This entrepreneur built a clothing and lifestyle brand with a focus on conscious consumerism
As a young corporate working with, Pooja Monga was required to galvanise support for the adoption of sustainable products among global stakeholders, policymakers, and consumers.
Additionally, she was conducting rigorous research to understand consumers’ lifestyle needs in developed as well as developing nations.
During meetings, Pooja would notice lifestyle products like clothing and accessories around her. She realised these were the ones on which people spent a substantial share of their disposable income. But she wondered how often do these things come from an eco-ethical source.
Pooja recognised how deeply she resonated with conscious consumerism. Upon dwelling deeper, she observed a significant shortfall of the same in the accessible lifestyle products segment.
She shares, “I thought to myself, we talk about sustainability, but what we wear or carry is not always sustainable. There should be a brand that is as accessible as any other brand and offers credible, eco-ethical products.”
This motivated Pooja to start, a sustainable lifestyle brand, in October 2020. The Bengaluru-based startup provides sustainable products in the apparel, skincare, accessories, and home accents category.
For Pooja, starting Saltpetre was a dream come true. While she had always wanted to be an entrepreneur, she also wanted to gain much-needed experience.
After starting her journey in the business world with corporations likeand Hindustan Unilever, she learnt how enterprises functioned.
Her zeal and wish to carry out eco-ethical fabric construction on a large-scale production level led her to cotton farmers in Gujarat and weavers in Kutch and Himachal Pradesh.
For almost a year, Pooja stepped into the field and learnt everything about cotton sowing, harvesting cycles, yarn spinning, textile production units, weaving, processing, dyeing, and garment manufacturing.
Following this, she started with her first batch of garments for the pilot.
Based on simplistic design and eco-ethical production, the brand’s idea is to create a modern lifestyle rooted in sustainable living. This starts with 99% plastic-free sourcing of raw materials and packaging.
The team buys organic cotton yarn, and from there, with the help of GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified units, it constructs and processes the fabric.
The material is sourced from suppliers that are organically certified, or pass evaluation for ethical practices. “We do not go to wholesalers or retailers, but to say Vardhman or Mandhana textiles, or organic cotton outlets. These partnerships are already in place,” she adds.
The startup also utilises hemp in its apparel and also has skincare products like hemp oil-based eye balms.
“The product design is made for easy recycling at its end of life by circumventing the use of frills and baubles as much as possible,” she says.
Furthermore, the production is undertaken in small batches and the waste is upcycled into accessories such as scrunchies, pouches, journals with reusable covers, etc.
Pooja says, “Usually, the garment workers throw or sell the waste, and we do not know where it goes. Our team has installed bags near the cutting tables where all the waste gets collected. Every month, we send it for repurposing either into accessories or accents.”
“Small batch manufacturing prevents excess inventory, necessitates upskilling of the human resource involved, and ensures above industry average payments," she explains.
Challenges and the business
With a team of five, Saltpetre’s core team comprises Pooja, who is the Founder and CEO; and Jelin George, the Design and Product Partner, who anchors the product vertical at the company.
Pooja shares, in the initial days, many would expect her non-textile background to be a hurdle, but it was not. It instead worked in her favour. “I could ask really silly questions without the fear of being judged,” she says.
However, some of the challenges were promoting sustainability within the apparel and textile industry such as making vendors, suppliers, and manufacturers understand its need.
Pooja states, “The textile industry is one of the oldest in the world. The age-old inertia in the work patterns, processes, and operations continues. Communicating the need for a novel way of working and getting the industry workers to partner with you is a task in itself.”
During the pandemic, the team experimented with a brick-and-mortar inventory model to store its products at other outlets, but that did not work out.
Currently, Saltpetre functions as a digital-first brand. It relies on Direct to Consumer (D2C) sales through its website along with suitable marketplaces like Tata Indiluxe, Myntra, and FirstCry.
Pooja states, “We see our accessories and organic cotton staples like t-shirts, sleepwear or lingerie as a potential match with Amazon in the future.”
The digital-first model helps the team have complete control over data, so they know where a consumer is coming from and what they like.
“Since we are an asset-light business, we can be very agile, depending on the data that’s coming in from the customer,” she shares.
With an average basket size of about Rs 4,500, Pooja says, “Our order return rates are quite low at only 3-5 percent, and repeats are great at 35 percent.”
Success and competition
Pooja started the brand with her personal savings with an initial investment of Rs 5 lakh. Currently bootstrapped, the startup is using the profits to fund its growth.
In FY21, Saltpetre generated a revenue of over Rs 11 lakh, according to filings with the Ministry of Corporate Affairs. At present, Pooja estimates the sustainable fashion and lifestyle market in India to be $1.5 billion, growing at a CAGR of 9.5 percent.
She states, “The organic food and natural skin care categories are growing at a CAGR of 25 percent and 15 percent, respectively. I foresee the growth rate to accelerate.”
Currently, the market for sustainable products is significantly increasing, as consumers today are looking for products that are unique and do not harm the planet. This growing demand has also made larger brands—Zara, Marks & Spencer, H&M, and Uniqlo—create sustainable clothing and products.
Saltpetre competes with other brands like Go Native, The August Company, No Nasties, Okhai, and Nicobar to name a few. Speaking about how it stands out, Pooja says, “Saltpetre caters to the mature customer that shops from these brands because of the lack of better alternatives.”
Pooja wants Saltpetre to be a globally-recognised brand. The team is currently focusing on expanding in tier one and metropolitan cities where its consumers reside. Post saturation in these target markets, the brand plans on expanding in the international markets. Pooja also aims at exploring an omnichannel model for the brand in the near future.
She shares, “Fabric and apparel remain a touch and feel category and people like to try on sizes. Maybe a novel and innovative way of a trial space or something similar is what we can look at.”
(This story was updated to correct three typos.)
Edited by Megha Reddy