K.C. Job foresaw the immense eco-friendly potential of jute almost three decades ago. He says his company Sangeetha Bags, manufactures and exports everything from big shoppers to designer jute bags

An easy-to-miss signboard, without much fanfare, announces Sangeetha Bags on the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium Road as it meets the road leading to Thammanam. Nothing about the no-fuss two-storey building hints at what Sangeetha Bags and its founder, K.C. Job have achieved in the last 27 years.

Job is the man behind the ‘big shopper’ (a spacious, square jute shopping bag). He says it is his ‘contribution’ that he was able to show people that jute is not just sack cloth.

“It is called thus because it can accommodate much. In Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, the big shoppers replaced even the ubiquitous manja pye (yellow bag).” In the early days the bags were sold from wholesale stores.

Today, chances are that there is a bag made by Sangeetha Bags in each of our homes. The company supplies jute and non-woven carry bags to leading textile and sari stores in South India.

Jute for every store

In Kochi, Job provides carry bags to all major stores — garments, jewellery, rice mills…the list is endless. He says he manufactures bags and file covers for all government functions and to some government departments, “in fact I provided the jute bags in which Electronic Voting Machines were packed” and functions organised by universities, corporates and others. The complimentary bags at this year’s edition of the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) are by his company. He exports hand bags, file covers and bottle bags to countries in Europe (Germany, the UK), the United States, the Arab Emirates and Australia.

The latest feather on his cap is an exclusive showroom of designer jute handbags. Jute and designer might sound anachronistic, but not to Job. For him, this way he is able to explore his company’s, and jute’s, potential.

These bags are not the predictable golden jute. Bright and vibrant totes, handbags, phone pouches, lunch bags, laptop bags, clutches, daily-use bags – embroidered, sequinned, minimalist, gaudy, with graffiti – “we have close to 600 designs for hand bags alone. I did not get into this without any thought. I gained experienced, spent the first 15 years honing skills with the big shopper and the next 12 years with ladies bags before starting the exclusive store.”

Many models

As he shows us samples of bags, he says with a touch of pride, that he has 38 models for general shopping bags and 52 for complimentary bags. A team of designers works with him on product development.

In the late 80s after his experiments with a few sacks procured from traders in Mattancherry and a tank full of dye (built outside his house), Job realised he was on to something viable.

Along with two employees he set about dyeing the raw cloth, cut and tailored them and took the finished product to wholesale shops. “One of the shopkeepers, asked me why there were shades of the same colour on my bags. My dyeing skills were, obviously, rudimentary and I had fewer colours – at the most three. I wanted to better my skills so I boarded a train to Kolkata.”

He spent close to two months there learning about jute — processing, dyeing and everything that makes jute.

While there, he developed contacts too.

From the mills of Kolkata

Today there are dedicated jute mills in Kolkata which process jute for Sangeetha Bags. The finer-quality jute comes from Bangladesh (for ladies bags) and the other variety from Kolkata (big shoppers). The processing for both is done there.

“The initial days convincing people were tough.Today, people are more aware, they understand the need for going eco-friendly.” Over time, business grew and today he has eight units in the city and a factory in Aluva which manufactures nonwoven fabric for bags, another cheaper and environmental-friendly option.

Attitudes too have changed — Honey, Job’s wife, shows freshly printed wedding invitation cards. “We did something like this for some Germans five years ago…things are changing.” These are friendly on the pocket too besides being kind to the environment.

Family business

The business is run completely by Job, Honey and their sons Sangeeth and Vineeth. “When, finally, there was acknowledgement, I decided to brand my product and named it after him,” he says pointing to Sangeeth.

Sangeeth handles the finances while Vineeth looks into marketing the product. Honey looks after the stitching units. “Most of my earliest employees are still with me. This is the result of the hard work we have put in. I have kept up my relations with my clients from the early days and they continue to trust me.”

Job is proof of the fact that a degree in business management does not necessarily make a successful business mantra. A Class-X pass, he makes up for it with other things that matter – valuing one’s employees and clients, taking responsibility for his product and being hands-on when comes to conducting business.

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