[Sustainability Agenda] How this B2B startup is working to create sustainable livelihoods in Uttarakhand

Keshav Sharma, who has about 30 years of expertise in the textile industry, has built a self-sustainable model in Dehradun, Uttarakhand, through his startup DESCAT UK, and has created job opportunities for more than 1,000 women.

[Sustainability Agenda] How this B2B startup is working to create sustainable livelihoods in Uttarakhand

Thursday December 16, 2021,

4 min Read

While working with the Uttarakhand government as a natural fibre consultant, Keshav Sharma realised the plethora of obscured opportunities the region he had grown up in held.

“Since my childhood, I have been seeing Uttarakhand as a women-oriented economy. Men were either in the army or migrated to other places. Only children below 18 years and elders were seen residing there. Even after 30-40 years, there is not much change in the situation,” says Keshav, who visited the state after 40 years.

Keshav, 58, who holds a bachelor’s degree in textile chemistry from GCIT Kanpur and a master’s from TIT Bhiwani, says setting up an industry in the state is “difficult and not viable”.

He was keen to make his state self-sustainable, by using natural resources to create and support local livelihoods.

After using his network to create a grass fibre - routinely used in the region – to create a yarn, he decided to present it at the climate collective startup enclave and was selected for the KIIT incubation round. The team went to the IIT Mandi Explorer programme, where he had the opportunity to meet Anuj Sharma from Alsisar. 

In 2018, this led to the launch of Dev Ethical Sustainable Crafts & Textiles, Uttarakhand (DESCAT UK).

Descat UK

Working towards sustainability

“Uttarakhand is best known for incredible handloom products and traditional handicrafts using natural fibres. Be it nettle, wool, silk, bhimal, organic dyes, or medicinal plants, they’re all used. DESCAT UK is a small step to reduce the carbon footprint of the textile industry, promoted by Dev Textile Services in Dehradun,” Keshav says.

DESCAT UK enables livelihood experts, textile professionals, designers, and marketing professionals to come together to make sustainable handicrafts and handloom products.

The company has been incubated by Alsisar Impact and has been under the mentorship of Anuj Sharma since the past couple of years.

Essentially a B2B company, DESCAT UK largely sells its fabric to companies that use it to make products and garments for retail. DESCAT UK also sells fibres to many companies that use it to create their own blend of fabrics. 

Descat uk

Keshav with the women of Uttarakhand

“We also customise fabrics and have created different fabrics by blending in yarns such as a woollen and an NNF (New Natural Fibre) blended fabric. The process is a little long as everything from the weight of the fabric to the quantity has to be analysed before any form of business is done,” Keshav says.

He adds that his organisation has not conducted any form of paid marketing yet. It has “grown organically” and ensured that business is done with companies that are environmentally sustainable and people-oriented. 

The team, consisting of four core members and about 200 women, is scattered across the country, be it the people collecting the grass, those creating the yarn, or artisans creating the fabric. Other than full-time employees, it has designers from prestigious universities like NIFT volunteering and interning.

Speaking about the immediate impact his organisation had on the local people, Keshav says, “The teammates working at the plant were one of the biggest beneficiaries. They couldn't believe that the wild grass they used to regularly dispose of as garbage had earned them their first pay cheque. Providing a livelihood for them and seeing the smiles on their faces made it even more impactful.”

DESCAT UK has provided training and job opportunities to over 1,400 women as of now. 

Overcoming the challenges

Things were not easy for Keshav at the beginning and it took him quite a while to convince his family members about this business.

“They were not on board as it was my time to retire and live a steady life at home. After persuading them, I had to convince SHG groups by proving that the wild grass fibres that they threw away would help them make money,” he says.

When Keshav finally got everyone on board, COVID-19 brought everything to a standstill.

“Keeping communication frequent during the lockdown while training people was extremely challenging. Being a small startup, we were not able to produce enough volume, which made things difficult. But, thanks to everyone in our network, we were able to overcome most of these challenges.”

From training of the artisans to collection of the wild grass and the creation of the yarn, costs are involved at almost every stage of the process. Additionally, scaling up, opening a warehouse, and team expansion were other additional expenses.

“We are very glad that Anuj Sharma, Founder at Alsisar Impact, was the first to invest in us, even before the IIT Mandi Catalyst programme. Alsisar Impact has been a pillar of support and has helped in our operations and compliances,” Keshav says.

DESCAT UK also received investment from the Himachal Pradesh Government and from friends and family, and is widely supported by many foundations in the industry.

Edited by Teja Lele