Unsustainable Contradictions in South Asian culture


If you enter a South Asian household you will be sure to find a cupboard in the kitchen full of Tupperware, so old, the turmeric stains have seeped into the very flesh of the plastic itself. T-shirts morph into cleaning rags and you will undoubtedly find a Quality Street tin with a sewing kit inside for all those repairs and tears in your clothes. 

Sound familiar? 

Extending the life cycle of practically everything comes pretty naturally to most of my family members in previous generations. These are the habits many have grown up around regardless of the latest hashtag or sustainability trend. These are habits I was often embarrassed by, growing up, but now preach about….it took 28 years but I see the logic now. Better late than never right? 

Despite these intergenerational conventions to promote a sustainable lifestyle, there is still one which is seen as taboo in South Asian culture – buying second-hand clothing. I can see you nodding along as you read that. This is an unsustainable contradiction which no number of daal-filled old ice cream containers are going to make up for. With textile production contributing more to climate change than international aviation and shipping combined, it’s about time we start discussing this over some roti and chai. 


We conducted a survey to understand the perception of second-hand South Asian clothing among UK diaspora communities. We received over 200 responses from across the UK, with ethnicities spanning the whole South Asian subcontinent. 

So what did we find? 

98% of people surveyed have never purchased second-hand South Asian clothing. When asked why, there were 3 key reasons which put people off; cleanliness, sizing, and stigma.


I get it, you’re probably worried about that ‘Mahi Ve’-induced sweat from the dance floor. Or, worried that someone will think that you’re unclean and stingy for not buying something new. Here are some reasons why buying second-hand doesn’t need to be the barbaric experience that it’s often made out to be. 


We love a party – and ours usually include a lot of dancing. Dancing = sweat. It’s unavoidable and the thought of that is pretty much all you need to put you off wearing someone else’s clothes. For life. 

How often do you think about this when you try on clothes in a shop? How many people might have tried on those jeans that you ended up buying? A lot of the clothes we purchase will inevitably have been worn by someone. This isn’t the end of the world, the cost of dry cleaning is much less than the resource cost of producing new garments, and also much less than the cost of buying something brand new! Over 70% of people we surveyed had only worn their outfits 2-3 times, suggesting that there may be many outfits in great condition waiting to be brought out from the back of the wardrobe. Just like a good plant, your clothes need some sunlight too from time to time. 

To keep your outfits in a great condition for a second-life, why not get sweat pads attached to the inside of your blouse? That way the sweat is absorbed and doesn’t stain or tarnish the material! 


This is a tricky one. Many outfits are made to measure and finding the right size can be difficult. There are limitations in how we overcome this, but inevitably the more we begin to resell and re-love outfits the larger the marketplace will be for South Asian clothes.

An obvious workaround for this is finding yourself a local tailor who can tweak clothing for you if the outfit permits. A lot of South Asians will purchase an outfit that requires tailoring, so why not skip buying brand new,  t and go straight to the tailoring stage? As the urgency around climate change continues to grow we are seeing more and more businesses trying to help us extend the life of our clothes. For example, a new app called Sojo launched this year, and it has been described as the “Deliveroo” of clothing alterations.  

If you’re looking to make your outfits easier to sell then make sure you ask for extra material and that the outfits you buy have some margin in them. This will make it way easier for potential pre-lovers to make the outfit perfect for them. 


The stigma attached to buying second-hand is rooted in multiple factors. Many of our elders have been raised with the perception that a family’s status is determined by what they own. Some cultures in the South Asian subcontinent even see wearing new clothes as central to celebrating particular festivals. But fortunately for the environment these practices are weakening amongst the younger generations. This provides us with the opportunity to break the taboo and create new habits.

So how can we slowly contribute to breaking this taboo in South Asian culture? Educate yourself on the negative impact of continuously buying new clothes on the environment. That way, if someone challenges you on re-wearing an outfit or makes you feel uncomfortable about buying something second-hand, you are equipped to justify why. If you’re looking for somewhere to start why not follow one of our favourite accounts sustainability.sisters? The sister-duo Jaanvi and Paavani are raising awareness on all things environmental. 

Secondly, admit to and embrace when something is borrowed or old to normalise it! I’ve lost count of the number of compliments I’ve received when I’ve re-worn my mum’s 30 year-old sarees. You’ve gotta own it. 

And, let’s be real. Many of us have little shame in our Tupperware reuse addiction. So, let’s at least give secondhand clothing a chance too?

These are just some of the reasons we have come up with. This is by no means an exhaustive list but, we hope it helps you to get the conversation started about unsustainable contradictions in your home!


Congratulations and thank you for making it towards the end of this post! We hope we’ve managed to challenge your thinking and at the very least made you laugh once or twice.

You might be wondering who we are and what we are doing about this unsustainable contradiction ourselves. We are 3 South Asian second-generation immigrants living in the UK. We have created Circular Threads to combine our passions for fashion and sustainability. 

Circular Threads is on a mission to make it easy for people to source and sell preloved South Asian fashion. Are you keen to follow our journey? Then check out @circular.threads for some outfit inspo, and join our community of Pre-lovers. You don’t have to compromise on your South Asian #swag to create more sustainable fashion habits. 

Have you got outfits you’d like to sell or, are you trying to plan your outfit for a decade of rescheduled weddings? Use Circular Threads as a sustainable alternative to buying new !