M.A. Vazeer and his wife Zothina Vazeer tell why they are in love with the roughness of jute

In the need of shopping bags without having to use plastic carry bags led a couple on a hunt for an alternative. This search then led them to a research and the research set them on a journey across the state to the eastern region. Till about that time, jute, its uses and its importance in totality were unheard of for M. A. Vazeer and wife Zothina Vazeer. “I was a techie and jute was the last thing on my mind. I didn’t feel the need to know and associate myself with jute. Then suddenly out of no where I came across something made of jute and I started seeing its utility and use. This was the time when I was becoming aware about the environment and the impact it has on us and how we as human beings are pushing the limits with the environment,” recollects Vazeer.

This time around Vazeer was also a part of a workshop which dealt with jute. This was the baby step for him and despite being a novice, with the support of his wife, he quit his cushy job and decided to get on with jute ‘full-time’. His wife then slowly introduced the idea of running a small industry which made jute bags.

“A thought backed by my wife’s support became a goal and then eventually that was to become the source of our family earning. So came into being ‘Facco di carta’ meaning jute bags. And my wife runs the show. I was so involved and amazed at the things which can be done out of jute and protect the environment at the same time by getting rid of plastic carry bags and shopping bags that I was almost very sure this project will succeed. So I quit my job and stayed in a place called Behala in West Bengal to learn more about jute. In a place like West Bengal where jute is sufficiently available people do everything with jute. The rice bags are made of jute, the shopping bags and even the floor mats in front of the house are made with jute,” recollects Vazeer.

Vazeer says at Behala he saw the plight of the people where they work for Rs. 20 and live on one meal a day. “It wasn’t the best of the situations but what they made was probably something very unique and beautiful,” says Vazeer.

After returning from WB, Vazeer purchased two special machines to stitch jute and the two began their journey on a modest note. “We started with small bags and thank God for my wife being a fabric designer she was able to put more thoughts and ideas into the bags and stitching styles. Initially we felt at sea, unsure of how things would shape up. But gradually it seemed that people do use a lot of jute bags in the city to carry their lunch boxes to work, also as hand bags,” says Vazeer.

But Vazeer’ goal was not just to make jute items and sell, while learning about jute in WB, he also learned how the material is an alternative source of income for those involved in agricultural activities. He observed that men and women were involved in the jute industry to make extra money when they were not working in the fields. “I wanted to do the same for poor farmers. I couldn’t give them anything for free because I wasn’t making surplus, I was barely breaking even and whatever little we would make, went in procuring the materials or updating ourselves. So it took us numerous visits and talks with the rural people in districts to assure them of something different. This is a cottage industry product and even one person working extra with us meant surplus end products which only two of us cannot do. After those numerous visits we had a few people from the rural areas agreeing to do what we were doing. The moment one person agrees, it is nice to see that they are able to get a few more,” Vazeer.

But Vazeer says, this is not a flourishing industry. The struggles they have are manifold and while the ideas are lapped up in other countries, Indians are yet to appreciate the value of the material. Vazeer and his wife operate from a small place at Neredmet, in Secunderabad and though they haven’t been able to make big money they are happy that they are able to provide a new skill to people who cannot do anything but work hard for a living.

Now Zothina and Vazeer constantly work on items that will make jute more attractive and in the process they have even come up with decoratives for the Christmas tree, jewellery “and everything that one can think of. Our shopping bags come with a message of the environment and Zothina is constantly sitting and making dummies which can be transformed into jute items for use.