Yellow fervour

Manjapai Krishnan of The Yellow Bag, says eco friendly cloth bags are much more than mass utility products

Published - August 03, 2018 04:51 pm IST - MADURAI:

“In 2012, all it took was a single visit to the supermarket for the dustbin at home to overflow with use-and-throw plastic covers. Now, the bin for plastics gets filled only once in three months,” says Krishnan N Subramanian, better known as 'Manjapai Krishnan', who runs the initiative The Yellow Bag. “I brought about a conscious change in my lifestyle and started carrying cloth bags wherever I went. Still, it took a long time to avoid plastic bags entirely. It's easier said than done.”

Subramanian remembers how he carried cloth bags of various sizes to the grocery stores on East Masi Street as a child. “There were separate bags for rice, dal, sugar and vegetables, which were in turn placed inside a big bag. And the shopkeeper would skilfully make perfect pottalams of few grams to over five kilos, with just newspaper and some jute twine,” he says. “It was a habit to tuck a manjapai under the arm while stepping out of the house. Later, the practice was looked down upon. Even in the movies, the yellow cloth bag was associated with naive village folk. That sort of made many move away from the manjapai .”

In an effort to revive cloth bags, Subramanian started The Yellow Bag five years ago, as a home-run unit with just two tailors. Today, the unit in Madurai's Madichiyam area engages over 100 women in making cloth bags from kora cotton fabric. They cater to retail and bulk orders of over 1,00,000 bags a month, across the country apart from supplying bags for events abroad. In the Chithirai festival this year, he distributed around 500 cloth bags with a printed image of Goddess Meenakshi, among shopkeepers and devotees. “Along with few like-minded friends, we are working towards making the annual festival a zero-waste event and cloth bags is a step towards it.”

The ban on plastics so far concentrated only on promotion but little was done towards implementation, but the recent announcement by the State Government to phase out plastics by January 2019 sounds hopeful, says Subramanian. “Resident associations, small vendors and big textile showrooms in the city have already placed orders for cloth bags. Even the non-woven kattapai or traditional big shopper bags are being replaced with cloth-made shopping bags and it's a welcome change,” he says.

The Yellow Bag currently manufactures a wide range of customised and mass-produced kora bags of various sizes and designs, starting from ₹7 to 40. “We specialise in customisation, mostly for events organised by environmental organisations. For instance, we have been supplying for an annual eco-friendly trek in Dharamsala. That way, cloth bags are still largely a movement-based message than a regular utility product.” says Subramanian. “It's an evolving market and there's innovation happening in the pricing, fabric and tailoring factors. In places like Tirupur, Palladam and Sulur from where we procure the kora fabric, mills have started industrial manufacture of cloth bags. But, we want to keep them as handmade products so that the bags can also have a positive social impact apart from an environmental impact.”

“We avoid dyeing the bags as we believe that it is a polluting process. We restrict ourselves to just screen-printing a minimal logo or message as per requirement. Though the primary objective is to shun plastics, chemically dyed non-woven cannot be a green alternative. We want to keep it as earthy as possible,” says Subramanian, who has now launched an exclusive line of naturally-dyed cloth bags. “There are eight designs that we have come up with including lunch bags, shopping and handbags, targeting an environmentally conscious niche market, that doesn't mind going the extra mile to grab an eco-friendly product. The colour choices are limited as natural dyes are not so varied and the pricing is also higher compared to the kora bags.”

An additional eight varieties form a line of up-cycled bags made from in-house fabric wastages. “The idea is to cater to different segments of people and bring in an element of eco-consciousness to it. Recycling and minimal wastage also go hand-in-hand with the plastic ban and there are people who are for it. We are also collaborating with organisations across the country to come up with innovative products against plastic. The next set of bags will be to promote indigenous fabric crafts including block printing and hand embroidery on cloth bags, so that we add more aesthetics to a utility product.”

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