The women who work at a garment-recycling plant across the Indian border have little idea where all the clothes they’re tasked with ripping apart come from. They engineer their own explanations for the surfeit of garments that arrive from foreign climes by the truckload. “Everyone here says that the clothes come over because there’s a water shortage in the West,” one of them remark in Unravel, a 14-minute film that reveals how first-world consumption is viewed halfway across the world. “Water is just as expensive as clothes are for these people,” she says, before adding that most of the clothes look almost new. “That’s why they wear their clothes a couple of times and then throw them away.” Another woman wonders if Westerners just don’t like washing their clothes.
Listening to the women chatter as they sit in the shadows of piles of castoffs, it’s easy to understand their bemusement.
If you’re like most people in the first world, out of sight is out of mind. Few of us spare much thought about the the fates of our clothes after we’ve chucked them aside.
As director Meghna Gupta uncovers, many of them travel across oceans to the Kutch District in India, where they’re shredded at a customs processing plant—a loss-prevention measure—before being trucked off to another facility more than 700 miles away.
In the northern city of Panipat, another group of workers is tasked with stripping the garments of labels, buttons, zippers, and other embellishments. The disassembled clothing is spun back into yarn and, eventually, woven into blankets for the West. The circle is thus complete.
Despite the background thrum of material excess—and the moral poverty it casually implies—Unravel presents all of this with scant judgement. For many of the women who rummage through our discards, the first world is a near-mythical realm where wealth and freedom are equally plentiful. They don’t begrudge us this, but neither are these things they can frame in context.
“People over there are rich; they have no shortage of money,” says Reshma, who works in one of the recycling mills. “So that’s why they send these clothes over.”
“Western women are so respected; God’s given them a very good life,” she adds. “I often wonder what it would be like to have a life like that. But I work with clothes all day, so I’m always looking at them.”
Watch the full documentary here.