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In India, it is not uncommon to see old fabrics repurposed to provide different uses throughout their life. From shirt, to pillowcase, to bag, to rag – one garment can serve many functions. This method of reusing and recycling fabrics is driven by economic need and has organically evolved into a sustainable recycling model. However, this organic model is more institutionalized and organized then we think, particularly when it comes to the Chindi trade.

An age-old tradition in India, led by the Waghris, a nomadic community of India, the Chindi (rag) trade is an intens bute informal second-hand recycling system. This practice has occurred in India for over 150 years and consists of the Waghris travelling through neighbourhoods and markets bartering old clothes for new utensils from households in cities across India. Through this practice, the Waghri’s are able to provide affordable used clothing to India’s poor, while ensuring old clothes don’t end up in landfills.

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Chindi rug made by combining scarps of many different types of fabrics, including cotton, silk, and wool.

However, in return, these nomads face a constant struggle when it comes to sustainably operating their practices as their urban markets are never considered when it comes to urban planning and beautification, poor economic returns, discrimination and no recognition for the work they do to support communities and the environment.

Moreover, due to a lack of investable capital, there second-hand trade is completely off-the-map when it comes to the international market. What, in theory, is an innovative method to deal with urban recycling needs and provide affordable second-hand clothes to India’s poor, is reduced to stigmatized and dying profession.

This practice is a lesson in the fact that communities around the world have acknowledge the need to reuse and repurpose items for centuries. However, it is also warning that if we do not cherish and support these practices, they will remain invisible, marginalized and unaccounted for.