Meet the husband-wife duo that is upcycling old Army uniforms into trendy bags
If you happen to walk down the junction of a road in any of the urban pockets of India, you are likely to come across mounds of garbage. According to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, India generates a whopping 1.5 lakh metric tonnes (MT) of solid waste every day, of which only 54 percent is processed scientifically. The rest is either burnt or finds a place in landfills and scrap shops.
Many a times, objects with high perceived value too land up in junkyards. Imagine the sight of an Army uniform discarded in a heap among other odds and ends – this would not only undermine the dignity of the armed forces, but also whittle away their legacy, spirit, and valour.
Mumbai-based startup Sepoi is striving to address this by upcycling old and worn-out Army uniforms into bags. Founded by husband-wife duo Siddharth Jaiswal (34) and Suchi Jaiswal (33) in 2018, the firm gathers used Army uniforms and turns them into trendy designer laptop bags, backpacks, and handbags with the help of rural women and artisans.
Despite having a lean core team of four, Sepoi has sold over 110 bags in the last one year, and has saved many Army uniforms from reaching the garbage dump.
“Resources are very limited in today’s world. Hence, the practice of reinventing unused or discarded materials and transforming them into brand new stuff is critical. It reduces wastage, declutters the surroundings, and ultimately conserves the environment. The idea of converting Army uniforms into bags as part of Sepoi is based on just this,” says Siddharth, Co-founder of Sepoi, speaking to SocialStory.
The initial phase
Both Siddharth and Suchi completed their MBA and got some experience in the corporate world before venturing into the startup space. While Siddharth was in finance and money management, Suchi had carved a niche for herself in the field of marketing.
The year 2016 marked the turning point in their lives when the couple came across a news story about four people being arrested for disguising themselves in Army uniforms on the Pathankot-Jalandhar National Road.
Siddharth recalls that the incident highlighted the issues surrounding the misuse of Army uniforms to carry out illegal and terrorist activities. He says,
“Right after we read about it, we began recalling all the instances when we had spotted army uniforms lying around in dumping grounds and scrap markets. Not only was this adding to the already existing pile of waste, but also making way for people to gain access to regimental attire for further misuse. And, that was when we conceptualised the idea of Sepoi, which is derived from the word Sipahi, meaning soldier.”
Siddharth and Suchi spent almost a year brainstorming the idea and conducting pilot projects to gauge the market. They started off by collecting old Army uniforms from their family members, friends, and acquaintances and then designing and processing the cloth to create bags. The duo collaborated with a creative specialist to design the bags and then outsourced the production to an external company. After registering a positive response to their idea, they went ahead and established Sepoi.
“During this period, we also tried approaching the Indian Military Association to tie up with Sepoi, so as to streamline the collection of old uniforms officially. However, it did not materialise due to bureaucratic hurdles,” notes Siddharth.
Though bootstrapped initially, the co-founders have kicked off a crowdsourcing campaign with a view to scale their operations. Of the Rs 1,00,000 that they have pitched for on the platform Fuel a Dream, the duo have already received Rs 20,000.
From idea to product
Sepoi’s product line comprises a whole range of bags made from a combination of leather and military surplus. Siddharth and Suchi have developed different channels to collect old Army uniforms – right from procuring them in scrap markets, and word of mouth through family and friends, to running a donation drive on the startup’s website along with the address for dispatch.
“Once the uniforms are collected, Sepoi’s in-house designer lays out certain designs to produce the bags depending on the amount of material. We have outsourced the production of bags to Pulpy Papaya, an Indore-based startup that engages with artisans to create and retail fashion accessories and handicrafts, and the designs are directly sent to them.”
The startup employs artisans from across the country to upcycle the bags. All the bags are handmade and are priced anywhere between Rs 1,000 and Rs 3,000. Once processed, the finished products are sent to Sepoi’s fulfillment centre where they are packaged with carry bags made from recycled materials. These reusable bags are made by marginalised women associated with the NGO Shaktishali Mahila Sangathan Samiti (SMMS) using plastic and paper waste.
“The usage of Army uniforms to churn out bags is such a wonderful gesture. The bags keep reminding me of the achievements and bravery of the Indian Army. Besides, I love the fact that the products are made in an eco-friendly manner. It makes me want to buy more of it,” says Vishal, a customer of Sepoi.
Sepoi’s products are sold across the globe through its ecommerce site and the company has partnered with Delhivery for the logistics.
Promoting a sustainable future
By upcycling clothes into bags, Sepoi believes it is showing the way for other firms to enter the space.
“Considering that upcycling of materials has a plethora of benefits, it is time for more organisations to start adopting it. When it comes to Sepoi, the goal has always been two-fold – preserving the environment and its resources through creative reuse and also safeguarding the pride of the nation by preventing army uniforms from reaching garbage bins,” says Siddharth.
Siddharth and Suchi are planning to extend their efforts by bringing in used uniforms of firefighters under the startup’s purview in the next few months.
(Edited by Athirupa Geetha Manichandar)