On every second Sunday of the month, Yasodha M gets on a Government bus from her home in Avinashi to Gandhipuram carrying with her two bundles of organic cotton underwear to be sold at the Uzhavar Sandai at the Corporation Higher Secondary School in Vadakovai. She has been making these with her husband Muthukumar Swami for the past one year. “My son is allergic to chemical dyes. We started stitching clothes from unbleached and undyed organic cotton for him. Soon, we started getting orders from people,” she says, as she arranges piles of vests, briefs, slips, panties, bras and shorts on the veranda of the school.
Muthukumar is a textile graduate who has worked in the textile industry for 20 years before setting up his own knitting unit in Tirupur. “I was the manager in the firm I worked at and learnt about different processes from production to sales there. After a point, I felt that I should start something on my own. I started my unit under the name Sri Thumbai Tex seven years ago and we initially produced t shirts,” he says. It has only been one year since they made the shift to organic clothes.
Yasoda’s brother, Senthil Kumar is an organic farmer and he was instrumental in turning them into the organic way of life. “He has worked with agricultural scientist G Nammalvar for 10 years and what he told us was an eye opener. We changed our lifestyle and started to eat organic. We grew our own vegetables and fruits and began frequenting organic markets to buy our essentials,” says Yasodha.
Their next step was to bring it into their business. “We started with inner wear as it is the first layer of clothing that is in close contact with the skin,” she explains. Muthukumar buys organic cotton yarn from Tirupur to knit the fabric. It is then washed before tailoring to prevent shrinkage. “We tailor them in our home in Avinashi. The fabric is ironed before we bundle it for the markets,” Yasodha adds. Muthukumar claims that this is a sustainable model. “One kg of bleached and chemically dyed cotton requires 65 litres of water for its treatment. The water will be polluted and will end up in our soil and water bodies. On the other hand, if we skip this process all that is required is three litres of water and the waste water can go to the soil and it is not overloaded with chemicals,” he says.
Their first sale was at Tiruchi. “We took three bundles unsure how our products would be received. We only had men’s undewear, panties and vests. We were surprised that people liked them and we were sold out by the end of the day,” he adds. Over time, they added more products and now they have shorts, bras, baby dresses and slips. Vijaya R, a customer at the market, says, “My sister has a baby and I bought a pair of dresses for her last month here. Finding unbleached cotton is not easy and so I am here for more,” she says.
The duo has also participated in organic markets in Chennai and Hyderabad. “Awareness on sustainable clothes is still very low. There are people who ask us why our clothes look dull, and we explain to them that it is due to the natural colour of cotton. In such markets, we also get to know our customers directly and also understand what they need. We are now working on night wear,” says Yasodha.
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