This sustainable brand turns your old clothes into memorabilia that can be used

Gurugram-based Cornucopia Concepts converts your old but can’t-be-discarded clothes and fabrics into bespoke quilts and cushion covers that make for lasting memories.
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The preservation of family memorabilia has taken on a whole new meaning in the wake of the events of the past year and a half. People have woken up to the importance of recycling old things as much as possible – both as memories and to preserve the environment.

Cornucopia has been spreading the recycle-and reuse message since 2017. Co-founded by sisters Ayesha and Manisha Desai, the Gurugram-based e-tail business converts old clothes and discarded fabrics into bespoke quilts and cushion covers.

“Over the years, we had accumulated various never-to-be-parted with clothes. Clothes that had memories associated with hostels in Pune, Bombay, Boston, New York as well as school basketball jerseys. A forced spring cleaning by our mother got us thinking and voila… the first Cornucopia quilt was born! One thing led to another and this is where we are today,” the sisters share.

Now that their quilts have found favour with celebrities like Milind Soman, Boman Irani, Viranica Manchu, and been mentioned by Priyanka Chopra in her list of sustainable brands to look out for, Cornucopia Concepts is firmly making its presence felt.

The beginning

Ayesha and Manisha chose careers in the development sector, working on different aspects of social work for over 15 years. Ayesha’s area of interest was health and HIV, while Manisha was inclined towards communication for development.

Ayesha has worked with communities in Bombay, Bengaluru, Gurugram, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco on issues related to community health, substance abuse, and education; Manisha, meanwhile, has worked on issues related to trafficking, rural development, waste pickers, waste management, and community outreach along with dabbling in content writing.

Their first quilt, made for themselves as a hobby keepsake by cropping their own clothes, arranging them in a pattern and stitching them together. snowballed into ‘a mission’.

Cornucopia Concepts' Co-founders and sisters Manisha and Ayesha Desai say their orders come through two main sources: Instagram and word of mouth.

“Friends and relatives started giving us their keepsakes in the form of baby clothes, sarees, kurtas, T-shirts, dupattas, and we repurposed them all. Our mission is to get people to look at their possessions in a new light. To rethink their consumption patterns. Through our products, we encourage people to try and extend the life cycle of their clothes. Those clothes that they just don’t want to part with, those clothes that just can’t be donated,” they share with candour.

For them, more than a brand, Cornucopia has come to signify a way of life based on balanced consumption, aiming to provide sustainable alternatives to everyday utility items.

“No, we are not reinventing the wheel – we are just making sure it keeps moving in the right direction. We aim to work on the principles of fair trade, environment sustainability, and easy to access and environmentally safe alternatives to plastic,” the sisters say.

The sisters made an initial investment of Rs 1 lakh into their company.

The way it works

Currently a team of 10 based in Gurugram, Cornucopia Concepts has its own quilters do the quilting. They regularly partner with women’s organisations and home-based workers to support their sustainable gifting initiative.

It has been quite a journey for the sisters to start and grow a completely bootstrapped business. The cash flow has been positive from the very beginning, with “sales and revenue growing 140 percent year over year”. Social media followers have grown by 120 percent organically.

Manisha says, “Our orders come through two main sources – Instagram and word of mouth. We have been fortunate to have several of our clients recommending us to others, as well as coming back for second and third, sometimes even sixth, quilts!”

Cornucopia partners with women’s organisations and home-based workers to support their sustainable gifting initiative.

Patchwork quilts made from baby clothes and corporate gift hampers are their most popular offerings. Their price range starts from Rs 7,500 plus taxes and shipping to Rs 60,000, depending on the level of customisation involved. Most patrons are based in India, but the startup also ships internationally. However, business is conducted entirely via its own channels.

“Each quilt is customised and created with our client’s keepsake clothes. These could be clothes in the form of baby clothes, university T-shirts, sarees, kurta/kurtis etc. So, it’s tough for us to retail on third party websites. Our orders come through Instagram, recommendations and Facebook, and personal conversations allow the customisation to happen,” Ayesha says.

The pandemic effect

With people earnestly devoting time to spring cleaning during the first lockdown, Cornucopia Concepts received a lot of traction. After the second wave, the monumental number of personal tragedies led to an increase in orders of bereavement quilts, made from keepsake clothes of loved ones who had passed away due to COVID.

“Like many small businesses, surviving the lockdowns was one of our biggest challenges! The task at hand was to retain all our staff and ensure that they were paid every month of the lockdown. To be able to do this, we had to relocate all our staff from the Pune workshop to the Gurgaon workshop. With this move, we ensured that we didn’t have to let go of staff and we could restart work as soon as restrictions were lifted. It worked and we emerged stronger than before,” Manisha says.

Next on the cards

The team recently introduced the concept of sustainable gift hampers for corporates. These hampers can be customised according to the needs of the client while ensuring a low carbon footprint.

They began with one gifting client in 2018 and today are the gifting partners for 12 corporates, churning out over 6,000 hampers every festive season. Another new product set to be launched in a month is their milestone quilt - a quilt that records a child’s growth for the first 12 months of their life. These fully embroidered quilts make excellent gifts for newborn babies.

The milestone quilt, which records a baby's growth for the first 12 months of their life, will be launched in a month.

“With each quilt that we create, we feel we become a part of our client’s life. We hear life stories, little anecdotes about the children, or some unforgettable memories associated with the clothes sent to us. So each quilt kind of pulls at our heartstrings, as we become part of all the beautiful memories attached with each piece. The bereavement quilts are the most difficult to work with, but are very dear to our clients,” the sisters say.

Edited by Teja Lele Desai

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