Leading a sustainable movement
When Gauri Sharma started a Facebook group 10 months ago to promote sustainability as a movement with her partner, Lavanya, neither had imagined that they would have such a committed and engaging community at hand. In no time, SUSS came to be recognised as a first-of-its-kind community that focuses on the sustainable fashion movement in India. We caught up with Gauri to learn about her journey and what inspired her to make the movement happen.
A journey towards a sustainable life
In the last year of her college, Gauri did an internship at a social responsibility consultancy, where she worked with an apparel manufacturer to strategize on how they could support their female workers. “Ironically, I started this internship in 2013, right after the collapse of the Rana Plaza, a multi-story garment factory in Bangladesh, which killed over 1,100 people who were making clothes for the world’s biggest brands. I remember watching videos and reading about this incident over and over again because I couldn’t believe that something like this had happened. I had limited knowledge of how our clothes are made and in what conditions. As I dug deeper into business sustainability as a bigger topic, I was convinced that business has massive role to play in creating a more socially and environmentally secure world,” Gauri says.
She continued to learn and work with companies on their sustainability strategy and communications, before moving into the apparel supply chain, working with India’s largest apparel manufacturer, Shahi Exports. “At Shahi, I work on programmes to support well-being and advancement of garment workers, 70% of whom are women. I also work on strengthening the company’s overall sustainability strategy and systems,” she shares.
Through her work, she met people in India who were interested in or working on making the fashion industry a force for good – as consumers, writers, designers, non-profits, students, brands etc. “However, I couldn’t find a platform that connects all these people - so I started one!” she laughs.
Meeting her match
“Lavanya and I met through work. The Good Business Lab, which was set-up by Shahi, evaluates the social and business impact of the worker-facing programs that we run. A couple of months after I launched SUSS, Lavanya started helping me out and eventually become my partner,” Gauri informs us.
SUSS is a first-of-its-kind community as it focuses on the sustainable fashion movement in India. While most of the impact and opportunity around the fashion industry lies in manufacturing and fast-growing nations like India, most of the conversation around sustainability is driven by developed countries. SUSS, as was intended, is changing this narrative and building a homegrown movement by bring together Indian change-makers.
Working on SUSS
SUSS was born as Facebook Group in January 2018 and now has close to 500 people who regularly share their experiences and ideas. “We quickly expanded into events because we realised that there’s only so much people can discuss online. We needed to create an offline space for people to hear about new ideas, meet each other and explore possible collaborations,” she tells us.
For instance, ‘SUSSout’ is an event series which, through a combination of talks, film screenings, workshops etc., is a way for attendees to explore different facets of sustainable fashion. “Each event has a different theme and unique line-up curated by us. We recently also hosted a clothes swap to encourage women to refresh their wardrobes without buying anything new, by exchanging things they don’t use or wear with other like-minded women. As SUSS grows, we’re exploring different event formats that help create awareness, inspire change, and of course connect people!” she announces.
Featuring these thoughtful people (or ‘hustlers’ as they call them at SUSS), on their website and Instagram live sessions, was an automatic progression. “We want more people to know not just about the dark side of the industry but also about all the people that are trying to make a difference. I think this positive messaging is really important as we try to reach a wider audience,” she says.
“There’s no end to this journey” says Gauri, adding, “Nothing is ever going to 100% sustainable. Working in this field can be frustrating at times but it is also exhilarating, because it means that there’s always going to be more to do and learn (and unlearn) every day.”
This is one of the reasons why she chose to pursue a part-time Master’s in Sustainability Leadership at the University of Cambridge. This two-year programme, she informs us, is a way for her to deep-dive and research the topics she really cares about, while expanding my knowledge in unfamiliar areas.
“My ‘sustainability’ journey as a professional has been much more progressive than my personal journey,” she declares. “It took me a couple of years of working in this field to realise that it’s not enough to just work with big business – I have to also change the way I consume and live. I realised that beyond just buying less or more sustainable clothes, I need to examine my entire lifestyle and make changes. I’m introspecting everyday and questioning my choices and purchases, and while I’ve found small ways to make these changes, there’s a long way to go!” she avers.
The way forward towards a greener and fairer path in the industry is…
“Collaboration!” she declares. “Since we’ve started, several of our community members have connected and done different projects together – and that’s exactly what we need. There’s a lot already happening, but unless different stakeholders work together, we really can’t move the needle on a more sustainable industry. This is one of the things I love about what SUSS is doing – bringing people together to work towards shared goals. Ten months with SUSS has made me realise that collaboration and community building is essential to make a difference,” she shares with great satisfaction. We agree and wish her luck.
On Gauri- Weave a flower dress- Click Here
Read more about SUSS - Click Here