100% organic and fair trade clothing that is ethically and sustainably made from seed to garment is what No Nasties contributes to the “couture-conscious” world.In conversation with Apurva Kothari, co-founder of No Nasties, Abhilasha Dafria for YourStory.in finds out how every t-shirt sold by them promises a better deal to the farmer, to the planet and to our future.
Let’s get introduced.
My name is Apurva Kothari and I’m co-founder of No Nasties - an organic and fair
trade t-shirt company focused on the Indian retail market. I launched the No Nasties label along with my business partner, Diti Kotecha, about 5 months ago. Prior to that, I was working in the US for the last 10 years in technology management and product development. Diti is a designer, travel photographer and urban organic farmer. We know each other because of Ultimate Frisbee - we both play on the Mumbai team.
No Nasties sounds like a cool startup. Tell us more.
No Nasties is a social business - our goal is to create a consumer movement for organic & fair trade products in India by way of our t-shirts. We want to provide customers with an option that is not only made sustainably but also meets their design sensibilities. We would like to meet customers where they’re at and not try to change their lifestyles.
Every step in the of making a No Nasties t-shirt is eco-friendly & ethical.The cotton fabric, the colour dyes, the manufacturing process...all follow the requirements of the Global Organic Textile Standards. The entire supply chain (farms to factory to us) is certified fair trade by Shop for Change NGO. And last but not least, every t-shirt is designed by our community of artists and graphic designers who create original and exclusive prints for us. Great designs, organic cotton and fair trade productions - all stuff that makes you look good, feel good and do no nasty!
What triggered this business idea?A few years ago, I read an article about the plight of the cotton farmers in India. Our famous cotton belt is now infamously known as The Suicide Belt. For the past 15 years, the average rate of farmers committing suicide is one every 30 minutes. One every half an hour! That number shocked me and I tried to switch to a more organic way of living and dressing. However, there were not many organic clothing options that met my fashion sensibilities and it wasn’t easy to make the switch. I realized that there was a gap in the market for this, and it was mainly due to a lack of demand from consumers.
The seed for the idea was planted and I started researching the space and formulating a business plan while still working on my regular full-time job. Last year, when I moved back to India, I decided it was time to act on the plan and decided to take the plunge. I spoke to Diti about what I was planning to do and she came on board instantly and we started talking to designers and visiting factories. A few months later, here we are!
What initial difficulties did you encounter while starting up?
Honestly, the biggest challenge to starting was taking the first step! It was difficult to put aside a successful career in technology and switch to an industry I know little about, and those were tense moments. After I’d decided I was going to do this, it took a while to identify our organic & fair trade supply chain - we only wanted to work with people we could trust to do the right thing even when we were not looking. We had to visit a lot of different factories around the country to gauge the motives of their management and to also see the working conditions first-hand. It took a while but we’re really happy with our current partners.
Since when have you been operational and where are you located?
We launched No Nasties mid-April 2011, so it’s been around 5 months and we are based out of Juhu in Mumbai.
Apart from your e-commerce store, do you have physical stores as well? We currently sell through our own e-commerce store (www.nonasties.in) as well as 8 multi-designer retail stores in 4 cities around the country. We don’t have our own No Nasties stores yet. We invested in an e-commerce presence right from the start as it allows us to reach a global customer base and more importantly allows us to tell our story and engage with customers directly as a brand. Plus, it’s 2012!
How big is your team?
We are a full-time team of 2 (me and Diti) and get a lot of support from our friends and family. My wife, Shweta, is a fashion designer and she styled the awesome fits of our t-shirts. Our community of designers create original artwork to print on the tees. We also had an intern, Chris - a business student from Canada, who helped us out for a month with our financials and our marketing strategy. Besides this, we were selected by Unltd India as one of their investees and we get tons of mentorship and guidance from them.
So, are looking at hiring?
We’ll probably start hiring full time employees by early next year but are currently looking for volunteers to help us out with marketing, fundraising, operations and our consumer events. Even one day a month from someone is helpful at this stage as we are swamped!
What is your USP?
Stylish + Sustainable! Our products are not only ethical & eco-friendly, they are also amazing t-shirts! Super soft & comfy fabrics, great designs, perfect fits. We don’t think you should have to choose between looking good and doing good - you can do both with No Nasties. The company name itself is a promise to our customers that we will never use any harmful products or processes in the making of our tees and will never exploit or discriminate people involved in our business.
Are there any other players in the market you could name who are doing business on similar lines?We are currently India’s only 100% fair trade t-shirt brand certified by Shop for Change but that is a distinction we’d be happy to lose. We want more brands to enter the space because that will increase the social impact and help us achieve the goal of creating a consumer movement for fair trade. There are other companies in India making sustainable t-shirts - The Root, Do U Speak Green, Sheepstop, etc. They are all organic or fair trade to different degrees and we’d love for them to switch over to a 100% sustainable model.
Could you share with us some interesting trends about the market that you are
trying to capture?
“Organic” is becoming a commonplace term at least in urban India but “Fair Trade” still remains a mystery and is in it’s nascent stages in the country. It took the UK and US about 10-12 years to adopt the fair trade movement but we are hoping it’ll be a lot quicker here. At this point, it’s not as much about getting a bigger piece of the pie as it is about making the pie bigger. And we see that happening already. The middle & upper class consumers are increasingly conscious of where their products come from and how they were made. That’s good news for us! India has always had a history of sustainable clothing in Khadi but consumers are hesitant to incorporate that look for their entire wardrobe. They want modern styles, fits and designs. They want brands that can be recognized as cool but they also want to make a difference. We are hoping to get right into that mix and provide choices that do both.
What were your highs and lows as an entrepreneur in the clothing industry?
The biggest high for me personally is the compliments we get from our customers on the quality & comfort of the t-shirts. We invariably get a call or email within a day from most of our online shoppers saying how much they love the t-shirt! Never gets old! We’re also happy with all the press coverage we’ve got so far - it helps us spread the word far & wide (so thank you, yourstory.in!). Finally, it was great to be selected by Unltd India to be one of their investees and feel the sense of validation of our mission. The only low I can think of at this point is that sales have been slower than we expected. Looking back, it probably wasn’t a great idea to launch at the start of the off-season for shopping in April. But the last 2 months, we are seeing an uptick so are very optimistic on this front.
What do you see as your greatest challenge and how do you prepare to hack it?
On a daily basis, the biggest challenge is the volume of work! There’s lots to do, and once that’s done, there’s lots more! We need to find more volunteers to help us out and to get to a position where we can hire full time employees soon. I’d like to sleep some more! Looking ahead, we need to get funding and get it smartly. We need money to scale and to reach our goals of not only sales but of social impact as well, but we don’t want to take on a large debt or give up significant equity either. We’re still trying to crack this nut and in the meantime, are being extra nice to all our rich and aging family members (smiles).
Where and how do you see yourself going ‘bout this? Making it bigger?
We measure success on a triple bottom line model of profits, planet and people. So “bigger” means that we not only are a financially healthier company but also making a larger social and environmental impact every year. To achieve this, we need to fuel a movement for organic & fair trade products. We need No Nasties to be recognized as a trusted brand and our products to be available nationally. We need to participate in more events where we can talk to people face to face and tell them our story. We need to have our own retail stores so that we can reach out to more customers directly. We need to go beyond t-shirts to other fashion and lifestyle products and provide sustainable & viable choices in every sector; and to make this a lifestyle for people. How do we achieve this as a company? We make products that are customers love and can’t stop talking about to all their friends. We make customers see how much better organic is not just for the planet and the farmer communities, but for them as well. And if we can achieve this, then the company growth can’t be too far behind. (And we probably need to hire a management team that doesn’t only ideate and idealize, but puts plans into concrete action as well! Till then, we’ll do our best.)
What are you waiting for? Do some good by checking out the cool and funky designs available at No Nasties.