Did you ever wonder about the environment or the cost of fast fashion as a teenager? Most of us didn’t. But 16-year-old Nirvaan Somany read a staggering statistic that left him deeply concerned about the environment.
The Class 11 student from the national capital has embarked on an endeavour called Project Jeans, by which he is converting old denims to sleeping bags for street dwellers in Delhi.
Why? According to the United Nations, 10,000 litres of water are needed to make a single pair of jeans. Let’s understand just how much water that is.
According to the Ministry of Jal Shakti, urban areas should receive 135 litres of water per person per day, and rural households should receive 55 litres per person per day. This means that on average, if we consume roughly 100 litres per day, 10,000 litres is the water one person uses in India for 100 days. In rural areas, this same number would be used for almost 180 days.
So, a pair of jeans is made using the total water one person can consume over 180 days.
Shaken to his core after reading this alarming statistic, in 2019, Nirvaan decided to pitch a solution at the then forthcoming Young Entrepreneurs Academy.
“When I participated in YA, I came up with the idea of making sleeping bags out of old jeans. I thought that if I could do something good using old jeans, it would help the environment,” Nirvaan tells The Better India.
Making the most of waste denims
Having seen his family donate jackets to the homeless and those on the streets, he immediately thought of something along similar lines.
“Since denim has very good insulating properties, I thought of making sleeping bags with it. Denim is very strong and never gets old. Instead of throwing it, we can get good use out of it, while providing comfort from the harsh Delhi winters,” he explains.
While his initial idea was a business pitch, the teen decided to go ahead with his plan earlier this year. As his mother is in the clothing business, he had easy access to someone knowledgeable in the business.
Over the past six months, he has collected over 1,400 pairs of jeans.
To make a sleeping bag, he needs seven. “We first have to cut the belt portion of the jeans and the legs are cut down further into strips. A lining of cloth is added to the denim, and then a layer of foam is given for insulation,” adds Nirvaan.
To check if the sleeping bags would provide enough protection against the cold, the Somanys made a prototype and tried using it at home.
“We used the sleeping bag on our porch. I think it should work up to 6 degrees Celsius,” says Shivani, Nirvaan’s mother.
Nirvaan is also using this as an opportuning to provide employment to women.
He has hired 10 women to make these bags, he says. Some of these women are wives of tailors who work at Shivani’s unit, and others hail from the nearby village of Rajokri, which is near their house.
“These women were unemployed before. We trained them in making these sleeping bags. They can make one bag per day, which adds up to 300 bags a month. Since we need to buy the foam and lining cloth, plus the wages of the tailors, it costs us Rs 800 per bag,” says Nirvaan.
So far, they’ve made 112 sleeping bags, which will be distributed in the streets of Delhi. They start distribution from November 22, with the help of Robin Hood Army. They are hopeful of making at least 50 more by this month end.
They plan to donate these directly or sell them to people interested.
“We have managed to sell a few. For the others, we are running a crowdfunding campaign. We have the entire breakup for people who wish to check. We are just recovering the cost, no profits,” says Shivani, Nirvaan’s mother.
‘Fashion accounts for 10 % of global carbon emissions.’
Initially, Nirvaan faced a lot of challenges in getting the denims.
“I just sent a message on WhatsApp. Later, I started an Instagram page, but I had just three followers. Somehow, through word of mouth, the message reached more people. We started getting a lot of messages from across the country asking about how they could donate,” says Nirvaan.
Today, Project Jeans has collection centres in Chennai, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Pune and other cities.
He hopes that people learn about the environment, through his initiative. “I want to create awareness about the fashion industry. Therefore, instead of donating these bags myself, I am selling to interested people. While buying this, they will learn about why denims should not be thrown. Many people are willing to buy them,” says Nirvaan.
His mother too hopes that the youth be mindful while using water, and buying clothes. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, fashion accounts for up to 10% of global carbon dioxide output — more than international flights and shipping combined.
“The carbon emissions of the fashion industry are higher than the entire travel industry. Yet, fashion pollution doesn’t get the attention it needs. We start with small steps at home, like not leaving the water tap on. Let’s all follow such basic steps to save the environment,” says Shivani.
You can donate your old jeans to Project Jeans here.
Edited by Divya Sethu
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