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Three Bangladeshi women advocating sustainable fashion

  • Published at 10:11 am August 23rd, 2021
From left, Anusha Alamgir, Fathia Tamanna, and Sinyat Ahmed of Colors Dhaka, Dhaka Vintage, and Reach Community BD

Their small ventures spread the message of sustainability

Private businesses can play a vital role in protecting nature to tackle climate change and supporting sustainable consumption and production. Anusha Alamgir, Fathia Tamanna, and Sinyat Ahmed of Colors Dhaka, Dhaka Vintage and Reach Community BD provide interesting insights into sustainable fashion brands and social business in Bangladesh.  

Initially, Anusha Alamgir started making video content demonstrating various ways to style vintage clothing. She wanted to challenge the existing understanding of what vintage was. The videos grabbed the attention of youth aged 13-25 who loved the idea of adopting vintage clothing. 

The positive energy from her followers persuaded her to start Colors.Dhaka. The online vintage shop on Instagram displays clothing in three categories: 70s funky retro prints, 90s simpler girlier options, and TikTok influencers. 

Anusha’s raw materials come from her thrift shopping adventures abroad; flea markets' tours, sarees and unstitched materials from her mom’s clothing shop. Her business model supports the circular economy which is meant to champion the 3Rs — ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ for safeguarding the ecosystems. 

Anusha uses eco-friendly packaging such as brown paper, instead of dye paper to reduces her carbon footprint. Additionally, she uses clear packaging tape which is cellulose-based. Even though the benefits of the green/circular economy are beneficial, lack of awareness and evidence-based actions hinders the uptake. 

Fathia said that if the governments at local and national level provide incentives, such as tax breaks, capacity building workshops on circular economy models, the new normal will be greener and inclusive

She said, “We don't have a lived experience of sustainability or recycling or thinking about climate change.” Anusha Alamgir stressed that it is crucial to be cognizant about an individual's carbon footprint and conduct their own research on how the history of consumerism has evolved. 

“Humans existed when plastic was not prevalent. For instance, before World War II everything was stored in glass materials. The milkman, beverage companies, and other businesses used glass containers for deliveries and storage. So, sustainability was always there. The problem is that we are always pursuing the maximization of profit,” she said. 

By watching documentaries based on conservation of biodiversity and ecosystems, such as Cowspiracy, Seaspiracy, said Anusha Alamgir, we can unlearn unsustainable practices. Anusha also added that it is imperative to provide one-to-one education to young children to increase their curiosity of being the custodians of nature.

Another online vintage shopping page existing on Instagram is Dhaka Vintage. This vintage shop by Fathia Tamanna also resonates with the 3Rs of the circular economy. Fathia started this sustainable clothing line to embrace Bengali culture. She said:, “Bengali culture does not support the throwaway culture, we even reuse a torn cloth for cleaning purposes, and normally give old clothes to our house helps.” 

Sinyat Ahmed also envisions Reach to be an awareness-raising and educational platform for climate change

She added that there is a big difference between the Western and Bengali culture, which already inherits the practice of reusing unwanted clothes. Fathia loves to curate each piece of her clothing line. Normally, she collects passed on pieces of clothes from her mother and aunts. From an early age Fathia was looking for opportunities to upcycle old material. And the upshot was that she received praises for her outlook from her friends and families. 

It is necessary to have a role model who owns and embellishes himself/herself with vintage clothing. Fathia said, “When I started to curate my own outfit by upcycling materials, people were asking about which brand it is.” Even though the usage of second-hand products does not attract mainstream consumers, the demand for thrifting has been growing. More people are thinking of it as a cool thing. 

Generally, Dhaka Vintage's raw materials comes from upcycling traditional sarees, unstitched kameez pieces, collection of leftover cloth pieces from tailors, etc. Time management and ample resources are required to curate each piece, which is a challenge. 

“The main problem is that we are forgetting to embrace our own Bengali culture, which supports reusing clothing materials,” Fathia said. If the governments at local and national level provide incentives, such as tax breaks, capacity building workshops on circular economy models, said Fathia, the new normal will be greener and inclusive. This will also encourage clothing lines to showcase their creativity and make sustainable clothing more affordable.

Anusha uses eco-friendly packaging such as brown paper, instead of dye paper to reduces her carbon footprint

Sinyat Ahmed, founder of the social business Reach Community BD, supported sustainable lifestyle from a very young age. While hosting the first two Ecofest with her sister in Dhaka, she met with like-minded people who were selling eco-friendly products. This motivated her to start her own venture. Initially, her business plan was to make denim jackets from up-cycled clothing. 

When Covid-19 spread throughout Dhaka last year, it encouraged her to change the business plan and start making reusable and upcycled face masks and selling them on Instagram. Reach Community BD is a collaborating platform which showcases hobbyists, artists, crafters, and individuals’ creativity in the form of artworks, and crafts (upcycled, reusable, eco-friendly masks and scrunchies; handmade potteries, canvas artworks, water colour paints).

Currently, the platform has 30 artists and 25 members who aim to tackle the twin crises of Covid-19 and climate change. Reach Community BD aims to create an inclusive and greener future for the marginalized communities. Hence, 30% of the proceeds from sales are donated to charitable organizations and NGOs who are working towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals 2030. So far, the social business has donated to more than 10 NGOs and charities in Bangladesh. 

Sinyat Ahmed highlighted the main concern for climate change, which is “the unprecedented usage of plastic for quick packaging to make our lives easier.” She added, “At Reach we use sustainable packaging by recycling wedding cards which I have collected for years now. The only way out from the devastating impacts of climate change is to change ourselves and have an optimism for the changing habits to be custodians of nature. We have created a monster and we have to fight it together.” 

Afsara Binte Mirza is working in the International Centre for Climate Change and Development as a Junior Research Officer. Her research interest lies in nature-based solutions, National Adaptation Plans and gender equality. Afsara can be reached at [email protected]

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