We spoke to Geena who saves South Asian fabric cutoffs from going to landfill, transforming scraps into culturally rich and environmentally friendly handcrafted products.
What is your ethnic, academic and professional background?
My ethnic background is Punjabi and my academic background is in materials science and also mechanical engineering.
What is Garmi? How did it come about and what are your main values as a business?
Garmi creates quality handcrafted products made from 100% recycled South Asian fabrics. The fabric is saved from landfill and something beautiful is made at the same time.
My idea for this business came about after realising just how much fabric waste is generated when sewing traditional South Asian clothing. This waste comes in the form of fabric offcuts which are often too small to turn into other garments and as such are usually thrown away.
In the first national lockdown I started experimenting with these beautiful fabric offcuts to see what I could make and garmi was born.
In terms of culture, I wanted to create a brand that incorporated South Asian culture, through its vibrant fabrics into Western fashion. In this way, these fabrics and South Asian culture are easily integrated into everyday life. Additionally, these fabrics are able to reach and be appreciated by a much wider audience.
What inspired you to act as a catalyst for sustainable practice? Is there a particular story you can share?
Since I was a teenager I have been interested in the environment, climate change and sustainability. Over the years this has manifested in changing aspects of the way I live and the products I buy. However, I always knew that I wanted to create a business one day that would actively solve an environmental or sustainability issue.
Being South Asian, did you face any backlash for your sustainable business idea from family, friends or society at large? How did you overcome it?
I didn’t face any backlash for creating this sustainable business but I am used to family and friends not thinking much of this idea and dismissing it as a hobby. I have overcome this rhetoric by continuing to follow my passion and build my business. Hopefully one day all the naysayers will see that this idea has tackled a real problem – but I’m also content if they don’t!
How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?
I have consistently made small changes in the way I live over the years to be more sustainable. For example, using soaps and shampoo bars instead of packaged toiletries, and reusable cotton pads to remove makeup instead of single use wipes. I became a vegetarian 10 years ago, partly for environmental reasons. I also avoid single use plastic unless absolutely necessary and try to be conscious of the amount of water I use every day.
Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis amongst South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving the issues?
I think generally there is some resistance from older generations to adopt sustainable practices and take climate change seriously. I think this stems from a belief that one person’s actions won’t make that much of a difference in comparison to large corporations. I also think that there is more resistance to sustainability if it involves practices that are more costly or time consuming than the norm.
I think these issues can be tackled by firstly educating the younger generation and empowering them. This will act as a catalyst for older people to change their routines and adopt new and more sustainable practices.
Do you find such lack of understanding makes having a sustainability-led business like yours more challenging?
I think a lack of understanding has impacted my business slightly, for example, I’ve often been told to go and buy fabric that I need, even though that goes against what this business and I stand for.
What advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment?
I would tell younger generations to incorporate sustainability into their life wherever they can. Large companies only change their habits and the products they sell when there is consumer demand. The more we all spend our money consciously in places that are sustainable, environmentally friendly and don’t use cheap labour the more we will see positive changes in the world.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
This year I hope to launch my website and expand my business so that I can receive fabric donations from all over the country and make a tangible impact on this fabric waste issue! If you would like to follow the journey and support please follow garmi on Instagram.