According to Global Fashion Agenda, there’s an estimated 92 million tons of textile waste created annually, and in India alone, more than 1 million tons of clothes are thrown away every year.
2015 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee “Clothing Man of India” ANSHU GUPTA looked deeply at the importance of clothing that could fill the needs of the poor and founded Goonj which became a movement that saves lives.
During his early career as a journalist, ANSHU GUPTA met a rickshaw owner who would pick up abandoned dead bodies. While he was accompanying the family, he learned that during winter the man would pick up dead bodies twice the number during summer. Tragically, they are homeless persons that died as a result of the intense cold.
ANSHU figured that if it was the cold that killed people, he should have died with them as he lives in the same city. But he survived these cruel conditions by simply having the proper clothes. Thus, it's not the cold weather but the absence of clothes that took these people's lives.
This experience made ANSHU leave his job and establish Goonj to offer a sustainable economic model for eliminating poverty and related issues.
Discarded clothes can also be upcycled to new products to address other concerns such as the gaps and challenges of menstrual hygiene.
Among the many programs implemented by Goonj is the Not Just a Piece of Cloth (NJPC) initiative, where they distribute MY Pads, a clean cloth sanitary napkin made from the last shreds of cotton cloth. This movement is making a significant impact on women who are forced to use inappropriate materials because of cultural stigmas associated with menstruation.
According to ANSHU himself, “A humble piece of cotton cloth can save a woman from a lot of indignity, embarrassment and infections.”
Knowing that cloth is linked with a person's dignity, ANSHU feels a duty to individuals to ensure that they receive clothes or upcycled materials from cloth while maintaining their dignity and not as beggars. Through GOONJ, ANSHU established a parallel exchange-based economy by fostering trade between rural people and urban surplus.
Their Cloth for Work program allows the material to serve as a tool while local communities identify their issues. They work on unresolved community issues and receive the material in exchange for their services.
Roads have been rebuilt, wells have been dug up, bamboo bridges have been structured, and water bodies have been cleaned in Assam, Bihar, West Bengal, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and many more states. All of this was accomplished without the use of any money.
The programs implemented by Goonj under ANSHU’s leadership have reshaped what was once deemed as garbage in cities to a material usable by the rural people of India. He has transformed the culture of giving in India through his creative vision and belief in the dignity of the poor and marginalized. As what ANSHU said during his response at the 57th Ramon Magsaysay Awards Presentation Ceremonies, “It’s time to stop treating money as the only currency in the world and start looking for parallel currencies for development,” and greatly encourages everyone to “copy and replicate” Goonj’s solution.
ANSHU GUPTA is the founder of GOONJ, an India-based organization which undertakes disaster relief, humanitarian aid and community development. In 2015, ANSHU GUPTA received Asia’s premier prize and highest honor for “his creative vision in transforming the culture of giving in India, his enterprising leadership in treating cloth as a sustainable development resource for the poor, and in reminding the world that true giving always respects and preserves human dignity.”