Our next story in the Planet Pioneer Series is about a woman who is working towards giving a Second Life, to the pollution causing – Clothing Waste specifically Jeans Waste.
Approx 1000 liters of water and abundant chemicals are used in manufacturing Jeans. They are often discarded or donated before extracting their complete utility value. Yet it’s one of the most sturdy textiles and is available in abundance.
“dwij”, means second life (द्वि =Twice, ज =Born) in Sanskrit is a brand with a mission to manufacture and promote lifestyle products made from upcycled post consumer garments and post-industrial garment waste that would otherwise end up in the landfill. The product range includes backpacks, duffle, utility bags, handbags, jewelry, home decor, and other accessory products. Till date, dwij has upcycled more than 3500 pair of jeans, 500 m of post-industrial denim and manufactured more than 2800 bags.
Let’s find out what drove Soumya Kalluri to start Dwij Products.
Tell us about how you got the vision to start Dwij? What’s your story?
It has been quiet the roller-coaster. My background is in commercial vehicle technology from Germany and we were learning about life cycle assessment where sustainability is one of its core pillars. So, when we were doing the analysis of the carbon footprint for all these big companies, and the footprint of the life-cycle of the vehicles as well, I realised at the end of life, everyone is just assuming numbers and thinking someone somewhere is taking care of the metal being discarded. So, the companies were only worried about the accountability of what comes in their hand but not about what happens at the end of life. Rising interest in this brought me to up-cycling of manufacturing waste in Godrej. In Godrej, I took care of how the manufacturing waste could be made into valuable products, or integrated in other places. I was hired to do an analysis of the before and after of the carbon footprint they created. There I began researching about how sustainability needs to be seen in general. And I also started living a zero-waste lifestyle myself.
Researching for work and also as an eco-enthusiast, I learnt soon on how clothing industry is also impacting the planet with its copious amounts of waste problem and pollution, and mistreated labor workforce. Even in this industry, the people did not take accountability of what was happening at the end of life of resources being used. It really impacted me how an industry like fashion, that is clouded by the glamour in media, has such a huge dirty background. It reached a point where I really felt the need to start something of my own and make a difference.
What gave you the idea to jump into fashion lifestyle category as your preferred choice of products?
So making denim bags and purses was not our only goal at Dwij, we sought out to upcycle and create as many value added products as possible, because the main intention was to use waste material for the production of anything and create awareness about the waste problem. We are constantly thinking about how can we create a bigger impact over all. We started bags because it’s easier to connect to the customers with a simpler product at first. Going ahead we intend to work on a range of other materials too.
What has been some of your hurdles in setting up Dwij?
Our major sourcing is from the informal sector, so it’s very difficult to convince the chindiwalas and make them feel comfortable in trusting us. They have their own misconceptions exploitative employers, because they don’t see people like us coming to them and telling “ok we want to do business with you directly”. In the beginning it was difficult to win their trust, but now things have mostly settled. The journey of making our business truly fair trade wasn’t simple.
Second ongoing hurdle has been communication with the market. The moment you tell the public what your product is about, everyone is happy and appreciates the story. Whether they buy or not is secondary, the point does get conveyed. Sales is yet to pick up in a better way, since we haven’t invested enough in marketing yet. But we definitely believe that additional marketing and communications effort could help us to spread the idea and brand faster.
Do you believe customers have begun to shop for meaningful stories rather than just the product? What kind of market is attracted by your products?
Yes definitely. The moment they understand why we are doing it, and if they are also inclined towards environmental causes, they definitely buy our product. We also have repeat customers because that connection is built via the story behind our product. The educated conscious crowd definitely sees potential in us, and surprisingly even the elders have embraced our product. It’s all about telling them facts of what we do as a company. Without the story it’s just a regular denim bag to them. People have been shopping stories more than products.
What has been one of the best moments so far into your journey in Dwij?
I went to one retailer in Andheri, and was trying to convince them to stock my products in their shelves. The store was full of Chinese products which were very cheap and it was difficult to get across the point of what my products were about, as they felt no one would connect with my eco-conscious values. The man was blunt in the way he communicated, insulting the product and my intelligence for assuming this would even be considered by customers due to the higher expenses. I was a bit disappointed and came out of the store, but one girl ran after me and stopped me. She said she really liked what I tried explaining in the store about the products. She bought all my samples in one go.
What has been your motivation to keep going forward despite knowing it won’t be easy to make a quick buck when you work on sustainable products?
The main motivation to go on has always been the energy of the customers and the responses that we get when we make that connection. We always see that customers who connect always come back for more products and remember us. Our efforts are valued and appreciated, which gives us faith that we will grow.
What is your next milestone as a brand?
We don’t usually put such milestone goals as things have been growing for us organically at the moment. Secondly, the market for sustainable products and this type of business model is not tried and tested. But if I had to mention something I could say, convincing more brands to think about their process and help them with their textile waste would be our next milestone
What future do you see for lifestyle & accessory industry?
I really do feel that green revolution has started. Everyone in fashion industry is thinking about how to make their business and product more sustainable. As per my observations I strongly believe that if the customers become aware, it forces businesses to change and even overhaul their production systems to be more eco-conscious. It will be a community driven revolution.
Interview Curated by Mridula Joshi