Styling and Conscious Consumerism: A Guide and Discussion

What is Styling?

It’s simple. 

Selecting and organising clothing, hair and makeup to present a stylish version of yourself to the world. And in this article, we’ll be discussing something unique – styling that can help save us from, if not at least repair, the irreparable damage of the fashion industry on the environment and our mental health. 

Why Styling, you may ask?

Before anything else, fashion is a creative outlet to build a personal style, express yourself and create a theme around it. It’s a significant tool that builds your confidence and at times, helps you achieve your dreams. Historically, fashion was used by the youth to express political, social, and economic desires, to be revolutionaries. So how then, does it relate to sustainability?

Because if you break down how to consciously and simply build a stylish yet less damaging wardrobe, you can be part of the next fashion revolution. 

Gender Fluid Styling and Sustainability

When it comes to gender-neutral clothing, as the name suggests, lets anyone wear anything. There is no gender. While society restricts us from doing this, it’s fair to note that clothing was in fact, interchanged between genders in history. And the rules existing today are questionable. 

Clothing also played a significant role in the first and second wave feminism, when women decided to wear trousers and other male workwear – so that they could bring about change and be considered figures of authority. Today, we see young people being assertive about showing their authentic selves. And just like it has before, clothing plays a huge role in helping them do so. 

Looking at this from a sustainable perspective, hand-me-downs are the first example that come to mind. Children grow out of clothing sooner than adults and the money spent on these clothes is incredible. Once a child has grown out of an outfit, it tends to be treated as waste. However, if we could hand down clothing regardless of gender, these items can be used until their functionality is intact. 

It needs a new wave in production, non-judgmental styling and store management, too. Young adults don’t have to search through separate racks for clothing, and can find what they’re looking for without being too anxious. 

Key Takeaway: Clothes have no gender and can be used for styling, irrespective of societal norms. 

Source: KiRu India

Source: KiRu India

Here are some things we can do

Let’s take a look at some easy steps to being more kind and conscious when it comes to styling. 

Step 1: Be conscious of what you already own

An article by Peppermint magazine stated that “on average, people wear an article of clothing only seven times before throwing it away. Because of this high turnover in fashion, textiles are now one of the fastest growing waste streams in the world.”

Source: Unsplash

So then, how can you make the most of that one dress you bought for a vacation and never wore again? The answer lies in building the right foundation. 

Owning several items of clothing may seem fun and necessary in the zoomer age. But the first problem is to tackle what’s already there. 

Exhibit A: 

You have a dark printed, button down, full-sleeve dress you purchased when you were in school. You wore it just once because it was unique and special to you. Fast forward to ten years later, you still have the dress. But how can you use it now?

  1. Since it’s a button down, you can wear it as an outer layer over another basic dress. 
  2.  You still fit into it so you can wear it to work over trousers, and to parties by itself. 
  3. Share it with a friend or family member! 

Important factors that help me do this are – pairing it with basics that go with everything. Maybe a black trousers or a white tee. Simple enough for the dress to be a cover-up? Absolutely. 

Source: Unsplash

Now, if we think about it, all the fun in fashion is lost. If you’re not following trends, how can you be truly fashionable? But you know what’s timeless?


What it means is, you have the power to change things. Following trends may be uncomplicated. But it also doesn’t hold significance for everyone. 

Step 2: Find your aesthetic

The best part about finding an aesthetic is you can follow your own style to the T, no matter what the trend. While it could be a visual concept, it could also be a lifestyle. 

An aesthetic will help you experiment, find new hobbies and reduce desires for material things. But you may say that you don’t like to do one thing for too long. I get it, I’d feel the same. 

Fear not. There are several ways to keep changing up your style. 

Blood and Water

Beg, borrow, but don’t steal. Adding an external element can make any look more exclusive and versatile. Try out your father’s blazer or your mother’s old scarf. Or even better, switch up some of your items with your best friend occasionally for a completely new style statement. 

Ignore the style shaming on social media. Nobody in real life cares so much. 

Incorporate micro-trends in your styling. Match a print, change up your silhouette or go the easiest route – hair and makeup. It’s way simpler to change up your hair for a new look rather than buying a completely new wardrobe. 

When buying something new, ask yourself if your style will evolve in the next five years. Will the piece fit into your wardrobe then? If the answer is yes, reuse it and don’t dump it.

You set your own trends. Go find that niche style that you think only you can pull off and develop. Don’t give up and you might be the next Komal Pandey or Siddharth Batra. 

The Masala Box

In an Indian household, the masala box is an essential for everyday cooking. Consider turmeric and chilli powder as your one basic bottom and one basic top. Now, use them to compliment everything else you have. 

That’s all cool you may say…

While platforms like Instagram and the ‘app that shall not be named’ are fantastic to get your creative juices flowing, they’re also spaces where it’s easy to spread hate anonymously and promote overconsumption. 

We see so many styling challenges on these apps. And several people love to participate. But remember, more content = the want to buy more. These challenges can encourage people to be more innovative, but the stigma of ‘repeating outfits’ compels us to believe we need more – just to be cool and influential on social media. 

Previously, a trend cycle would last 20-30 years. With the onset of celebrity culture and fast fashion, these cycles have become extremely shorter. Plus, the boom of social media has led people to see more and more of the same products often. There’s no time for the trend to trickly down, becoming obsolete before it’s

even taken off. The thought – why should I wear it when it’s ‘old news’ or ‘cheugy’ – sets in. The speed with which these products are produced, they can be worn by the likes of Kylie Jenner,  and you and me at the same time! 

The changes in trend cycles are as shown below:

Source: Amiko Simonetti

These short cycles have also given rise to the devaluation of labour. Based on a video I watched recently, Shein gets its products from the drawing board to production to live online in as little as 3 days. Compared to that, a normal fashion cycle takes as much as 6 months – from design, purchasing fabrics, printing, making samples, creating the garment, surface ornamentation to stores.

Let that sink in for a moment.

 Impact of fast fashion: A Shein ‘haul’ showing customers buying several products at one time

Purchasing Q&A

It’s easy to preach about a minimalist life and be non-materialistic, but not all are built that way. So, to be mindful of your new purchases, here are a few questions you can ask yourself when buying a new item.

  1. Can I use this garment for multiple occasions?
  2. What are some pieces in my wardrobe that could pair well with this?
  3. Can I use this in the next 5 years?
  4. What can I do with this after I’m bored of wearing it?

Answering these questions can help you decide if you really need that new garment or just want it at the moment.

Wrapping it up

The most significant learning that we’d like you to take away from this article is finding a personal moral compass. 

We’re imperfect, too. But how can we be more mindful and make informed choices to become good and kind people in the world – is the question that needs answering. 

Climate change is the biggest concern of our time, and various people are urging us to make changes. But there are a few who continue abusing their purchasing power for the wrong things. 

An example would be this year’s trend ‘I gave my sibling a large sum of money to shop.’ In Kritika Khurana’s video (@thatbohogirl), she pays her sister’s Zara bill. And we hear her say:

“I don’t like the collection right now”

“I’m thinking even if I wear it once, I’m going to buy it”

“I don’t usually buy such silly things, but it’s cheap”

All of the above comments devalue labour and encourage overspending plus excess consumerism of use and throw products (made mainly from polyester in unethical sweatshops). 

While we do encourage people to switch from fast fashion to sustainable options, by no means do we expect those who depend on the low prices of fast fashion to buy products they can’t afford. What we don’t need is people, with the privilege, to influence young minds to develop such habits. 

It’s our responsibility to take small steps at an individual level.

As David Brower once said, “We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children.”

Let’s learn and change every step of the way, so we can pay back the debt responsibly. 



Ru Bhat is an artist, creative curator and co-founder of newly launched fashion and lifestyle label, KiRu. She’s enthusiastic about films and TV shows (specifically the Korean kind) and draws inspiration from BTS and their work. She is a styling fanatic and loves to experiment and express herself through fashion.

KiRu expands to Kindness is ’round us. They are a sustainable, artisanal, gender-fluid homegrown clothing and lifestyle brand. They work is geared towards influencing young consumers to switch from fast to slow, conscious fashion. They also wish to spread the message of kindness towards living beings, the planet, and our resources. As a conscious, craft-centric brand, they keep their audience well-informed about their processes and how KiRu is growing along with them.


Ayesha Tari

Lives in Flames

A Case Study on Sivakasi’s Fireworks Industry

Diwali, the popular festival of lights, signifies the victory of good over evil. The festival is celebrated across India, and the whole nation is lit up with beautiful Diyas, candles and lights for nearly two weeks. Families cook up traditional delicacies, and entire neighbourhoods come together and share in the celebrations. 

Diwali is celebrated not just by Hindus. People of various faiths participate in the festivities because of one major reason – FIREWORKS. Who doesn’t love to watch those lights in the sky and on the ground, lighting up the faces of children playing with them. While fireworks are used for several reasons, Diwali is a prominent festival when their consumption is incomparable.

Fireworks are produced by countries across the world. In India, the town of Sivakasi in Virudhunagar district, Tamil Nadu, is where the magic (or not) happens. The village is referred to as ‘Kutty Japan’ because it’s famous for three industries – matches, fireworks and printing. But there’s one another social phenomenon it’s known for — high prevalence of child labour.

Standard Fireworks Factory at Thiruthangal

In early 2009, my friends and I took a trip to Sivakasi to investigate this social issue. At that time, the fireworks industries in the village were worth between INR 800-1,000 crores.

As per official records, there were 10 major firework companies that owned close to 600 fireworks factories. But we found something else – Sivakasi and it’s neighbouring counties had hundreds of illegal factories.

Fireworks consumed during the 3 significant days of Diwali took 300 days to produce, with labourers working overtime throughout the year. China, the world’s largest fireworks manufacturer and supplier, was India’s largest competitor. But labour cost was cheaper in India, making it a popular choice.  And even though the cost of raw materials in India was about 50% higher, statistics predicted that the fireworks market would grow 10% annually, back in 2009. In 2021, the industry was worth nearly INR 6,000 crore.

Sivakasi’s fireworks production had a long-standing history spanning several decades. The town received low rainfall coupled with dry climate, therefore, rendering the land unproductive for agriculture. This left high dependence on manufacturing fireworks. In the time that the industry flourished, Sivakasi became infamous for various unacceptable practices — child labour being one of the most notable concerns. During 1991, it was reported that about 60,000 children aged 3 — 18 years worked in firework industries.

Low wages, lack of safety precautions, fire accidents, health and life hazards were considered usual, not significant issues. 

Since the 1990s, several NGOs, activist groups and individuals lobbied against these unfair practices but that only worsened the situation. The results of these interventions were continuous checks on child labour and safety measures. But the factory owners found a way around these checks, too. What happened next? 

We got in touch with NEWS

In 2009, through a few contacts, we enlisted the help of Navajeevan Educational Welfare Society (NEWS), located in Thiruthangal and founded by Devaramani Lysabai. Its parent organisation was Paul Foundation. NEWS worked around issues of education and literacy. Some of its major achievements and activities focused on reducing child labour, helping poor pupils to continue education steadily through financial help, taking action against child labour and Dalit discrimination with the Government’s help, and creating institutions for education in backward areas. 


For a few days, we worked with the NEWS staff – Mr. Rajesh, Mr. Pal Pandiyan, Mr. Arul Raj and Mrs. Muthumari. Through them and our own research, we gathered deeper insights on the child labour scenario, taking exposure visits and interacting with residents in Sivakasi and its neighbouring villages.

As per Reports gathered

In 2009, due to increased lobbying and activism, the incidence of child labour reduced drastically – from thousands to hundreds. In large companies, finding a child labourer below 14 years of age was difficult but in the small ones, children were rescued throughout the year. 

Campaign by NEWS SCNIC & the Children of Thiruthangal demanding the Right to Education & Abolishment of Child Labour Practices

However, a quick Google search today will show that not much has changed in the town of Sivakasi. 

Here are the main reasons why child labour continued.


Government officials raided these factories but they warned factory owners beforehand. With this tacit agreement in place, the factory bribed the Government workers to avoid prison. 

If the factory owners paid these bribes, children could continue working in the firework factories without the Government’s intrusion. The officials signed fake certificates stating that there were no child labourers in those respective factories. Factory owners also bribed Government doctors to procure false attestations of these children’s ages and showing that they were actually above 14 years of age.


Since factories were constantly raided, the factories in Sivakasi and surrounding areas supplied raw materials to the workers’ houses. Therefore, families worked from their homes.

Nearly every household undertook production of pipes. Children either worked full time at home (age no bar) or part time after school. When it came to fireworks, they dyed the outer paper, rolled gunpowder, dipped the material into chemicals, and packed the final products. Children engaged in these activities for three to twelve hours every day. 

Fireworks Made at Homes

We also found a few girls who didn’t attend school and were under the threat of being married before 18 years of age. Children lived in dysfunctional families who moved houses due to fights in their neighbourhoods. Their financial situation wasn’t conducive for education either. So, they stayed at home making pipes and firecrackers. Children made close to 10 pipes which yielded INR 45 per day. The money was used by the parents whereas children got only INR 2 per day for their expenses. We interviewed a girl, 12 years old, who stated that her two elder brothers (18 and 15 years old) worked in a rice mill and college mess respectively. Thus, child labour was prevalent in other ways, too.  

Poverty, Lack of Proper Employment and School Drop-outs

Several children dropped out of school at the age of 14 and started working for wages. The reason: no scope for better employment after studies compared to the work already available. 

After studying until the tenth grade, the youth lost interest in studies. They complained that their relatives were either unemployed or working for INR 1,500 per month even after being educated. Eventually, children felt that education was a waste of time. Even if a person got a diploma or degree, they could undertake a desk or accounting job in the factories. So, while children worked as labourers in the factory, educated kids landed up in the same factories with slightly better jobs. 

Opportunities majorly available were production of matches, fireworks or the offset printing press. 

Although 40% of the families sent their kids to Government schools, their education was stopped short in the 7th grade. Several children’s rights were violated, there’s no doubt about that. But their conditions at home were so dire that earning money assumed priority. This was especially worse when a family member or parent died. Often, these households lived hand-to-mouth and children didn’t have any other option but to add to the family income. 

High school annual fees ranged between INR 4,000 and INR 25,000. There were several private schools as compared to Government ones. Generally, private schools were preferred as parents wanted their children to learn English. In Government schools, teachers were incompetent and irregular. Even Government school headmasters sent their kids to private schools because of better standards.

In families with low socioeconomic status, children watched their parents struggle and, therefore, decided to work after school and during summer vacation to fund their studies. Low family income, high cost of living, house rent were some of the key reasons children preferred to work. After all, they get nearly INR 100 per day for making fireworks, which is a significant amount for them.  

Some children used the money to indulge in activities like smoking, drinking or going to the movies. Since they experienced financial independence, they felt investing time in earning money was better than studying at school. As a result, they weren’t dedicated to learning, were unable to stay disciplined and on their own when they’re out of school. 

Another significant issue was dowry. Parents paid about a lakh (or 80 grams of gold) for each daughter’s marriage into good families. Because they’re unable to earn that amount of money, children were sent to work for more income.

Lack of Government Intervention

As already mentioned earlier, Government officials were bribed to cover up child labour and hazardous working conditions. But the Government also failed to provide substantial opportunities for alternative jobs. 

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme was launched in 2005. But the scheme failed to provide meaningful employment in Tamil Nadu. Unskilled labourers found work for just 3 months (100 days) in a year. Even then, they had to travel far and wide for these jobs. Compared to the ease of working in their hometown and earning comfortably, this scheme didn’t attract labourers. And while the Government put committees and teams in place to monitor the implementation of the scheme, little success came out of it. 

There’s no dearth of regulations against child labour. The problem lay in seeing through their execution and that’s where the Government failed. As per official sources, the number of child workers in India stands at 20 million. But unofficial numbers portray a dark reality. The number is more than double – at least 50 million if not more, are child labourers. Girls are the worst affected. As seen in the film Kutty Japanin Kuzhandaigal, 70% of children working in Sivakasi, and putting their life on the line, are girls. 

Health Hazards

Except for a handful of big companies, none of the factories employed sound safety measures. More than 10 major accidents were reported in 2007, claiming several lives. As of March 2021, over 145 accidents were reported between 2011 and 2021.

The fireworks factory workers were to be given hand gloves and safety shoes but that didn’t happen. The existing safety rules were scarce and even those weren’t followed. Occupational hazards were frequent but no social research was available to establish a cause and effect relationship. Workers were made to work long hours without fair compensation.

Children reportedly suffered from chronic bronchitis, broncho-pneumonia, tuberculosis, malnutrition, gastrointestinal disorders, skin disorders, over-exhaustion, burns and  water-borne diseases. Not just that. They also lived in hazardous conditions at home, chronically exposed to toxic chemicals and working with them.

Children Exposed to Toxic Chemicals at a Decentralised Fireworks Manufacturing Facility at Thiruthangal, Sivakasi

Possibly the worst thing about this whole scenario is children didn’t have a labour union and they were working in an ‘unorganised’ sector. This meant that they could never fight for their rights. Even adults didn’t have protection against occupational hazards and toxic chemicals. Although insurance is a prerequisite as per the law, workers had none. 

Just think about it – 175 pipes made one unit fetching INR 1.7 per unit. One child could make only 20-25 units in a day and this fetched them 43 rupees to make about 4375 pipes approximately. There were no salary perks and the only payment method followed was a ‘piece rate system’. Plus, they didn’t have any insurance or job security.

Impact of Covid-19

The pandemic only added to Sivakasi’s woes. 

Since schools shut down, children resorted to working, to help their parents earn more money. In a recent report, the number of child labourers increased drastically from 28% to nearly 80% in Tamil Nadu during the lockdown. Kids also worked long hours ranging anywhere from 4 to 18 hours a day.

Not just that. 18% of child labourers also faced physical, mental and verbal abuse from their employers. One of the significant reasons for this shift was family and economic pressure. But children also couldn’t afford smartphones to continue learning online or for entertainment. Therefore, boredom and lack of interest in education were contributing factors. In addition to all of the above, if a parent fell sick or died of Covid-19, a child had no choice but to take up financial responsibilities. 

What’s even worse, as much as 81% of these children said they wanted to go back to school. But when will they? – is the bigger question. Even new, sophisticated technologies couldn’t stop the crisis from reversing all the progress made in recent years.

Explicit focus on ‘Environmental’ Sustainability

In our previous article, we discussed the different facets of sustainability: employees, society, profit, and planet. We’re all a part of this ecosystem, and better human lives means a better planet. Yet, when it came to the fireworks industry, the attention swivelled towards environmental sustainability. Amongst this, the importance of lives was lost. 

A worker at Who Had Faced an Injury in 2008 While Working at a Decentralised Factory in ThiruThangal, Sivakasi

Green crackers aren’t the only sustainable solution. The environment plaguing these families is much more toxic. Every day, they are waking up and going to work, putting their lives in danger. They may die today because of an explosion, having their bodies charred to death. Or, they may die years from now, owing to inhalation of chemicals and hazardous substances. In fact, they won’t be the sole victims of this profession. Toxicity would be embedded in their DNA for generations to come. Their children and children’s children could face life-long illnesses and multiple physical or mental deformities.

Then there are other issues like abuse and mental health. Children are also trafficked and put to work in unfair conditions. Particularly, girls face the worst challenges. Lack of education and vocation opportunities has given the people in Sivakasi no option but to bet on their lives by working in firecracker and matchstick factories.

Women Making Matches in a Decentralised Manufacturing Facility Near Their Homes

Cultural identity is also a deep-rooted issue. Sivakasi is known as the fireworks capital of India because that’s the occupation most people have in the region. The label Kutty Japan places pride in their minds for supplying fireworks across India and the world. Even if the industry is abolished, addressing this cultural identity is a challenge. 

The Possible Way Forward

Shunning these fireworks factory labourers wasn’t the right way to go about it. Banning the use of firecrackers or boycotting fireworks factories posed a threat to their livelihoods. 

The Government didn’t initiate any vocational training programs either, meaning these workers couldn’t transition to other occupations. While NEWS was providing a few after-school complementary education programs for children, there weren’t any other such programs by the Government.

After-school Education Programs for hildren of Thiruthangal

Subsequently, what was predicted years ago became reality in 2020 when firecrackers were banned. With several states across India banning the use of fireworks during Diwali 2020, factories couldn’t sell their products leaving labourers high and dry. Several units shut down and workers’ wages fell drastically. Initially in 2018, the Government banned non-green firecrackers. Units in Sivakasi then switched to green crackers manufacturing. However, 2020 came as a big blow with a complete ban.

To see this in numbers — there were 1.5 lakh people directly employed with fireworks factories and several lakhs indirectly. The production was slashed by 35% in 2021 since previous year’s stock wasn’t sold. This was a huge blow to Sivakasi.

Other associated businesses, organisations, and activities also took a hit. Most of the educational institutes in the town belonged to fireworks factory owners. If they suffered losses, the fate of education in this district suffered, too. Plus, if parents didn’t earn wages, children couldn’t attend school either. 

However, local efforts were being made to keep the industry alive through alternatives. The industry had sustained itself by constantly adapting to changing rules. And with India’s new movement – Local goes Global – the firecrackers industry has immense potential.

Change the Narrative

For starters, China is a leading exporter of firecrackers and countries like the US haven’t banned fireworks. India’s firecracker industry could be put on the map, too, if the Government provided adequate support. Currently, the narrative focuses solely on the negative side of firecrackers – pollution, child labour, accidents and more. But instead of making the industry a scapegoat to attain political goodwill and Green branding goals, it’s better to groom Sivakasi into becoming a global fireworks hub while strictly following labour rules (and ethics).

NEWS , in 2009, stated that Government organisations could build factories in bare lands, giving a salary of INR 3,000 per month with 4 days of rest every month for these workers. In that scenario, at least their labour rights violation could be prevented to a certain extent. The Government could also organise vocational training for educated youth, encouraging them to take up jobs as Government staff with reasonable salaries. In this way, the youth will be inspired to continue education, too. 

More importantly, the Government needs to tighten the noose around child labour and workers’ health violations. It’s a long, continuous process but it has the potential to improve the lives of at least three lakh people and children.

At the end of it all, I realised that these men, women and children barely realised they were being exploited. In fact, they were scarcely aware that they had rights to a meaningful life. A chance at livelihood sustained by the fireworks industry and associated activities, along with education and fulfilment of basic necessities will work in their favour. 


The featured photos were shot at Thiruthangal, Sivakasi and belong to ecoHQ.

The article has been written by Deepa Sai is the founder of ecoHQ and Quill Ink. And, the content has been edited by Ayesha Tari.