Trea­sure out of trash

Young en­trepreneurs are trans­form­ing waste into beau­ti­ful prod­ucts

Down to Earth - - CONTENTS - | MOUSHUMI SHARMA NEW DELHI

Young en­trepreneurs are trans­form­ing waste items into beau­ti­ful prod­ucts

Otrash is another man’s NE MAN'S trea­sure, so goes the say­ing. For some en­trepreneurs, this has be­come the new busi­ness mantra. From dis­carded bot­tles and worn-out tyres to old news­pa­pers and ragged shoes, young pro­fes­sion­als are re­cy­cling waste as a full-time busi­ness with a so­cial mes­sage.

AnuT an­don Vieira’s Re­tyre­ment Plan is one such ven­ture.U sing old tyres of all shapes and sizes and sus­tain­able ma­te­rial such as cane and bam­boo, Anu and her team of ar­ti­sans cre­ate a range of quirky fur­ni­ture that can be used as chairs, ta­bles, pouffes or mir­rors, and even cat scratch pads. While Anu sources the cane and bam­boo from As­sam and Kar­nataka, she pur­chases tyres from a sup­plier in Mum­bai at 50-`100 per tyre. Work be­gins only af­ter

` the tyres are washed and sani­tised.To weave the ma­te­rial to­gether, she pur­chases ropes from sup­pli­ers and textile tailors in Gu­jarat and Ra­jasthan. These ropes are fash­ioned from waste such as scrap fab­ric. The hand­crafted fur­ni­ture, there­fore, is a rain­bow of re­cy­cled ma­te­rial.“The em­pha­sis is on pro­duc­ing beau­ti­fully de­signed wo­ven pieces of fur­ni­ture with­out com­pro­mis­ing on the qual­ity, and find­ing mar­kets that value them,” says Anu. She be­lieves find­ing cheap raw ma­te­rial will never be a prob­lem be­cause “the cities are spew­ing waste”. The chal­lenge is how much of this can be re­cy­cled and utilised, she adds.

With a post-grad­u­ate diploma in tex­tiles from the Na­tional In­sti­tute of De­sign, Ahmed­abad, Anu has a hands-on ap­proach to trans­late her motto of liv­ing green into a sus­tain­able busi­ness en­ter­prise. She in­vested

1 lakh as seed cap­i­tal and started Re­tyre­ment ` Plan with a two-fold ob­jec­tive: to re­cy­cle waste into sus­tain­able com­modi­ties and show­case the skills of ar­ti­sans. She found mi­grant cane weavers from As­sam, West Ben­gal, Bi­har and Kar­nataka and took them on board, train­ing them her­self. To­day, she

em­ploys six full-time weavers and 8-10 work­ers to help her in projects.“Our weavers and frame-mak­ers earn 600-`700 per day on

` an av­er­age. Even if a sin­gle weaver is able to re­gain a sense of pride in his or her tra­di­tional skill through our ef­forts and wishes to train the next gen­er­a­tion to carry it for­ward, we would have largely achieved what we set out to do,” she ex­plains, adding that she looks at profit not in terms of mon­e­tary gain, but in the num­bers of labour­ers she has em­ployed.

As qual­ity is para­mount, Anu does not rush her work­ers, who might take two to three days for a pouffe and up to six days for a chair. Prices of the prod­ucts range be­tween 3,000

` and 20,000. “Anu’s Re­tyre­ment pro­ject is

` vi­brant and func­tional and is per­fect for bright­en­ing up spa­ces.The best part is that she uses waste ma­te­rial in such a cre­ative way that you end up want­ing more,” says film stylist and Re­tyre­ment cus­tomer Pampa Biswas. The ven­ture has tie-ups with stores in Goa, Mum­bai, Ben­galuru and Vado­dara.But Anu prefers to sell the prod­ucts her­self. “It al­lows me to in­ter­act with my cus­tomers and tell them the story be­hind each piece. I also get many ideas. For in­stance, I learnt that pet lovers adored my ot­tomans since their cats could scratch them, nes­tle in them and play with them. This inspired us to make cat scratch pads with old bike tyres,” she says.

Trendy twist

Ax­om­nia is another up­com­ing brand from As­sam that trans­forms waste ma­te­rial into prod­ucts of util­ity and art in­stal­la­tions. Started by textile de­signer Nee­lak­shi Devi, Ax­om­nia uses dif­fer­ent kinds of waste—scrap hand­loom fab­ric, bot­tles, cans, news­pa­pers, saw­dust, wood­planks, twigs, CDs, dis­carded fur­ni­ture—to re­de­fine junk.“The mes­sage of Ax­om­nia is that noth­ing that we use to­day ac­tu­ally turns old.It is the ap­peal that be­comes bor­ing,” says Devi.

The usp of the brand, she claims, is re­cy­cling old fur­ni­ture into mod­ern and trendy ones. This, she adds, does not re­quire in­vest­ment. Ax­om­nia col­lects old fur­ni­ture, say a sofa,chair or ta­ble, from house­holds and trans­forms them with a com­pletely new look, ei­ther to be used as a piece of fur­ni­ture or a dif­fer­ent prod­uct of util­ity.“Many peo­ple like buy­ing an­tique prod­ucts for their homes, but they are very costly. Ax­om­nia takes your old gear and gives it back to you af­ter paint­ing it or chang­ing its pur­pose, say trans­form­ing a chair into a shelf with mi­nor mod­i­fi­ca­tions. Since we only charge for the ser­vice, it is pocket-friendly,” ex­plains Devi.

Guwahati res­i­dent Sub­ha­laxmi Bor­doloi tried Ax­om­nia’s ser­vice dur­ing the ren­o­va­tion of her home.“My par­ents were not sure what to do with the old fur­ni­ture. As there was an emo­tional con­nect, they did not want to dis­card them. I came across Ax­om­nia’s Face­book page and de­cided to take a chance. I was amazed at the stylish trans­for­ma­tion of our old fur­ni­ture. Ax­om­nia’s ser­vice is value for money,” says Bor­doloi.

Ax­om­nia has a range of fash­ion ac­ces­sories such as stoles, neck­laces, bracelets, pouches and bags and home dé­cor items such as chairs, lamps, chan­de­liers, cush­ion cov­ers and show­pieces. “My brand is try­ing to recre­ate the magic of lost tex­tiles and textile tech­niques such as weav­ing and bring them in vogue again. This con­cept is some­times

"A pair of train­ers gen­er­ates about 0.02 tonnes of car­bon emis­sions, equiv­a­lent to a 100-Watt bulb burn­ing for a week"

- Shriyans Bhan­dari , co-founder, Green­sole

gen­er­ated through art, such as re­cy­cled wall art and in­stal­la­tions,” says Devi, an alum­nus of the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Fash­ion Tech­nol­ogy, Chen­nai. Ax­om­nia’s oper­a­tions are han­dled solely by her ,but she oc­ca­sion­ally takes the help of weavers. Prices de­pend on time con­sump­tion, de­tail­ing, ma­te­rial used and its avail­abil­ity. Dec­o­ra­tive bot­tles are priced be­tween ` 700 and ` 800, while stoles made from scrap fab­ric cost a min­i­mum of

` 600-`700. Cur­rently, the brand sells its prod­ucts through a lifestyle store in Chen­nai. Two other stores in Delhi and Guwahati are in the pipeline.

Devi says sus­tain­able waste man­age­ment is emerg­ing as a lu­cra­tive busi­ness be­cause peo­ple now un­der­stand the im­por­tance of sus­tain­able liv­ing, apart from the aes­thetic quo­tient re­lated to it. Ax­om­nia ex­hib­ited this con­cept at the Art of Revo­lu­tion, an art event held in Jan­uary this year in Chan­dubi, a re­sort near Guwahati. “We in­stalled a 3D struc­ture us­ing 300 plas­tic bags gen­er­ated from a sin­gle house­hold over a month.Our mo­tive was to com­pel peo­ple to think how much haz­ard a sin­gle house can cause to na­ture. This ex­hi­bi­tion strength­ened my vi­sion of work­ing to­wards re­cy­cled and up­cy­cled prod­ucts,” Devi says.

Re­cy­cled shoe story

Green­sole, a so­cial-busi­ness ven­ture started by ath­lete-duo Shriyans Bhan­dari and Ramesh Dhami, re­cy­cles old sport shoes into slip­pers for the needy. The idea orig­i­nated with the fre­quent dis­card­ing of sport shoes by both friends. “We used to throw away at least three to four pairs of shoes ev­ery year. We learnt that the sole of the sport shoe can be con­verted into footwear,” says Bhan­dari, co­founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer, Green­sole. They con­verted their idea into a full-fledged busi­ness in De­cem­ber 2013.The ma­jor source of fund­ing for Green­sole has been prize money and 1.5 lakh through self-fi­nance. The co-founders have also col­lected 7,000 from crowd­fund­ing.

Green­sole has tie-ups with schools and sports clubs and or­gan­i­sa­tions who pro­vide them with dis­carded shoes, while it pur­chases re­cy­cled ropes from sup­pli­ers. The co­founders have also put up drop boxes at public places in Mum­bai, Ajmer and Silig­uri where peo­ple can do­nate their old shoes. Once the shoes are col­lected and sorted ac­cord­ing to size, they are sent to Green­sole’s man­u­fac­tur­ing unit in Kurla, Mum­bai. Here, the shoes are washed ,the sole is then de­tached us­ing a hot blower. It is washed and wiped with tolin, which helps in dis­in­fec­tion. The shoes are put in a mold to de­ter­mine the size and pat­tern. “For those shoes whose soles are in bad con­di­tion, we add a layer of re­cy­cled ma­te­rial to get it back in shape, and the ones which are com­pletely dam­aged ,we use them to make slip­pers,” says Bhan­dari.

Cur­rently, Green­sole man­u­fac­tures about 1,500 slip­pers ev­ery month.It em­ploys five labour­ers, in ad­di­tion to in­terns and vol­un­teers. The labour­ers have been trained by ex­perts from the Footwear De­sign and De­vel­op­ment In­sti­tute, Kolkata. Ac­cord­ing to Bhan­dari, about 350 mil­lion sport shoes are dis­carded glob­ally ev­ery year. Since these are made up of polyurethane, foam and plas­tic, they are non-biodegrad­able and to­wards the end of their life, they are ei­ther dumped or end up in land­fills where they are burnt, gen­er­at­ing close to two mil­lion tonnes of car­bon emis­sions. “A typ­i­cal pair of syn­thetic train­ers gen­er­ates about 0.02 tonnes of car­bon emis­sion, which is equiv­a­lent to a 100-Watt bulb burn­ing for a week.The idea of Green­sole is to stretch the life of a shoe, so that it can be reused mul­ti­ple times as com­fort­able and eco-friendly slip­pers,” Bhan­dari adds.

The com­pany’s motto is to pro­vide a pair of slip­pers to ev­ery needy per­son in the world by 2023. Sounds am­bi­tious? Bhan­dari be­lieves it is fea­si­ble both in terms of labour and funds. “We have reg­is­tered in a few in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions.If we win, we will get about US $1 mil­lion in fund­ing and will use the prize money to set up a fully au­to­mated unit re­fur­bish­ing two mil­lion shoes a year. Oth­er­wise ,we will take in­vestors on board,” he says.

So far, about 110 poor peo­ple in Mum­bai have ben­e­fited from Green­sole.The com­pany suc­cess­fully filed for two in­dus­trial de­sign patents in Novem­ber 2014.They plan to open a fac­tory in Kenya to help the poor in Africa. Tie-ups with the United Na­tions, Asian Games and Olympics are also on the anvil.

Nee­lak­shi Devi, founder of Ax­om­nia, paints an old sofa to give it a new look

KABITA DEVI

ANU TAN­DON VIEIRA (Clock­wise) A colour­ful chair made from an old tyre, cane and bam­boo; a pair of slip­pers man­u­fac­tured from the sole of dis­carded sport shoes and a light holder made from re­cy­cled wood, bot­tle caps and towel bar

NEE­LAK­SHI DEVI

Ax­om­nia's in­stal­la­tion "The Con­sume" at an event in Guwahati was made from 300 plas­tic bags used by a sin­gle house­hold in a month, stress­ing the dam­age a sin­gle house can cause to the en­vi­ron­ment

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