This 62-year-old entrepreneur is on a mission to reduce plastic packaging
“I found the product!” Mahesh Agarwal (62) exclaimed when, after months of struggle, he finally found a substitute to plastic bubble wrap.
“Our father has a very innovative mind and he is the one often coming up with many ideas but this time his idea caught everyone’s attention in our family,” says Varsha Agarwal who, along with her father and brother Naman Agarwal, runsbased out of Navi Mumbai.
For 40 years, Mahesh had worked along with his cousins in a family business in Delhi. However, during the pandemic, Mahesh had to move to Mumbai to be with his children.
It was during the process of relocation in 2020 that Mahesh observed the amount of plastic that was being used as protective packaging.
“There was plastic everywhere around the floor,” Varsha says, adding, “We all know plastic is harmful for the environment but when we saw the amount being used just for vacating our house, and how much problem it would pose to the environment, we were bound to contemplate on the overall use of plastic everyday by everyone around us.”
The incident gave Mahesh a reason to start a business again in his retirement age and he started researching.
“Our father was sure that he would find a solution to reduce plastic waste. We moved to Mumbai and he spent initial six to eight months in the research after which he came up with an idea of making honeycomb paper wrap as a substitute for plastic bubble wrap,” says Varsha.
Honeycomb paper wrap is not new to the Indian market and there are thousands of retailers and resellers selling imported paper wraps. However, what makes EcoCushion stands out is that the company has in-house manufacturing and it caters to the smallest orders of the small businesses which otherwise is not the case in the industry, Varsha says.
The company was launched in June 2021.
Image credits: EcoCushion Paper
Starting a sustainable business
Although relying on machines imported from China would have been an easier option EcoCushion, the founders decided to the manufacturing setup from scratch where Naman’s prior experience in working with a relative in the paper-making industry proved fruitful.
“You see, in every street in India you will find a person selling plastic bubble wrap. The same is not the case with paper packaging. Though there is a huge scope in the market, people are hesitant in changing to alternatives. This is where we thought that just by starting up, we won’t be able to scale. We have to tell people about its merits and make the product that stands out,” Varsha tells SMBStory.
The most common assumption people have with paper packaging is that it's not strong enough to hold a fragile material. The founders of EcoCushion Paper also had to face similar skepticism.
“Our research into the product made us realise that technical understanding was primary. We tested and focused on each relevant parameter - the strength of the paper, the stretchability of paper, the cutting pattern that gives the 3D cushion, and the weight and overall quality of paper to ensure that the combination of it all is finally what gives confidence protection to products in transit.”
By June 2021, the trio had set up a manufacturing facility in Navi Mumbai and kickstarted the business via B2B website. They invested around Rs 50 lakh to start the business. In July, they received their first order from a small business and since then, EcoCushion’s journey has been upwards.
Image credits: EcoCushion Paper
Bagging big clients
Recalling an episode, Varsha says that by September 2021, a handful of small businesses in India had started ordering from EcoCushion’s website. One day, while Varsha was shopping at a Westside store in Mumbai, she saw an executive packing a vase for a customer with cardboard sheets.
“I could see that packing a vase was difficult with that sheet since it was very thick and didn't take up the shape of the product. I couldn’t resist myself and spoke to the store manager. I was my own PR and I started explaining about our product and the problem it is solving,” she says.
Besides reducing the use of plastic, a protective packaging paper takes up less space compared to a bubble wrap be it in packaging or storing in the warehouse, it is thinner and can be compressed unlike plastic bubble wrap.
Getting a response from big companies is tough. However, Varsha was surprised when, within a month, Westside showed interest in asking for more details about EcoCushion’s products.
Varsha along with her brother met the Westside team, explained about their product, needless to say, the team admired the product and EcoCushion Paper bagged its first order from a corporate.
“Getting an order from Westside was a dream come true but you see it doesn’t happen all the time. We had written to so many companies, even now we do. We always get encouragement for what we are doing, everyone encourages us since we are reducing the use of plastic through our product. However, when it comes to practical application of products in their companies, there are often nodding heads. Companies are resistant to change,” says Varsha.
In a span of a year, EcoCushion Paper has onboarded more than 2,000 small and medium businesses including Aadvik Foods, Upakarma Ayurveda, The June Shop, Mars Cosmetics etc., and corporations like Westside, Nestle R&D, 1MG, and more.
The company has made Rs 2.5 crore in revenue since its inception. Varsha says the pricing of the product varies from Rs 250 for 10 meter roll to Rs 1,800 for a Rs 250 meter roll.
The packaging market is developing at 25% per annum, according to InvestIndia. The overall India Packaging Market was valued at $50.5 billion in 2019, and it is expected to reach $204.81 bn by 2025, registering a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 26.7% during the period of 2020-2025. However, the paper packaging industry is at an early stage.
Since its inception, Varsha says, EcoCushion Paper has reduced the plastic use by approximately 47 lakh metres (1,43,000 kg) and counting.
“The market is unending given the boom of ecommerce and quick delivery service in India. Packaging is required everywhere; it's just people need to switch to plastic alternates,” Varsha says.
SMBStory also spoke to Mahesh to understand his vision of starting a business post-retirement.
“We started it as a business offering a substitute to plastic packaging but now it is not just a business but our mission. Ab plastic hatana hai (we have to remove plastic). When we work with this motto, the energy level is different and there is no limit to expansion," he says.