The Zero Waste Dressmaker
As a storyteller, searching for those wonderfully woven tales is something of a pursuit for me. Mostly I create them myself in ideas for fiction. However, occasionally somebody will tell me their story and something magical happens. You see how all the threads of their life from childhood to teens and adulthood, their experiences and influences, have woven together to form the fabric of their lives now. Destiny is a cliche term, but appropriate perhaps in Priya’s story.
Priya Velusami was born in the UK to Indian parents. She spent summers with her grandmother in India, who always wore saris and taught her to sew. Young Priya learnt how to make everything from scrunchies to dresses. As a teenager, she was inspired by a GCSE project on upcycling which sparked her interest in eco-friendly fashion.
It was no surprise to her family when Priya pursued her career in fashion where she still enjoys her work in sourcing and buying for big brands. However, all these threads came together when Priya was blessed with a niece. She took to her sewing machine again and repurposed one of her mother’s old saris into a beautiful dress for her small new relative.
Immediately, Priya realised that new clothes made from garments of such rich colours, intricate patterns and beautiful fabrics were perfect for children’s clothing. Often bright and bold, they are the materials little people’s hearts are drawn to. Plus, it saved an unused sari from landfill. So Priya made more and started selling through her brand Pri Pri Kidswear. Though immediately popular, life became busy as Priya had her own children, two boys, and juggled a full-time job.
However, in 2020 lockdown fuelled Priya to upscale her business. Looking for new ways to produce more items and expand her collection, Priya found and partnered with the Animedh Charitable Trust who are an amazing charity based in India. Their goal is to help underprivileged women by arming them with valuable skills, including sewing. So Priya sends her designs for accessories and the women in the programme create these items using offcuts. These are then sold through Pri Pri. The women who made them become qualified and are helped into skilled jobs through Animedh’s wonderful programme.
All items sold through Pri Pri, whether clothing or accessories, are made from donated saris that would otherwise be in a landfill. For this reason, each item is also wonderfully unique. She makes dresses and garments for boys and girls and every scrap of material is used, which has helped to build Priya’s accessories line too. For now, each item is made through the charity or by Priya herself but she will have to expand operations as demand is growing fast.
Priya is an advocate for shopping with small businesses, especially those with sustainable credentials. However, she reminds me that big businesses are not the enemy either.
“Large fashion retailers such as department stores have an important part to play,” Priya explains. “It’s accessible and easy for busy modern-day life. They also employ a lot of people and support many livelihoods and so we shouldn’t write them off. Would it help if there were more regulations? Yes. When businesses get big it can be hard to be sure that everything is coming from ethical sources, but in many ways, it’s easier to hold big business accountable, so they are not always a negative impact on the environment.”
I’m amazed by what Priya has achieved. It is such a simple concept and yet it works so well, solving so many environmental problems along the way, or at least delaying them. It’s small businesses like Pri Pri who are helping to hold the climate crisis at bay, but it’s tougher regulation on fast fashion and a change in consumer behaviour which will really change things. As Priya recognises, it’s not always possible to buy local or buy sustainable, but if we can try to do it even a third of the time that will send a clear message.
I asked Priya, as consumers, what can we do?
“Just be more mindful. Question clothing sales and ask, ‘do I really want this or am I buying it because it’s cheap?’ We can vote with our wallets. Sustainable fashion is sometimes more expensive and not everyone can afford it but we need to reject throwaway fashion. To stop buying short term and take care of our clothes to make them last.”
“Supporting small sustainable businesses is great but don’t feel bad about buying from chains. Just ensure you’re buying items you’ll really cherish and love for a long time.”
This is what Pri Pri stands for. It’s not a fight against fashion it's a fight against wastefulness. Sustainable buying is about selecting and caring for fewer items. Those we’ll really love and treasure. Because true love is everlasting.
As for Priya, setting up her Pri Pri brand which supports both sustainability and underprivileged women - well that’s the fabric from which dreams are made.
Further Reading: Animed Charitable Trust