Fashion Activism and the Citarum River

At its source, Indonesia’s Citarum river babbles through the endless rice paddies and sleepy farming villages of West Java. Sadly, this charming sight is short lived. As the Citarum winds its way downstream towards the sea it encounters areas crowded with factories and domestic properties without adequate sanitation or waste management infrastructure, leading to huge volumes of waste and sewage being dumped into the river’s water. This activity is so prolific across a 190 mile stretch of the river that it has led the Citarum to be labelled the world’s most polluted river.

Citarum River

Residents living along the rivers edge are quoted as saying the river changes colour daily due to chemical waste dumped into it by textile factories. Red, blue, yellow, sometimes black or white; all dependent on what the factories are working on. It is widely understood that the factories are the rivers worst polluters. It is estimated there are more than 2,000 industrial facilities, including 200 textile mills and garment factories, concentrated in the Citarum River Valley. All dumping chemical waste into the water.

Fishing on the Citarum river

When looking at the pictures of the Citarum river you cannot fail to be shocked. In places the river appears to a be solid mass of waste. An industry has grown up on the riverbanks - collecting the plastic waste in the water for recycling. Those who used to fish the Citarum needed a new livelihood as the fish are largely gone. The river is now almost completely uninhabitable to wildlife. Skin irritations and diseases are common. Factory waste is pumped into the same canals that irrigate the rice paddies. Farmers complain of stunted crops; rice deemed not fit for human consumption is fed to the cattle.

It’s such a tragic story, but things are starting to change. Under mounting pressure from both frustrated locals and global environmental groups, the Indonesian government has vowed to undertake a clean-up operation with the goal of making the river basin drinkable by 2025. Having seen the pictures of the rivers current state that is no small task!

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo is getting tough on polluters, especially corporations, and the military have been drafted in to start a large-scale clean-up operation. This is the first ever coordinated effort to clean the river and the government is drafting in help from the leaders of every area of the community. Something that is instrumental to the clean-up operations success as often the cause of land exploitation can be traced back to poverty and job unavailability. The government is working on schemes to help these individuals economically to provide motivation to protect the Citarum ecosystem.

So, a step in the right direction for the worlds most polluted river, but an absolutely huge undertaking and one that requires support from the whole community. Both local and global!

Hanna Pumfrey in SmartSquid Jacket

How will I be supporting the Citarum river clean up? Power dressing and the power of fashion activism has never been so important, and no I’m not talking about killer heels and sexy pencil skirts! I’m talking about rocking this super cool, hand painted, second hand jacket made by Sarina, founder of SmartSquid. Through SmartSquid she produces stunning statement pieces to spark conversation. Sarina hand picks all the items that she paints from charity and vintage shops, meaning all SmartSquids garments are fantastically unique. Her creations are truly a labour of love and all tell a story. Sarina’s designs all speak to an important environmental challenge or raise awareness of endangered species.

I couldn’t think of a more wonderful way to tell the story of the Citarum river and I cannot wait to spark conversation and raise awareness through my Smart Squid denim jacket. Thank you Sarina!

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