Your Last Piece Of Cloth : Recycling & Repurposing For Dignified Living

Image Credit: Goonj


Your Last Piece Of Cloth : Recycling & Repurposing For Dignified Living

Every year Goonj gets tons of surplus cloth from across urban India; wearable or unwearable. After a rigorous sorting process, the wearable cloth becomes a part of our 20 diverse Purpose Kits for rural development work.

Recycling, upcycling, and the circular economy are all well-known ideas. The biggest brands in the world are focusing on these while many new startups are emerging, offering products and services on this subject. So what's unique about Goonj's story of cloth? Goonj was founded on highlighting the ignored, unmet need for clothing for a vast majority.

Over the years we saw people struggling for cloth in winter or women struggling for a clean piece of cloth for periods every month and many other small but neglected needs. That made us understand the power of cloth. That's why nothing goes waste at Goonj. Everything is used for serving the people who are struggling with the basics. This mindset has been the foundation of our 23 years journey around upcycling, recycling, repurposing, and circularity, decades before these became a part of the common vocabulary.

Every year Goonj gets tons of surplus cloth from across urban India; wearable or unwearable. After a rigorous sorting process, the wearable cloth becomes a part of our 20 diverse Purpose Kits for rural development work. The other part, the unwearable cloth, reaches our production units spread all across rural and urban India, where a parallel story of change begins. Our favorite part is that in complete contrast to the world's conventional production processes where most products are produced for urban use by rural India, instead, Goonj uses urban surplus for rural India, produced by rural India, making things for rural India.

This story would be incomplete without the mention of the 1000+ women, (from the villages and slums of India) connected with us formally/informally; usually considered unskilled and uneducated by the world, behind these Production Units. They are the heroines of our story as they turn the last shreds of cloth into a powerful resource for development.

The unwearable cloth is further segregated into cotton/semi-cotton (for cloth sanitary pads), jeans and other thick material (for Sujnis, Jholas, and other products), and the last shreds of cloth for the making of Aasans. In today's story we unfold the journey of some of these products under our 'Green By Goonj' (GBG) label; Cloth Sanitary Pads (MY Pads), Patch-work quilts(Sujnis), Sitting Mats (Aasan), Vegetable cloth bags (Goonj Ka Jhola), School Bags (for rural school children), GBG - range of fashionable urban products'.

Cloth Sanitary Pads (MY Pads)

A simple, clean, reusable, biodegradable, and affordable pieces of cloth, created from surplus cotton/semi-cotton cloth for rural women's neglected basic need of menstruation. These pads are made at Goonj Centres by women coming from nearby slum communities. Over the years these women have not only made a dignified living out of this work, they have also spread awareness about the issue among the masses and have led a change in mindset in their own families and networks.

More than 6.9 Million single pieces of cloth pads were made and reached out. (2015- 2022)

More about MY Pads here

Patchwork quilts (Sujnis)

Patchwork quilts are made from the last pieces of cloth, are commonly used as a quilt in winter and as a mattress in summer, across rural India. In a distributed production, hundreds of women create Sujnis, from the safety and comfort of their homes or at a Goonj centre. Sujnis are included in Goonj's Family Kits reaching families across rural India.

0.6 Million Sujnis made and reached out (2015- 2022)

Sitting Mats (Aasan)

A small square sitting mat, made out of hand-stitching layers of big and small cloth pieces. These are provided as sitting mats in rural schools across India as a simple solution to the absence of basic furniture to sit on. Just like sujnis, aasan making provides income and a dignified livelihood to hundreds of women. Asanas are included in Goonj's Family kits and rural education School-toSchool (S2S) kits.

1.1 Million Asaans made and reached out (2015-2022)

Vegetable Cloth Bags (Goonj Ka Jhola)

Your regular vegetable cloth bag, handcrafted using pieces of cloth. Across different centres, women put together easy-to-use and environment-friendly bags, to replace plastic in our lives. These bags are included in our rural Family Kits and also given out at village markets set up by Goonj, to nudge for less use of plastic bags that are harming the rivers and soil in rural India.

1.2 Million vegetable cloth bags produced and reached across India (2015-2022)

School Bags

For a child going to an urban school, a school bag is a taken-for-granted basic, but in rural India, kids go to school carrying their books in plastic bags or anything else they can find. Goonj produces school bags out of torn jeans and any thick durable cloth we get like curtains/ bed covers etc. These bags are handcrafted by women in centres where they also taught stitching as a livelihood source. These School bags are reached out to children in small under-resourced village schools, as a reward to the children as the local community comes together to solve its education-related issues.

Green by Goonj - a range of urban lifestyle products

Under the Green By Goonj label, we produce a range of lifestyle products to build a culture of sustainable living among our contributors and for fundraising for our ongoing work. Women in our centres creatively combine oversized/torn clothes, unused ties, old audio and video tapes, old fabric, etc. with their aesthetics, craftsmanship, and design sense to produce a range of products like pouches, ladies' bags, men's purses, conference folders, and bags, etc.

Goonj's work of using the urban surplus for rural needs is about respecting and valuing the people, their needs, and the material that's neglected. With distributed production across rural and urban India, Goonj is trying to create a comprehensive model that serves the cities, the villages, and the environment, all in an interconnected approach.

Just like our various Material kits (mentioned in our earlier story) making of rural needs products, from urban India's last shreds of cloth extends its life beyond landfills. The bigger impact is that it creates livelihood, and fills gaps of material poverty and well-being for countless village families and communities.

That's why even your last shred of cloth is precious. Don't let it go waste, pack it separately, and mark it properly. Most importantly, only give clean cloth; as the people who make these products and those who get them, their dignity matters.

Also Read: Go 'Zero Waste' & Save! Chandigarh Announces 20% Discount For Community Centres Following Zero Waste Approach

Contributors Suggest Correction
Writer : Goonj
Creatives : Ankita Singh

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