How this lawyer-turned-entrepreneur is all set to produce vegan leather accessories from paddy waste

Bhavna Belani is poised to introduce Bagatella, a line of accessories made from vegan leather produced from paddy waste.

How this lawyer-turned-entrepreneur is all set to produce vegan leather accessories from paddy waste

Thursday December 09, 2021,

4 min Read

Two turning points changed Bhavna Belani’s life as an entrepreneur.

After many years of running Gaurav Lederwaren, a leading manufacturer of leather bags and accessories with La Baggio, her daughter’s stance shook her to the core. At 13, she outright refused to use any leather products, citing animal cruelty. This made Bhavna look at sustainable manufacturing methods, like eco-friendly dyes and other measures.

A qualified lawyer, she joined the business her brother started, almost 20 years ago. While her brother gave it up, Bhavna continued to run it with tremendous success.

Her daughter’s stand propelled research into varied sustainable alternatives to leather. This led to the second turning point and a new line of leather accessories, Bagatella, made from paddy waste.

Bhavna explains the pain point behind the venture. “While researching the subject, I read about people in Mexico making leather out of plants and even cactus – it was an eye-opener,” she says.

While on the subject of plant and plant waste, Bhavna’s thoughts turned towards stubble waste, specifically paddy waste, since she lives in West Bengal where 5.8 million hectares is under rice cultivation, with average productivity of 2.6 tonnes/ha.

Crop stubble burning in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh and the resultant high levels of pollution is still a burning issue.

According to a study by Blue Sky Analytics, India is ranked at the top in emissions related to crop burning, accounting for 13 per cent of the total global emissions for the 2015-2020 period.

This makes reusing crop waste the best – and most sustainable - way to deal with it.

Eco-friendly alternatives

Bhavna Belani

The prototypes

The Bagatella line of products is currently under prototype, and Bhavna has applied for a patent for the process.

Reluctant to divulge much about the manufacturing process, Bhavya reveals that two prototypes - for a portfolio and a wallet - have already been made; scientists are working on the third one.

“We are right now in the lab stage and plan to launch the line next year,” she informs.

Before that, she plans to install a unit on a plot of land in Kolkata. She estimates that the initial setup and machinery would cost around Rs 20 lakh.

“I am tying up with a woman entrepreneur who has been exporting rice for generations. I will procure waste from her farmlands. We would initially need around 15,000 kg waste every month to begin production in a small way,” she says.

While not going into many details, Bhavna emphasises that the process of converting paddy waste into leather-like material is relatively simple and highly eco-friendly.

“While one cannot compare vegan leather with leather from animals, we worked on constant improvements and finishing to make it look aesthetic and have a classic finish,” Bhavna says.

Whether it’s 15,000 wallets or 5,000 bags in a month, she believes in starting small and scaling the business once the acceptance comes in. The products will be priced decently – at around Rs 1,200 for a wallet and around Rs 2,500-Rs 5,000 for a bag. She plans to gradually to introduce stationery made from vegan leather.

Once the patent is approved, and volumes go up, the vegan leather can be sold to other manufacturers.

“Right now, we want to target farmers in West Bengal and persuade them to sell us the paddy waste instead of burning it. Going forward, we want to set up manufacturing units and work with farmers in North India,” she says.

There are three-fold benefits to this new concept. The paddy waste is not burnt but used to make eco-friendly accessories. Secondly, farmers earn an income from paddy waste instead of spending money to burn it. And thirdly, with the setting up of manufacturing units, employment will be generated in these states.

“A farmer burns around 1,000 kgs of paddy in a way. Vegan leather is poised to become a $89.6 billion industry by 2025. Our aim is not to just target India but to export our products outside. The impact will be huge,” Bhavna says.

Edited by Teja Lele