With Dwij, Soumya Annapurna Kalluri wants to create awareness about the pitfalls of fast fashion; her startup rescues old jeans destined for landfills and upcycles them into bags.
Soumya Annapurna Kalluri says she knew she would have a business of her own even when she was a child. Her dream turned into reality last year when she donned the entrepreneurial hat and started Dwij, a venture that upcycles jeans to make utility bags.
In 2013, after graduating as a mechanical engineer from University of Pune, Soumya headed to Germany to complete her master’s course with a focus on sustainability. She returned to India in 2016, and joined Godrej’s Innovation and Design Centre as a researcher, focusing on material analysis and cataloguing of industrial waste.
But her entrepreneurial calling was strong and she founded Dwij last September. The Mumbai-based company was formally registered in February 2018.
Essentially meaning second life in Sanskrit, Dwij was founded with the mission to generate wealth using junk. The startup rescues and upcycles jeans discarded by developed countries, which would otherwise end up in landfills, and makes utility bags. Apart from upcycling, this helps reduce the dependency on virgin canvas, jute, plastic, or synthetic bags.
So why only jeans?
Soumya says, “Jeans are a very sturdy material. Most people trash them because they are either bored or have outgrown them, not because they are worn beyond repair. This sturdiness assures quality at any cost for Dwij’s product line.”
Dwij is bootstrapped, with Soumya making an initial investment of Rs 6 lakh. She currently runs the operations at the three-month-old venture and has a team of 5 workers, including tailors and cutters.
The process of upcycling starts in Panipat, Asia’s biggest recycling hub, where jeans are segregated. The first and the second-grade jeans – in terms of quality – are modified and sold at various local stores and markets.
Soumya says Dwij saves “third-grade jeans” from going to landfills. The startup sources denim from traders in Mumbai at the rate of Rs 20 per kilogram and recycles them.
“The third-grade quality of denim is what traders do not want to use. It doesn’t fit their category of money making or reselling. This usually goes to the landfills,” says the Mumbai-based entrepreneur.
Surprisingly, Soumya and her team have also upcycled jeans that are part of a brand’s unsold inventory and are completely new. “These jeans still have tags on them,” Soumya says.
After sourcing, the jeans are industrially washed and cut by an in-house help. Once the material is cut into various shapes and sizes, in-house tailors, who come from weak economic backgrounds, stitch them into bags.
In the last three months, Dwij has upcycled close to 2,000 pairs of jeans and has another 1,500 in inventory. They have created more than 300 bags from these upcycled jeans, as of now.
As part of the business, the startup has also worked with women in need in financial support, opening up livelihood opportunities for them.
While Soumya’s focus continues to be scaling the business, she is looking at housing societies as a strong potential source to grow.
“We are looking to partner with housing societies where we could take jeans from residents and give them products made from their own jeans.”
Dwij also wants to partner with companies involved in solid waste management to introduce textile segregation and ease the sourcing challenge.
At present, Dwij gets orders for 200 pieces every month. They sell from their own website, and their products are also listed on other sustainable commerce websites.
Small bags are priced at around Rs 250 per piece while bigger ones cost Rs 500 per piece. The average time taken to make a bag is close to 7 days, including sourcing and upcycling to creating the final product.
Soumya says the product line currently includes reusable shopping and utility bags. However, the startup is prototyping 60-70 other products, including school mats, bottle bags and yoga mats.
On when she plans to launch these prototypes, Soumya says, “We have not started looking at expansion since our focus for the moment is to ease the process of procuring raw materials.”
The startup may have started by upcycling jeans, but Soumya says they are also keen to upcycle other types of clothing, including pure cotton.
Recent media reports suggested that designer fashion label Burberry burned more than $36.5 million worth of clothes in 2017. In the last five years, the value of goods destroyed by the luxury brand stood at $65 million.
Dwij is not the first upcycling brand in the country. There is Delhi-based Doodlage, a fashion label that upcycles and recycles clothing. They repurpose fabric strips and damaged spools of thread to create fashion for individuals aged between 18-45.
Chindi, a project by Tanushri Shukla, works with women from Mankhurd slum in Mumbai and has developed itself into a design firm that upcycles and handmakes products.
Fashion brands like KaSha, Boro, and House of Wandering Silk work on concepts of sustainable fashion, upcycling clothes and shoes.
Dwij’s goal, Soumya says, is not only to create awareness about the drawbacks of fast fashion, but to show the world that washing procedures can transform second-hand textile into usable material.