Let’s face it, shopping is a part and parcel of every woman’s life. And while for the past so many years, we have moved from shopping at malls to putting things in our carts on our phones. But like a lot of things, 2020 has had an impact on our shopping habits as well. More and more people have started giving the environment a thought, and a lot of people, at least in urban areas, are increasingly looking at sustainable options in their lives. Sustainable fashion is slowly gaining ground and leading the change are a bunch of women entrepreneurs who are running successful online businesses which are helping more and more people make sustainable fashion choices. Here’s taking a look at some of them.
Suta: Sujata and Taniya Biswas
Sisters Sujata and Taniya Biswas had no fashion background when they started Suta five years back. They had done their engineering and MBA and were both working for corporate firms in Mumbai. But they always had an urge to give back something to the society. “Our love for sarees is what led us to quit,” says Sujata. They started from their tiny garage store in 2016 with two weavers and one employee and now they have 100 plus employees and 14,000 and more weavers and craftsmen and a store in Mumbai. Suta mostly sells sarees, blouses, some babywear, etc.
The beginning however, wasn’t that easy for the sisters.” The first village we had gone to was Dhaniakhali in Bengal and then we went to Nadia district and started meeting people. There was this question whether these girls were serious. We had to initially convince them that when we start working we will work with you for life and give you work for at least a year,” says Taniya. In the beginning, they would take their father along so that they were taken seriously. Their first sarees were made of mulmul and remain bestsellers till date. The rest of their collection too is sustainable with a lot of cotton and other eco-friendly fabrics like silk. The packaging too, is eco friendly with the plastic that is used sent for recycling. The sarees come pre-washed using ritha, neem and tulsi.
One of the ways in which the sisters have introduced sustainability is by opting for timeless designs as opposed to trends. So what you buy today can be worn several years later or passed on to future generations. Sujata believes Covid has given people a lot of time to retrospect. “We never took out the time to know what we were buying. Now people have become more conscious,” she says. Another unique thing about Suta is that each of their products comes with a story and have a unique name. “Sometimes, people buy just because of the story,” says Sujata.
Vaaya: Lata and Jyotsna Chaman
Lata and Jyotsna Chaman, founders of Vaaya, started the business as a necessity for the family. Lata had been in the fashion space for a really long time with a store in Delhi’s Khan Market but Jyotsna came from a different background. What sets Vaaya apart are their twin features of sustainability and body positivity. “Our bodies are not a standard size. We wanted to do something for women who want to get things customised. Our sizes range from XXXS to 9XL. We didn’t want to differentiate,” says Jyotsna. So initially, they shot with women of different shapes and sizes who were friends and family. Later, they started doing casting calls from their page and had women from different walks of life participating. Another USP of Vaaya is that they do combination sizes. “We don’t use the word plus size,” says Jyotsna. Vaaya works directly with weavers across India. “Even though we are a bootstrapped company right now, we are proud that we were able to take care of all our weavers during lockdown,” says Jyotsna.
When they started, it was a struggle. “We want to appreciate customers because they are choosing to be conscious. I won’t say brands like Zara can be replaced immediately but if we start making one conscious choice, that will be a good start. I have also become very conscious of things that I buy, think whether I need it,” says Jyotsna. Working with her mother was a unique experience for her. The relationship has evolved from being a mother and daughter to being business partners and friends now. For this entrepreneur duo, every single day is a hustle. However, while the men in the family are totally supportive, Jyotsna wishes that more women would support other women.
Tamarind Chutney: Tanvi Bikhchandani and Charanya Shekar
Tanvi Bikhchandani and Charanya Shekar, the founders of Tamarind Chutney call it a brand with a dual mission – sustainability and ethical fashion. They work directly with traditional craftsperson from across India and source fabric directly from them. Another unique thing about them is their determination to reduce textile waste and keep them out of the landfill. So anything that is not sourced from artisans is sourced from dead stock – excess production from a factory or an export reject, something rejected for a very minor reason. The two school friends started Tamarind Chutney in 2019 as a pilot project. While Charanya is a textile and apparel designer, Tanvi studied economics and business. So when they started, they went on field trips to meet artisans, to figure out what the dead stock and surplus scene is in Delhi and launched a small collection online in august 2019. They did a small pop-up in Hauz Khas market in Delhi. The duo started working full-time on Tamarind Chutney since last July. “We were only selling masks during the pandemic but now things are getting back to normal,” says Tanvi.
The young entrepreneur feels there is an increased awareness in urban areas and among younger people for sustainable products. What sets their brand apart is their transparency. So the pricing of each product in their website comes with the exact break-up. They also have profiles of every artisan who has made fabric for us on their website.
While her family – which is into business – is very supportive, Tanvi feels being an entrepreneur in a male-dominated field is doubly challenging. “Surround yourself with people who encourage you because there are bound to be down days. Having a co-founder, a good team or a mentor is extremely important. Don’t be afraid to reach out. People might be more willing to help than you think,” she quips.
Tjori: Mansi Gupta, Founder and CEO
We started with the idea of bringing Indian handicrafts to north America and then launched in India when e-commerce had just entered the market. Initially, we were selling similar products but from other brands or craftspeople. In 2015 we launched our own collection and that changed the game for us. “There is a shift in the choice of customers in seeking the homegrown over the brands in malls. Contemporising Indian artform and bringing them to the mainstream commercial business is what we are aiming to achieve with Tjori,” says founder and CEO Mansi Gupta.
Mansi feels there has been a mindset shift in people especially in the last 3-4 years when it comes to sustainable products. The awakening for organic, natural products has gone up drastically. In food and personal care, Covid has given a bigger push, but not so much in fashion. Tjori’s USP is to create contemporary styles and silhouettes so that people don’t think what they are wearing is old fashioned. Their artisans are based across the country. “Our upcoming collection is based on Jamdani so that comes from Calcutta, ajrakh comes from Gujarat, kalamkari comes from Hyderabad and so on,” says Mansi.
Were there hurdles? Horrors, laughs Mansi. The journey, she says, has been the best experience of her life. It has made her a strong individual. As an entrepreneur, she says, your job is to overcome challenges very successfully. Tjori for her is her first child. So when she became a mother, instead of working from home, she created a nursery at work and takes her child to work along with the nanny. “I would take breaks to feed him and play with him which worked as a stress-buster,” she says.
What are her tips for budding women entrepreneurs? “Just make yourself able enough and do what you want to do, that’s when you won’t feel the difference between male and female entrepreneurship,” says Mansi.