growing, fashion designers are also looking for newer solutions to upcycle waste. With the passing years, we will see more designers ready for such collaboration and to work responsibly towards it.”

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