They're entrepreneurs with a conscience. With banana fibre saris, bio-degradable plastic bags, screw pine baskets and detergents made from fruits, they make a living out of supporting traditional artisans and in doing so make the world a greener place. The writer meets these eco-guardians
Subangani Rajkumar's home in Adyar extends into a small store filled with eco-friendly knick-knacks. There are natural soaps, coconut-based artefacts, bags, sandals, seed and paper jewellery, wallets and baskets made of screw pine, water hyacinth, jute and cotton, among other interesting finds.
“My childhood friend, Srividya Babu and I decided to do something together. And Hermit Crab began in 2009 as a fragrance store. Our basic aim was to please the five senses but we soon realised that it didn't work out too well. I had brought in a few palm leaf baskets from my native place near Tirunelveli and kept it in the store and was surprised to find that they became quite popular. We slowly began to convert the store into an eco-friendly gift boutique,” explains Subangani.
While most of the items are sourced from around the southern states, the friends also add to the store's collection from their travels abroad. “We get a lot of things from Kerala, Kanyakumari, Krishnagiri and Auroville. We also provide space for display of products made by housewives, NGOs and others.”
Just outside Hermit Crab is a patio coloured green by the leaves that completely envelop it. This is ‘Plantist', part of Hermit Crab's ‘Gift-a-plant' initiative. “We're both botanists,” says Subangani, “We thought we'd have a florist but realised that flowers wilt in a matter of days. Instead, we thought we'd ask people to gift plants and help customise it. That way, you're not just gifting a plant but making the city greener.”
Visit Hermit Crab at www.hermitcrab.co.in
It takes 1,000 years for plastic to degrade. And Biotec Bags, to rid the world of at least a percentage of non-degradable material has come up with bio-degradable plastic bags that turn into compost at the end of a year.
“It's very important to have an alternative to plastic because we realise banning plastic bags itself won't help. Our bags, which are priced same as plastic bags are injected with an enzyme that makes them bio-degradable,” says T.S. Shankar, director, Biotec Bags.
The company has been catering to a growing list of clientele since it went public a couple of years ago. “We wanted to take our product to the world and also make it affordable for the common man. We cater to stores of all sizes. Our clients include Apollo Pharmacy, Fruitshop on Greams Road, Sangeetha chain of restaurants and Ponds to name a few,” he says.
Shankar also dismisses using too many paper bags. “While paper does tend to be eco-friendly, what many people don't realise it that it's expensive to make and cutting 17 trees gives you one tonne of paper. And more often than not, we reuse plastic bags than those made of paper. So instead of being good to the environment, it causes more physical waste.”
Visit Biotec Bags at www.biotecbags.com
Just off Nungambakkam in Kamdar Nagar is a boutique of a different kind. You get paper, terracotta and wood jewellery, organic cotton kurtis and tops, sarees made of bamboo and banana fibre and almost everything that is friendly to the Earth and your pockets.
“We've been doing paper jewellery for seven years,” says Y. Satyakumar, who runs Shrikriti with his cousin Usha Natrajan, “We were looking for a bigger place and decided to expand into a complete fashion boutique. Everything here is eco-friendly and we were also able to support a few traditional artisans through our initiative.”
A forest tribe in Karnataka, housewives who do handicrafts and an Estonian girl who is settled here are some of the people they support. “We went back to our roots to find out what we can do differently. We realise that there isn't much time these days for people to support causes even when they want to. By buying things from us, they are helping us in our cause,” he says.
Satyakumar and Usha are soon planning to adopt a village near Chennai and teach crafts. “We would like to give the people an opportunity to work at a skill even while patronising traditional crafts.”
Visit Shrikriti at 73/67, Scheme Road, III Street, Kamdar Nagar, Mahalingapuram, Nungmabakkam.
Preethi Sukumaran and Srinivas Krishnaswamy lead a lifestyle most people would find amusing. They don't own a car or use synthetics at home; they're strict vegans and swear by organic food. “It's not enough if you say you want to be eco-friendly. It's a lifestyle by itself,” says Srinivas while Preethi adds, “we have a Krya formulation for everything; for hair, skin, clothes and even floors.”
Krya products are sustainable and completely biodegradable. With an unofficial soft launch a month ago, the couple started their venture with detergents made from soapberries. “This idea has been around for a while, but no one has produced it in a detergent format. It makes it easier for people to use on an everyday basis,” says Preethi.
While the soapberries are good on clothes, the detergent and the water used is recyclable, they explain. “Many people who have been interested in Krya are those who have water problems at home. When you use our detergent, the residue becomes compost for plants while the water used to wash can be used again to water them. It saves you from wasting so many litres everyday,” Srinivas explains.
“You only need to use a tablespoon everyday. You get a better wash with good lather which is safe on Indian colours and children's clothes, sans the chemicals and their after effects.”
Contact Krya at www.facebook.com/kryagoodies