Interview with sustainability advocate Aparna Sharma
Aparna Sharma is a sustainability advocate and writer using her social media to show people that it can be both easy and fun to live a more sustainable life in Bangkok. We are huge fans of her informative and fun way to use social media on the account "Stylish Suitcase" to inspire the people around her to do their part towards a better tomorrow.
We met up with Aparna in Bangkok and had a short interview at our Asok tea house to learn more about her interest for sustainability and get some tips for someone just getting started thinking about changing up their lifestyle. Enjoy!
Q: Is it hard to live a sustainable life in Bangkok?
A: It’s like any city right? There are going to be different challenges but I personally don’t think it’s hard at all. No one can be 100% sustainable obviously, but there are a lot of small things you can do like avoiding single use plastic and reusing things that you already own, whether it’s your kitchen utensils, clothes or bags. There are just so many different things I feel like individuals can do to be more sustainable in their everyday lives and those definitely don’t have to be hard.
When I go to an Indian store for example I try to not buy any packaged items and instead I try to just buy directly into my cloth bag. If I buy a coconut water it’s easiest to just drink it with my metal straw. I know it’s a bit cliche to talk about straws but it really is like they say, it might just be one straw, but it’s 8 billion people saying the same thing.
I’ve also started to grow my own micro greens! I’m growing lime and tomatoes now and I feel that this is something that really grounds me and connects me to the soil and the environment. A lot of times people might feel like the environment exists in some far away land but the environment is within all of us and the best way to stay connected with it is to really play with and understand soil. I also write a lot about sustainable menstruation. There are so many single use products women throw away when we could instead benefit of much more sustainable practices. I think a lot of people are scared to talk about that subject though.
Q: Do you think it’s important that each of us take these small steps and try to improve?
A: I absolutely think it’s important, and especially that those of us who are privileged enough to think about these things take action. I know there are communities who can’t even be thinking about sustainability, but these people already have such a low carbon footprint and are just naturally sustainable in so many ways. Maybe they buy plastic packaged food, but their impact is already so much lower than others. Climate change is in fact going to affect the vulnerable in those communities the most! But I definitely think we can do a lot better, and that each person can do so much. And that can make a significant difference.
Q: We know that you have gotten started with composting at home, can you explain this?
A: Firstly, I found that composting at home is very easy! When I told my husband about it, his first reaction was “Oh my God now we're going to get worms inside the house!” (Laughs) I said I’d keep it in the balcony so I bought a compost for that but now I don’t even use it most of the time! Instead I’m just composting in my flower pots across the house, putting mango and banana peels in them. Of course I also put Monsoon Tea there which composts very quickly since it’s organic and grown in biodiversity. I’ve really learnt that composting is very easy, and once you try to figure it out, you learn what composts quickly and what doesn’t.
I like to put random things in random pots and all of a sudden plants are sprouting up just like that. It really makes you see the biodiversity in your own little garden, and I think composting is also something everybody can do easily at home since we all eat. Just spread your food waste in pots and compost it.
Q: Why do you use social media to talk about these topics?
A: For me, I think this is the single most existential threat. I know there are other threats to the planet and our existence on it but climate change is really the most dangerous one. A lot of people can be negative and say that it’s already to late and that nothing can be done, but this is how I look at it: we have the front seat to watch this event happening and have two choices. Either we fight or we do nothing. But we have to give it our best fight and give it our all and then whatever happens happens. But we can’t just sit and watch it right? I felt like I had this position to do something, so I started writing about it to educate more people and create more awareness on the subject. There are activists who try to get policy changes and that is very important. We need government to act. But we as individuals also have to act. That’s why I felt as a sustainability advocate that I wanted to experiment a lot with circular fashion, composting, recycling etc and then educate people on how they could do the same things easily.
The busy streets of Bangkok
Q: How do you use social media to further these goals?
A: I feel like I struggle in today’s content creating with people who are organising and have moodboards to structure everything. I don’t do any of that, I put up just who I am you know? And maybe that inspires a few people. This thing just happened, my content is just what I do in my life. I don’t go out of my way to create something. If I go to a tailor and I’m taking a scrap and upcycling it, I just put that as a post. Of course I put some effort into making it look good aesthetically because that is important for social media but I really started out just enjoying it. Sometimes I get DMs when people are upcycling something or trying something I’ve posted about. And when a few people start telling you they’re trying out plant based food and giving up dairy, that kind of motivates you. At first I thought it was great if I could impact just one person, but then that reached five, and then 10. It motivates you and makes you see that there really are more people who can, and who are interested in taking care of the planet.
Sometimes my kids find it super cringy, just yesterday my daughter told me to stop making my cringy dance videos, but it’s just me! It’s not like something is trendy and that’s why I’m doing it, I’m just being me. The dancing, silliness, it’s not an effort for me or something I’m putting on.
Q: We have been big fans of you for a long time and we feel like that love is shared. How did you first come across Monsoon Tea?
A: It was in an eco market in Emquartier in Bangkok and I was so impressed. I remember reading that the tea was grown in biodiversity and that really struck me. I went back home and asked the editor for my magazine if I could write on this. I got the green light and sent an e-mail to Monsoon Tea, the answer said I could come over to meet and I was so shocked that I met Kenneth! He was so wonderful, I remembered how he explained the whole thing and showed me the video from where the tea was grown with biodiversity. I went to Chiang Mai in ten days from that and there Kenneth took me to one of the farming communities. I sat with the farmers, saw them and really experienced how tea could be grown together with biodiversity, with so much nature around it. There were pomelo trees, banana trees and all kinds of plants around. I even drank water straight from a stream!
This was the first time I saw Forest Friendly tea. I’ve seen the biodiversity in David Attenborough documentaries and I’ve read about it, but to really see it for yourself was something special. It really makes me feel every morning when I drink Monsoon Tea like I’m sipping biodiversity. It sounds very cliché but I really really feel that. In the article I even believe I put that in the title, calling it “A sip of biodiversity”. That’s something I love about Monsoon Tea. Of course there is also the taste, the varieties and options, and the fact that the tin cans in the shops are from locally recycled metal scraps. I know Kenneth is so passionate about this and that inside of his heart, he’s an environmentalist. I like that about him because he’s driven with the right kind of passion. So there really are many things about Monsoon Tea I love.
Q: Last question! Your instagram handle is Stylish Suitcase and you often discuss issues with the fast fashion industry, so how does someone stay stylish in the most sustainable way?
A: So three years ago, when I decided to focus on being both stylish and circular just as a thing I wanted to try for myself, I started out by just assessing my wardrobe and seeing what am I wearing and what am I not wearing. That’s where anybody should start, by trying to do a fashion detox for three months and not buying anything new at all. If you want to support the slow fashion industry at the same time that’s okay, but I think the detox really helps to just make you understand that you don’t need to consume.
And then you just start using what you already have! Most of the things in my wardrobe, I’ve restyled in so many different ways, which is important. I tell people that if they go into Zara or any other fast fashion brand, they should always ask themselves how many times they are actually going to wear an item. Ask yourself when you buy something if you’ll wear it at least 30 times. There are numbers to this, some that I still find strange but that’s one thing to remember to ask yourself.
Going back to how I did it, I was using what I already had. Every year my family would give me hand me downs, which is the best way to get new clothes to your wardrobe. My grandmom, mom and cousin have given me a lot of the things that I wear. After that, the next best thing is swapping. You can swap clothes with friends or even with people you don’t know. Sometimes I borrow from friends and they come borrow from me, because buying something new for just one event is not enough. You can also rent, I’ve seen some venues here in Bangkok but this could definitely evolve more. After renting comes thrifting. If you feel like shopping and want to buy something new, start off by checking out the thrift stores in the city and you might just find something interesting!
Another important thing is that you have to change your mentality and stop following trends. I just hate this thing where it’s like “yellow is out, blue is in”, I’m like who cares!? I don’t! (laughs). Just wear your personal style, it doesn’t have to be that this colour goes perfectly with another colour, but I think that is difficult for a lot of people to be more open minded. People need to buy few things but then figure out how to wear them in different ways and style them. Sometimes people are just buying excessive amounts and still don’t use it because they don’t understand their own style.
The final thing you can do is to buy from sustainable brands. When you buy new ideally you really should try to support sustainable slow fashion brands because they need our support. They are trying to move the workforce from fast fashion to slow fashion and we need to help them so they can continue to create more jobs. There is a huge need for more jobs to be created because I know people in the fast fashion industry and they tell me they don’t have a choice because there is no job opportunities for them on the other side. Because how do we really create jobs if we don’t produce something new?
It would be great if we could create more jobs through the renting and thrifting models, or even though swaps if there could be more events and locations for that. Things has to change and people have to continue experimenting with different business models, but the reality right now is that there is no real comparison to the amount of people that fast fashion employs. Realistically brands just have to be pushed to change their business model in some way, to become slower. That’s the most important thing, and we can all help play a part in that.