For some, their commitment to sustainability is so strong that they’ve have literally made it their business. So not only are not following their passion, but also helping to have a positive impact by protecting nature, culture and heritage. These entrepreneurs believe that the objective of running their businesses is beyond just reaping profits. Conversations with these entrepreneurs reveal that while growth and profits in the sector need consistent patience and perseverance, running a business that positively impacts the environment and the community is satisfying beyond measure, and that is what drives them.
Krithika Prasad’s work experience makes for an interesting conversation starter since she has dabbled in almost everything. From coding 8085 microprocessor chipsets, technology sales and marketing, tech R&D, consumer research, project and delivery management, she is also pursuing an alternative career as a voice and dubbing artist. But today, she introduces herself as the Founder of Kayashastra, a natural beauty brand.
“My parents have been entrepreneurs and I was always inclined to be one. In fact, for a major part of my career, I have been a freelance consultant.” Her first entrepreneurial stint was in organic baby clothing and was a planned venture, but Kayashashtra happened organically, she says.
Through interactions with professionals from Ayurveda, siddha, naturopathy streams, she realised that the modern-day body care routine using commercial products did more harm than good. That’s when she moved away from commercial beauty products and started making them at home. The home-made products quickly caught the attention of friends and family, and she started getting requests to make some for them as well. “In 2018, Kayashashtra was instituted as a company, as a brand.”
Today, with over seven key products such as a herbal tooth powder, face packs, hair packs and cleansers, Kayashashtra offers 100 percent, hand-made natural products. “Through our products we have been able to create awareness on how natural, simple and traditional body care routines are all that we need for healthy skin and hair.”
The entrepreneur explains that sustainability is at the core of the brand, right from the sourcing stage to production and dispatch. Kayashashtra’s products are made from only natural ingredients like roots, seeds, leaves, flowers and barks which are mostly sourced at origin by tribals. These are transported to the production floor in reusable jute sacks and cotton sacks, then produced and individually packed in glass jars, tins and paper pouches for end users. Krithika says, “We are conscious during each step on how much waste we generate. It is not only sustainable from an environmental point of view, but also helps to control production costs. That said, there are challenges at the bottom line, breakages, increased shipping costs. To sum up, a business focused on sustainability does require aggressive investments and needs a lot of perseverance and management to make it profitable. But, the fact is, sustainability is the only way forward. We have already done enough damage to our environment as much our own body.”
As a bootstrapped startup, Kayashashtra already has a sizeable clientele of 2000 customers and a sizeable number are regular customers, which is a huge win for a growing brand.
As an entrepreneur, Krithika has been closely following the startup space which led her to discover the SheLeadsTech programme – an initiative by Facebook that helps women entrepreneurs go further in the startup journey by providing access to tools, technologies and connects. “For me the biggest takeaway was to get know a bunch of amazing women, wading successfully through challenges. It opens up immense possibilities to connect, support and help each other grow. There are always people out there who go out of their way to support you when you need it the most.”
After graduating from the Government School of Arts Aurangabad, Shubha Mahajan did a textile design programme and soon began working as a freelance designer for leading global brands in the UK and US. “I designed original surface designs for their garments.”
During this time she began to learn about the not-so glamorous part of the fashion industry – the fact that fast fashion is the second-largest contributor to environmental pollution, second only to the oil and natural gas industry.
“The thought that I was part of the fast fashion industry kept gnawing at me for a long time. That’s when I decided to look deeper and work on a solution. I was based in Maharashtra and the state had a rich cotton belt, so I explored further. And, that’s when I realised that hand-spun khadi was meeting a slow death.”
In 2009, Shubha began working with handloom artisans engaged in spinning, dying and weaving khadi fabric. “Initially, I worked with them to weave fabrics which were sold through an offline outlet and also to boutiques and fashion designers.”
She continued to run the initiative successfully for nearly seven years, I knew there was an opportunity to start our own fashion label and thereby generate more income for the artisans. In 2016, we started The Loom Story – an all-natural clothing label.”
Today, Loom Story offers ethical, natural and eco-friendly clothing for men, women and children, all made from khadi. The Loom Story operates on fair wages and thereby by elevates traditional weavers and dyers to live dignified lives and continue the craft form. The stylish clothes produced under the label use only organic and natural fibres, vegetable dyes through recycling environmental process.
The range of clothing, the beauty of hand-spun and hand-woven fabric and its promise of sustainability has ensured that The Loom Story has a dedicated following, which includes several television and film actors and social leaders. “Sustainability is a hard business. Most people only see the price tag and not the hard work that goes into creating the work, the rich handwork that is present or how it has no negative impact on the environment. We have a turnover of Rs 25 lakh, most of which goes back into uplifting the weavers’ community and helps sustain this beautiful craft form.”
The Loom Story has a retail outlet in Aurangabad as well as an online e-commerce platform. “Being a tourist destination, the retail store contributes to 75 percent of the business. On the online front, we get a lot of international orders, mostly from Europe, which has a large number of eco-conscious customers.”
The entrepreneur, who was among 10 entrepreneurs to be awarded by the Ministry of Textiles, Government of India for her extensive work in the promotion of khadi, says that the startup is now working on growing its business by leveraging the online business opportunity, especially international sales. “There are months when we barely to manage to break even and then there are months when we make profits. Behind the highs and lows, it’s the passion for sustainability that keeps us going.”
When meeting other women entrepreneurs pursuing their passion and business journeys, like those in the Facebook She Leads Tech community, is when Shubha finds echoes of encouragement. “When you meet other women entrepreneurs, get an insight into their journeys, the success and challenges, you take home learnings. But more importantly, you become more strong-willed to succeed.”
The poverty of rural migrant workers that Tejashree Bhatt saw every day on her way to work, troubled the marketing professional. “I often contemplated why they never went back to their homes in their beautiful villages instead of living in such pitiable conditions in the city. I realised that that jobs that fetched income for these families no longer existed.“
The handloom and handicrafts sector which was once one of the largest income-generation avenues for most of rural India was struggling for survival in the present day. Wanting to address this issue, she decided to work directly with the artisan and weaver communities by providing a market for their products. Together with her husband, she started The Co Company in December 2015 in Mumbai. “We began retailing stoles, curtains, and cushion covers and related home furnishing handloom products. “Soon, the orders began picking up. And, that’s when I knew that the business would survive and thrive.”
Today, nearly four years later, The Co Company has grown to become a fashion label known for maintaining sustainability and, more importantly, ethical consciousness. “We believe in causing as little harm as possible to nature. That’s why, apart from plant-based fibre, we do not use silk or synthetic or, for that matter, any manmade fibres. Also, because we are working towards becoming a zero-wastage brand, we are increasingly focusing on retailing only sarees, as it is one garment which is produced without any wastage.” The Co Label also retails only handloom and khadi products that use only natural dyes or azo-free dyes as they have a relatively smaller impact on nature.
Today, handloom sarees are the biggest growth drivers for the brand. “Initially, we were sceptical about the market for handloom sarees. Because we are particular about every thread that goes into the weaving and make sure there is no polycotton or silk woven into the handloom, the cost of production is often high. So, we began retailing with just four sarees from the Malkha weave. Over time, we realised our stringent quality check and our promise of sustainability and being ethical, have won over customers. And they keep coming back, mostly for sarees and to upgrade their wardrobe with new weaves. Today, we retail different sarees in a variety of weaves, fabric and prints, including Mangalgiri, Bomkai, Begumpur, Bhujodi, Jaamdani, Khadi, Pateda Anchu, Ajrakh, Bagh, Kalamkari, Ikat, Bandhani, Dongria Kondh, Kotpad, khadi and linen.
Since its inception, the Co-Company has worked with over 100 weavers and sold more than 5000 sarees. “Today, as the brand of conscious customer is growing, the business is picking up. That said, sustainability isn’t a fast-growth business, yet it is very satisfying. There was a time when conversations with weavers would end with them telling us that they do not want their kids to end up in a dying profession. But today, we have many who return to weaving and the younger generation is realising that there is space for handlooms to flourish amid the powerlooms and factories.”
As a first-generation entrepreneur, she says the journey has been a learning experience involving a lot of trial and error. “From an operations perspective, the challenges were mostly related to winning the trust of the weavers and ensuring sufficient cash flow. This we were able to address with time. The marketing challenges were mostly about how to maximise the reach and impact through social media. And, being part of the She Leads Tech Community and attending a few mentoring sessions and discussions, I was able to understand how targeting works on social media, understand some of the vital workings of platforms like Facebook and Instagram and use those learnings to market my product better.”