If florals aren’t groundbreaking for spring, sequins are no stranger to the après-hours circuit either. A perennial party favourite, you’ll spot them plastered over runways and celebrity wardrobes alike. However, look beneath the sparkle, and you’ll find that sequins have been harbouring a sinister side with long-reaching consequences for the planet. In the realm of sustainability, organic cotton and khadi generally serve as the star students of the class, but here’s why it’s time to extend the same diligence to your party wardrobe as well.
The environmental impact of sequins
The primary reason why sequins are among the worst offenders of the sustainability movement is that they have a short active life, believes Rachel Clowes, founder of The Sustainable Sequin Company. “Typically worn twice or thrice before being abandoned at the back of the closet, these clothes represent wasted resources, energy and labour as well as the wasted potential to bring joy through wear. Plastic sequins shimmer for a few hours on the dancefloor and languish at the back of the wardrobe for a few years, before lying intact in a landfill for a few centuries. Both the raw materials from which sequins are derived—including PVC additives—and the waste created by the short-term use of long-lasting plastic are grave environmental problems,” she explains.
Sustainable sequin cropped-top by Kavya Singh Kandu
A quick glance at the data might make you reconsider those glittery LBDs queued up in your shopping cart right now—a previous study has found that 1.7 million sequinned outfits find their way into the landfill after the party season, despite having been worn roughly five times on average. Given the time-intensive nature of removing every single sequin individually from a garment, it is often disposed of directly—from where it occupies prime real estate in landfills for a few centuries or ends up as an unsuspecting fish’s dinner.
Sustainable sequin t-shirt by Kavya Singh Kandu
In response, The Sustainable Sequin Company delivers on its moniker with the use of sequin film constructed from 20% recycled PET and no PVC—a known carcinogen and common component in conventional sequins. The sequins are then packaged in recycled card boxes or biodegradable plastic for delivery to further dial back the brand’s environmental footprint. “The payoff for using recycled materials comes in reduced reliance on fossil fuels, lesser energy use and subsequently, reduced greenhouse gas emissions,” she adds.
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How the fashion industry is embracing sustainable sequins
Clowes’ work on undoing the environmental impact of sequins has been steadily garnering attention on the international circuit and has even landed her a spot in several designer creations—including a bespoke couture number by Gucci. Closer home, Kolkata-based designer Kavya Singh Kundu has been employing these eco-friendly creations for her eponymous label. When quizzed about her decision to make the switch to sustainable alternatives, Kundu likens sequins to plastic microbeads that have been recently banned from cosmetic products. “Conventional sequins can be categorised as microplastics that make their way into oceans after being disposed, and this sets off a chain reaction. It then finds its way into the stomach of the local marine life and from there, ultimately makes its way into humans,” she explains.
Sustainable sequin top by Kavya Singh Kandu
In light of the mounting spectre of the climate crisis, it has become clear that sustainability isn’t merely the remit of corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives any longer—independent designers can make an impact as well by exploring newer alternatives that are kinder to the environment. “It is essential for labels to do their research, understand where the gap lies in the market and attempt to find ethical solutions to meet that gap. They can then reach out to people and companies already exploring this space and come up with opportunities to work together,” she concludes.
Photographs courtesy of The Sustainable Sequin Company