Social entrepreneur Lakshmi Menon is upcycling PPE scrap and providing employment to women
The phrase “Necessity is the mother of invention” is exemplified by Lakshmi Menon’s life as a social entrepreneur. Who can forget Chekutty, the rag doll, fashioned from cloth damaged by flood waters, and that brought hope to millions of Keralites ravaged by the floods.
Whether it’s a scheme to thank Kerala’s fisherfolk, or Coveed for Covid, a novel initiative to collect essentials for those in need during the lockdown, Lakshmi has always been at the forefront, thinking of what to do next for the greater social good.
That’s how the concept of Shayya, a project to provide mattresses to COVID care centres came about. In March, before the coronavirus hit us, Lakshmi was already toying with the idea of fashioning mattresses out of tailoring scrap and providing them to the needy through her initiative Pure Living.
Though that didn’t happen as planned, a new avatar emerged as the state and country saw a surge in coronavirus cases.
Huge demand for mattresses
“As COVID-19 cases spiked in Kerala, the government ordered every panchayat to set up a 50-bed care centre. This brought in a huge demand for cots, mattresses, pillows, and other essentials. Since I was updated with every minor thing happening in my neighbourhood in Kochi, I asked the panchayat member how I could help. She told me the cost of the mattresses was very high and people did not have enough funds to donate at this time,” Lakshmi explains.
She decided to bring back her concept of Shayya (Sanskrit for mattress) with a concept of “best out of waste”. When she called up tailoring units for scrap, they informed her business was slow and they had switched to making PPE kits in their production units.
“Level 10, a manufacturing unit based in Kottayam, was kind enough to send me a few samples of PPE kit scrap. This scrap has not been used anywhere else, as it arose after material was cut for PPE kits. I found it ideal to be made into mattresses as it’s clean, fluffy, and lightweight. Since the scrap has a bit of plastic content in it, it is waterproof, washable, and reusable for a couple of times. Moreover, the scrap that went directly to the landfills had a new use,” she adds.
Generating employment for women
Lakshmi converted part of her home into a workspace and got in seven to 10 women to fashion these mattresses out of scrap. She procures the scrap from different units in Kerala, and pays out of her own pocket.
She says no stitching is involved; anyone who has braided hair can easily make this mattress. She donated the first few mattresses to her own panchayat, and set about providing information to those keen to replicate the model.
The Harrisons Malayalam Group approached her within eight days of coming to know about it and asked for 200 Shayyas for COVID centres in Wayanad and Ernakulam. “I only asked them to pay the labour charges amounting to Rs 300 per mattress, in line with the government’s MNREGA scheme,” she says.
Vocal for local
Lakshmi believes that with Shayya, they are addressing three major issues, waste management, job creation, and being “vocal for local”, as the Centre has advised people to be.
“Through Shayya, we can provide jobs that require practically no skill. It will also help boost the local economy as the mattresses available now are not even produced in Kerala,” she adds.
The social entrepreneur has been receiving inquiries from different parts of India like Assam, Bihar, Kolkata and Bengaluru. She sends them a demo video and encourages them to follow the same model.
“I am happy Shayya is another first from Kerala, a model of resurgence, and a story of how we are overcoming the downturn and converting it into an opportunity by being innovative,” she says.
But Lakshmi believes “there’s more waiting to be done”. It’s this each-one-help-one attitude that will go a long way in helping us face obstacles and challenges together, with optimism and hope.
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)