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  • Writer's pictureUshma Agrawal

How do you care for your treasured clothing items?

The reason I am asking how well you care for your clothes is because in the process of reflecting on this question myself, I ended up launching an Etsy site!

Below is my rather longwinded explanation of how I ended up on Etsy and what propelled me forward in this creative venture.

As an Indian woman, I basically have two wardrobes: one consists of all my regular clothes from jeans to leggings to dresses; the other is the plethora of Indian Shalwar suits (top with pants) / Sarees (6 yards of fabric we wrap around ourselves) / Lenghas (short top with a long skirt) I have accumulated over the years.

These Indian outfits range in price from a top that costs $15 to outfits that cost hundreds of dollars. Most of them fall into the latter category. You see, for occasions like Indian weddings, there isn't just one event and one outfit needed - there can be up to 10 different events. Obviously, not all weddings have so many events, but even a wedding where you need 3 outfits, that's still a lot.

We do repeat outfits to wear in different social circles, though, not in close succession. Plus, styles change and so you inevitably end up buying more outfits to stay current. When I was younger, I handed down a lot of my clothes to my younger cousins. Now, when I have outfits that I am unlikely to wear and will not be handing down to anyone, I give them to relatives going to India where they are donated to places like women's shelters or orphanages.

My dilemma regarding my Indian clothes right now is how to best store these outfits that are expensive, have a lot of embellishments on them, and are infrequently worn? I mean, I have paid so much money to purchase them, but they are all in plastic ziplock bags placed in plastic under-the-bed bins. Those bins are stacked 9 levels high and are basically a leaning tower waiting to collapse in my closet. For a while now, it has really been bothering me. As I contemplate organizing as a whole, and treating the things I spend my hard-earned money on with care, I realize that my Indian outfits have been greatly neglected. Between myself, my parents, and my mother-in-law, we have spent a lot of money on these clothes and some items hold very sentimental memories for me. I have some garments passed down from my mother and my mother-in-law that mean a lot to them and as such, I would like to cherish and preserve them for my own daughters.

In an effort to determine how to store these clothes, I started doing some research on how best to preserve textiles, specifically clothing. This research doesn't only pertain to Indian clothing, but any expensive/sentimental/keepsake ethnic clothing you may have in your closet that just doesn't get worn much. Here are some of the main points I think we should all be cognizant of when storing valuable clothing that is infrequently accessed:

  • Clean items before storing them away. Stains are easier to get out when they are fresh.

  • Keep away from light. Natural sunlight and also indoor light rays can be damaging to natural fibers (e.g. cotton/linen) and animal fibers (e.g. silk and wool.)

  • According to the Smithsonian, the ideal storage temperature is 65-70°F (18-21°C); ideal humidity is between 40-50% - this will prevent excessive drying as well as moisture, which can cause mold and mildew growth. Rooms with large changes in temperature such as the attic or basement are not recommended for storage of valuable or delicate clothing as the fluctuations can speed up deterioration of fabrics.

  • Avoid hanging valuable or precious clothes that you will not be wearing frequently, especially if they are heavy. The weight will pull the garment down and it will start to lose its shape. If items must be stored on a hanger, ensure the hanger is padded and cover it with pH neutral acid-free, lignin-free archival tissue paper. The only exception to the hanging recommendation is fur, leather, and outwear. Those are best stored hanging-up.

  • Remove items once a year to air them out and let them breathe for a day or so, taking care with unfolding and refolding.

  • Un-dyed, unbleached cotton muslin is more breathable than regular cotton and is recommended for wrapping or storing your outfits.

  • Use pH neutral acid-free, lignin-free archival tissue paper between folds or to buffer areas such as bodices. Do not use regular tissue paper, as it is not pH neutral and could damage your clothing over time.

  • Treasured garments should not be in direct contact with wood or plastic, in general.

  • Keep pests (e.g. moths) away using a pouch of lavender, cloves, or cedar oil. I personally prefer lavender as it smells nice. Avoid moth balls as they have a lot of chemicals in them.

These other tips are also good to know, but were not feasible based on the space I have to work with in my own home:

I did some more research to find storage bags for my clothes, but I couldn't find anything that was the right material, size, shape, and style that I wanted for my Indian clothes. After all, the clothing is valuable and I want to store them as such. There a quite a few outfits that I want to pass down to my daughters because; a) there is no way they will fit me again (lol); and b) the outfits are beautiful and I would love to see my daughters in them.

Now, you can buy "cotton saree bags" online, which I did on Etsy, but the material was really stiff, so I wasn't impressed with the quality of the fabric and it was too thin for my liking. The question I have been asking myself is: Why did I spend hundreds on an outfit and then stick it in a plastic bag for storage? The answer is: I don't know! Time got away from me and the clothing began to accumulate and I kept buying more under-the-bed boxes to store them in and that tower got taller and taller. I always knew those outfits deserved better. I had already decluttered as many outfits as possible prior to my trip to India in 2019. I started thinking about what my ideal storage bag would be and asked my mother-in-law for help with the design and creation of some prototypes for what I wanted to solve my issue. She helped me a great deal, and in the process, taught me how to use a sewing machine. Since then, I have been spending time continuing the prototype journey until I finally landed on a design that I really like and will work for me. I figured I can't be the only person out there that is looking for something that can preserve my clothes in an organized, simple, high-quality, and stylish manner, can I?

Aura-Ganize: Leaning tower of clothes (before)
Leaning Tower of Indian Outfits

In an effort to see if there really is an appetite for the clothing storage bags, in general, or if it's just me that sees a need/want for them, I have launched an Etsy shop! Calling it "a shop" may be a bit extravagant given that I have one product. However, I find that I really enjoy using my sewing skills and knowing I have created something to address a problem that I have, with my own two hands, is a real feeling of accomplishment.

Since I am literally buying the fabric, cutting it, sewing it, packaging and mailing the bags myself, I honestly have no idea how sustainable it is to make and sell the bags on an ongoing basis given that I also do home and office organizing projects for clients.

Also, there is a chance no one, but me, even wants them. If they don't sell, c'est la vie (that's life!) - I put myself out there (which is the hardest part of any new venture, in my opinion), learned a new life skill, and have solved my own Indian clothing storage problem. My leaning tower of plastic storage boxes is about to be replaced by some new dressers in which I will store my treasured items in my very own handmade muslin storage bags! I can't wait! Granted, they are not the cheapest bags online, but they are made with good quality materials, careful craftsmanship, attention to detail, and love. If they do sell, well then I need to figure out how to scale production. For now, baby steps...

Here is a little information about the muslin cotton garment bags I created:

  • They are 100% unbleached muslin cotton.

  • The material is non-acidic and breathable, more so than regular cotton.

  • The bags measure 15.5" (39.37cm) W x 15.25" (38.73cm) L.

  • They have a sturdy brass zipper enclosure - because I like a bit of pizzazz!

  • They can comfortably fit an entire lengha or saree (with blouse and petticoat), or Shalwar suit including chunni.

  • I added a label holder to the front so you can write which outfit is inside. I had considered a see-through window for the bag, but the plastic would have come into direct contact with the clothing, which is a preservation no-no as the plastic gives off gases that are damaging to the fabric.

  • The bags are reusable and can be used for long-term storage or for travel.

  • The bags are handmade by yours truly, so there is no exploitation of cheap labor used in the manufacturing of them.

  • Designed and hand-crafted in the USA.

Next time you are going through your closet, think about how much money you spent on your pricier pieces and consider whether they are stored in manner befitting the price you paid for them or the value you have for them - monetarily or sentimentally. If you want to preserve a keepsake for yourself or as an heirloom, give some serious consideration to storage and the environment in which they are stored. This will ensure it is well-kept until you are ready to part with it.

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