I grew up in a large family that included my grandparents, uncles, and aunties, all living under the same roof. The one thing they all had in common was their resourcefulness. I cannot remember a single device that was thrown away because it was either broken or it stopped working. My uncles would find a way to fix whatever is broken, however long it took, instead of throwing it away. Almost everything we had at home was homemade, from food to clothes to functional household items. We had a little patch of garden ad harvested our vegetables from there for our meals, everything was religiously reused, recycled or repurposed.

When I started working, got married and moved out of the family home, I found myself in a different world. Social media lifestyle and peer pressure pushed me into a world of fashion, branded handbags and shoes and clothes. Posting on Instagram a few times a day with my new purchases, posting about everything that I eat or drink, became my top priority. Somewhere at the back of my mind I knew this is not who I am. My upbringing and the sustainability values my family had ingrained in me from an early age were at odds with my new reality. Fortunately, values won. I woke up one day and decided I was done. I sifted through everything I had and started selling the bags and shoes and clothes. I kept only what I needed and gave away a number of things.

I went right back to the lifestyle I had grown up with, that was so familiar to me. I learnt how to sew and discovered a new passion. I started repurposing old clothes into tote bags, pillow covers, zipper pouches, iPad cases, laptop bags and more. I would take an old saree and turn it into a new dress or a blouse. I started posting about these on social media now and offered to teach anyone who was interested. The response was amazing! There are so many people out there who want to live a more sustainable life, but don’t know where to begin. There is a ton of information online, but it can be overwhelming. My advice is to start small, with things that you are comfortable with.

As an avid reader, I had a ton of books. After I donated a large quantity of books from my first round of purging, I came up with a rule for myself. For every new book that I buy, I must first donate an old book. This has worked very well because I still get to maintain a full bookshelf, while sharing the joy of reading with someone else.

When the government announced a ban on plastic straws, many restaurants were stuck with unused stock. I went around my local neighbourhood restaurants collecting these straws from grateful restaurant owners who didn’t know what to do with them. From YouTube videos, I learnt how to weave straws into carry bags. From there I graduated to turning old newspapers into coasters and storage. I’ve had a lot of fun experimenting with repurposing and creating new things that are functional and also make great gifts. My friends and family absolutely love them, and I am getting so many requests to teach them how to do this.

I am planning to record step-by-step videos for all my repurposing projects and create a YouTube channel to share my learnings with others. It is so easy to do this at home and you will be amazed with what you can do with things that are lying around in your house.

I went through a particularly low phase in my life and almost lost myself to depression. These repurposing projects that allowed me to give new life to old, decrepit things, also breathed new life into me.

My aunt taught me an important lesson 30 years ago when I was a little girl and had thrown away a sweet wrapper on the street- “You must not hurt mother nature. Preserve her and your life will be blessed. Yes, even a tiny sweet wrapper will hurt her.” That lesson has held me in good stead all these years. I am happy to say that my habits have also influenced my husband of 10 years. He has transformed into a passionate advocate of sustainable living. He has done a lot of creative repurposing projects of his own with his friends and family and sometimes he is even more creative than I am.

There’s no shortcut to saving the planet and I am happy to be able to convert one person at a time for now!”


Elvina Fernandez is an Assistant Manager in the Communications department in the QI Group and is based in Malaysia. She hopes to inspire more individuals to become sustainable lifestyle ambassadors in their own capacity.