Chicago, IL

LEADs Tackle the Reusing of Used Clothes "FirSe" (Again)

Shipra Jha
LEAD students gathered, listening to their assignments for the next couple of hours to make a change through service.Photo by(Seva member/unlicensed)

Thousands of us have many clothes simply occupying space in our closets. Many of these clothes have been worn to a particular party or event a few times. Similarly, many people of Indian descent alter their wardrobe based on the unspoken stigma that people cannot see you in a specific article of traditional clothing more than once. Due to this reason, many elegant and newly used clothing go to waste, rotting away over the course of time. Therefore, a few adults who migrated from India started a program that allows people all around Chicagoland to drive by "India House" in Schaumburg and donate any used clothes that are in relatively new condition. This initiative was started as a way to make people more aware of the plenty of resources that they have and cause our communities to look towards a more resourceful future. This initiative not only looks highly upon making society more reusable but also provides an affordable method for people of different economic backgrounds to acquire more traditional clothing, allowing them to connect back with their homeland with the help of these clothes. Once collected these clothes will be sorted, discarded if not in wearable condition, and then uploaded with a description and picture to the FirSe app allowing people to purchase traditional clothing at a low price. This is where the LEADs come in.

LEADs are a group of high school volunteers organized by Sewa International (, a Hindu faith-based organization that serves communities all over the United States. Volunteers from the Chicago chapter assembled one Sunday morning dressed in a yellow Sewa shirt to signify unity. Over the course of the next few hours, LEADs split into different groups. A few LEADs worked on installing and setting up software for new computers that were purchased for this cause. These students prepped the computers for further use by those who may not have the time or resources to set up advanced technology.

Meanwhile, other LEADs formed groups of 5 in order to sort bags and bags of traditional clothing. One group of students tackled the saris, a garment of southern Asian women that consists of several yards of lightweight cloth draped so that one end forms a skirt and the other a head or shoulder covering. Another set of students tackled bags upon bags of kurtis, traditional wear that resembles a long and loose t-shirt with traditional aspects. Meanwhile, the remaining students tackled all sorts of clothing. Each group had to sort clothing into a pile of wearables and non-wearables, based on visual examination of the condition in which each Indian wear was. While a few members were sorting the clothing, other members of the team used a mannequin on which they put an outfit, snapped a picture, and added a sticker with a catalog number onto the clothing. While groups were doing these tasks, they had to report back to one person who would write the catalog number of the outfit and the description for it. These descriptions would later be matched up with the pictures and uploaded onto the app as more in-stock clothing for customers to purchase.

Many students thoroughly enjoyed this event while connecting back with their Indian community through this method of service. One student stated:

“This service opportunity made me mindful of how much clothing is wasted simply because we do not wear it anymore. I knew that clothing could be donated to charity but I was not aware there was an easy-to-use method for traditional Indian clothing as well”

Due to this amazing opportunity, students learned the value of time efficiency and how working together boosts a group's productivity. The hosts of this event were very welcoming towards the students and allowed each student to tackle something that was within their bandwidth of expertise. Many LEADs look forward to any future event with the FirSe program and cannot wait to assist this program in making others more conscious of reusing clothing again!

Sewa International is a Hindu faith-based, humanitarian, nonprofit service organization registered under Internal Revenue Code 501 (c) (3). Founded in 2003, Sewa International is part of a larger movement that started in India in 1989 and is active in twenty countries. Sewa serves humanity irrespective of race, color, religion, gender, or nationality.

We specialize in disaster relief and rehabilitation. Our development programs focus on family services; child, tribal, and refugee welfare; women empowerment; health; and education.

In addition to our work in the US, we have undertaken development projects in Colombia, Guyana, India, Kenya, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

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