Women's Day Special: These Indian business heads help Mother Earth profit with every sale
From fighting textile pollution to biodegradable alternatives to plastic, these entrepreneurs make sustainable choices easy to access
Reduce, reuse, recycle — these three words might sound simple enough, but they rest in the midst of about 300 choices that are hassle-free, faster and let’s admit it, shinier. So, how do you turn the tide? Make clean choices an easy swap, for starters. And even better, make the products cool enough to aspire for. Like kimonos crafted from old Kanjeevaram silks or stationery upcycled from rubber tyres! Here are nine women across the country whose eco-conscious labels are making sustainable living a pleasure.
Sruti Harihara Subramanian
Award-winning documentary filmmaker Sruti Harihara Subramanian, who last directed Harmony with AR Rahman, is always on the lookout for novel eco-conscious products. So much so, that she decided to curate her finds in the form of Chennai-based store Goli Soda, which opened shop in 2013. Look out for wallets made of tetrapacks and stationery created with rubber tyres on their upcycled shelves, as well as coconut coir scrubs and shampoo and shave bars (that avoid the use of plastic bottles) on the home front. Over her years of research, sourcing and working with her own manufacturing team (for the past two years), the 35-year-old entrepreneur tells us, “I think that saying ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ is outdated in this day and age of mass consumerism. So if you can’t beat them, join them.” Except, with sustainable products that don’t harm the environment. She elaborates, “And it makes for an easier shift if the store next door has them, rather than seeking them out.” Price: Rs 50 to Rs 1,500.
Ever imagined converting your grandmother’s silk sari into a kimono? Kolkata-based designer Meghna Nayak specialises in transforming traditional saris into wearable heirlooms. Her brand LataSita, which operates out of Ballygunge, was founded with a vision to create zero-waste clothing. “My research began as a student of journalism at Cornwall, where I realised the environmental and human cost of production. I learned that the fashion industry is one of the largest contributers to pollution, second to oil. The production process, from crop to customer, leaving a toxic trail, unwittingly enabled by us with each purchase. Textile pollution needs to be seriously addressed,” says Meghna. Expect to find Benarasi skirts, cotton culottes or even the one-off sherwani upcycled from tussar silk curtains! Price on request.
Two years ago, Surya Dinkar spotted a cow choking on the road and stuck her hand in its throat,
pulling out a plastic bag. The 34-year-old model and graphic designer had for years placed her thoughts on environmental contribution on the back burner. But this was all the impetus she needed to get started. Her venture Earthworks Innovative creates cotton totes and drawstring backpacks, as well as shopping bags made of jute and canvas. More recently, her company has begun supplying eco-friendly travel kits (think tooth powder to avoid the plastic packaging) and biodegradable plates and cutlery, available BtoB. Rs 30 to Rs 1,200.
Hyderabad-born Jyoti Reddy has been working with Eri silk for over 15 years. At the heart of this fabric lies the ethos of sustainability. Talking about this handspun weave, which she terms ‘intelligent fabric,’ Jyoti (59) explains, “Making conscious choices should be a way of life, and I want to offer women that choice in terms of the fabrics they use. We need to evolve a collective shared ethos to limit the damage to our already fragile Earth.” About the eco-conscious component of this fabric, Jyoti shares that Eri silkworms feed on the leaves of castor plants, which are drought-resistant and leave a low carbon footprint, which is beneficial for the environment. Also, there are no chemical processes involved in drawing this silk. Unlike other fabrics, this silkworm is not immersed in boiling water as it matures and flies away. “There are various eco-friendly ways of life, but working with Eri silks, a fabric that helps the environment in some way, is my way of helping us move towards more conscious choices,” shares Jyoti. Rs 800 upwards.
Prasanthy Gurugubelli, the founder of Hyderabad-based clean cosmetic label, Daughter Earth, says that she is committed to making eco-conscious choices. “No one teaches us better than Mother Nature. As an avid traveller, I have been fortunate enough to see diverse ecosystems, but everywhere I go, I see that we are messing with our planet,” says the alumnus of Indian School of Business. And she wants to leave no stone unturned to make her label as sustainable as possible. “In our production process, we avoid any ingredient that has a potential to damage our ecosystem, such as microbeads, nanoparticles, oxybenzone, that are proven to be detrimental to coral reefs as well as our own skin,” informs Prasanthy, who founded the company last year. The label does not test on animals and has recyclable, eco-friendly packaging. That apart, the founder also believes in giving back a percentage of the profits to causes she cares about, one of them being investing in afforestation. Rs 250 upwards.
Shree Bharathi Devarajan
Nool By Hand, started by Shree Bharathi Devarajan (26), has a handloom facility reviving the dying clusters of Chennimalai. This area had over 1 lakh weavers earlier, but now numbers have dwindled to 5,000. The entrepreneur’s vision is to fuse traditional skills of Chennimalai weavers with modern design sensibility. The weaving studio at present accommodates 27 jacquard and dobby handlooms, where each weaver makes around five metres of fabric a day, and is paid Rs 300 to Rs 350 per day. Contemporary versions of the typical Chennimalai coarse fabric are woven with a yarn bank of linen, cotton, modal, Eri silk and rayon, which then facilitates the creation of dresses, kurtas, tops, skirts, and palazzos. Tops start at Rs 1,700.
Sustainable couture for curvy women — that’s the heart of Neha Roy’s label Pott-Pourri. Look out for minimalist-anti-fit silhouettes as well as a liberal number of upcycle creations in fabrics ranging from handlooms to linen, malmal and blends of cotton and jute. Though the brand opened shop in 2016, they have in the past year put the focus on becoming more sustainable by developing their own fabrics closer home in West Bengal. “Our woven fabrics are the finest variety of Bengal handloom cotton and khadi,” she shares. Rs 3,900 upwards.
Akila Chungi has hosted various showcases of terracotta at her idyllic studio, Kalaachakra in Hyderabad. In the last couple of months, she has shown people that earthenware is definitely a viable alternative to harmful plastics. “I have been working with pottery clusters around Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and some parts of Tamil Nadu, to create awareness,” shares the 31-year-old. She works at traditional village quarters, where she gives the craftsmen her designs who later use their technique to create beautiful earthenware vessels, like bottles, for instance. That apart, Akila is also associated with an NGO called Aranya Agricultural Alternatives, based out of Hyderabad, which actively advocates Permaculture, the philosophy of which revolves around finding a regenerative balance where nature — be it the soil, water or plant resources are protected, adding to the conservation of biodiversity. “Not only do we work towards propagating permanent agriculture, we also advocate rain water harvesting and kitchen gardening, with ethically sourced initiatives,” says Akila. Prices on request.
Asha Scaria Vettoor
When it comes to clothing, urban conscious customers care about their choices. They are considerate about the artisan who toils away in rural India to help them achieve the perfect look and are mindful of the product they’re buying. Asha Scaria Vettoor, who hails from Kottayam in Kerala, counts herself as one such individual. The 23-year-old explains, “Many fashion houses weave tall tales about employing artisans and improving their livelihood. However, most of the time, it’s usually a designer from a metropolitan city sending a base design to an artisan—who’s paid unfair wages and asked to replicate hundreds of the same product using unsafe manufacturing methods.” That’s why she founded, Swara — Voice of Women, a for-profit social enterprise that’s all about sustainable Indo-Western clothing: designed, handcrafted, and modelled by tribal women of Dungarpur, Rajasthan.
Asha’s online venture, which blossomed during community immersion while she pursued a Gandhi fellowship, employs women—who learned skills like tailoring from Rural Self Employment Training Institutes—with a remuneration above market price. “We are very transparent about our products (ponchos, reversible jackets, tops and dresses) and procedures through our social media content. That’s why our global and local patrons love us so much,” she states, adding, “We provide the women with total artistic autonomy, assist them to work with organic-dyed indigo cloth, and also enable these rural women to break out of their shells by engaging them in out-the-norm professions like modelling.” Going forward, the brand is hoping to meet Sustainable Development Goals 2030 defined by the United Nations, by reducing poverty, unemployment, gender inequality and unequal distribution of wealth.
With inputs by Anoop Menon, Paulami Sen, Rebecca Vargese and Ujjainee Roy.