Life & Style

The business of slow

India is catching on to the idea of ‘slow marketing’ and mindfulness has gone mainstream

India is catching on to the idea of ‘slow marketing’ and mindfulness has gone mainstream   | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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How to cut through the clutter and jargon of ‘slow’ marketing and find authenticity in products and experiences

Can a cup of java send someone to college? Hollywood actor Hugh Jackman’s Laughing Man coffee company promises that every cup helps provide a college scholarship to someone in Columbia. How can you be certain that Laughing Man is delivering on its promise? Well, if you are new to ethical / sustainable / slow living (each distinct from the other), this is a maxim to follow: don’t just buy the product, ask questions. It might mean persistent phone calls and mails to brands till they tell you where, for instance, the organic cotton in their summer shift dresses is from. Or why there is more to a hotel’s certified green tag than organic bedlinen and a grey water collection system. You deserve answers.

Shantum Seth, Buddhist practitioner and an ordained teacher in the Zen tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, in Delhi

Shantum Seth, Buddhist practitioner and an ordained teacher in the Zen tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, in Delhi   | Photo Credit: Sephi Bergerson

‘Sustainable’ under the scanner

India, it appears, is slowly catching on to ‘slow’ marketing. After five years at Fairtrade India, CEO Abhishek Jani admits that for them, 2017 was the beginning of the tipping point. “We see more interest and traction in 2018. Customers want to understand the story of a product and where it has come from,” he observes. Fairtrade’s role in India is meant to empower small-scale farmers and workers marginalised by trade and Jani is noting a growing momentum. “Previously, no one would question environment and labour credentials,” he points out.

Now curious customers are asking the right questions, and cutting through the jargon and clutter on online forums. “For instance, terms like ‘sustainable’ are used loosely. Just because you are working with artisans doesn’t mean you are sustainable. People are getting behind this hypocrisy, and the conversation is only going to get louder,” says Jani, who has 16 active Indian Fairtrade brands selling across categories like Fashion (No Nasties, Huetrap, actor Milind Soman’s Deivee, etc), Tea (Makaibari), Snacks (Paperboat and Pascati) and Coffee (Black Baza). There is a strong millennial connect with such brands. “Going by their reaction to the Farmers’ March in New Delhi last month, they know that it is an urgent issue of our times,” he says, adding, “this is where we realise that millennials want stories that are relevant and are willing to pay for it.”

Shantum Seth’s cues to slow down
  • Mindfulness is the the faculty of awareness. Buddha taught it 2,600 years ago, during his first sermon in Sarnath. The West has researched it and found its extraordinary effect on different parts of the brain, through neuro-science.
  • My mantras
  • Telephone mantra meditation: I consciously don’t answer a call immediately. I wait for three rings. At the first ring, I stop what I am doing, whether it is walking, writing or talking. Next, the mind becomes a breathing mind, by my coming back to my breath. And with the third ring, I smile. Then I pick up the phone, present for the person calling. Incidentally, there is positive neurological effect when we smile. So the mantra is Stop, Breathe, Smile.
  • Hugging meditation with three breaths: The first breath is when we are aware that we are alive, with the second breath we become aware that the person we are hugging is alive, and the third breath is to be aware that we are both alive, and this is a precious moment.
  • Walking meditation: You usually walk to get somewhere. However, if we are aware only of the destination, we don’t stay attentive to the time we walk to get to the destination. It is helpful to slow down. We can link our body and our breath to our steps. As we become present, we become attentive to the miracle of walking. By focussing on the imprint of your foot to the earth, you are imprinting your presence.
  • Create moments of disconnect (to deal with tech overload): I have a bell of mindfulness, a meditation bell in the Zen tradition. I ring it and come back to the present, or get it to ring every half hour on my computer.

Beware of McMindfulness

And then there is the mainstreaming of “mindfulness”. Holiday packages, wellness experiences, even leadership programmes are getting on board and you can barely keep track of the apps fighting for real estate on your smartphones. “Mindfulness is the faculty of awareness. Buddha began practising it 2,600 years ago,” says Buddhist scholar and practitioner, Shantum Seth. “The West has picked it up and realised its extraordinary effect on parts of the brain. People are learning mindfulness and selling it like they would mathematics or something knowledge-based,” he continues.

An ordained teacher (Dharmacharya) in the Zen (Dhyana) lineage of the venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, Seth has been leading inter-faith, educational, cultural and spiritual journeys to diverse regions of India. ‘If you want to travel in India in all 11 directions (the Eleventh Direction being the direction within) journey mindfully with us’ says his website. From the Bodhgaya Retreat to the Kumbh Mela in February, to the ancient Buddhist monasteries of India in January 2020, his guided tours are in high demand.

“It is interesting that we had to come to slow life because of the fast life and speeding up that is courtesy the information age. That said, there is the sceptical side when it comes to ‘slow’ in retail, because marketing people always tend to sell froth and foam. Beware of McMindfulness. We have to be careful that it doesn’t become commodified,” he cautions, sharing his meditation mantras that are popular with both students and entrepreneurs (see box).

Eye on luxury

Mindfulness was the theme of Conde Nast’s Luxury Conference in Oman last year, where speakers included giants like Elie Saab and Ermenegildo Zegna’s Alessandro Sartori. Sartori referred to an experiment in his studio to find out how many hands touched the fabric and raw material of a suit: 250 people, 500 hands. “All these are artisans who are working for our company,” he told Vogue’s Suzy Menkes, the conference curator, highlighting how precious they were to the brand. You are now seeing this kind of commitment to artisans among Indian designers, too. Aneeth Arora, whose quiet luxury brand has devotees from Japan to Milan, showcases tailors like Ansar Ali on the Instagram account, @ilovepero. Pollachi’s Ethicus, with organic cotton from Kabini, has tags naming the designer and weaver behind every sari. “As consumers it is crucial that we seek specifics. We must understand the sustainability commitments made by the brands and what they mean,” concludes Fairtrade’s Jani.

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2020 2:24:26 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/the-business-of-slow/article25850420.ece

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