Over the last couple of years sustainability, as a concept that can be commercialised, has been gathering prominence from many spheres of commerce. It has become rooted in multiple fields like tourism (eco-tourism), eco-businesses and more. Sustainable fashion in particular is not just limited to mighty fashion houses or exclusive designer labels now. Various e-commerce stores are doing their bid to promote eco fashion, and in doing so, gradually trying to make the nation a better place to live in. Among these burgeoning e-commerce ventures dabbling in eco fashion is The Co Company.
Launched in December 2015, The Co Company was founded with a very special aim at its heart. When co-founder Tejashree Bhanawala moved to Mumbai, she noticed how actual life lived in this city was greatly different from what was generally said about the city. “People usually migrate to cities for jobs and most importantly, for a better standard of living. But, every day on my way to work, I would see rickshawallas, local vendors – most of whom are migrants – and other such people and wonder, has their life changed for the better? Or has such a huge city just made it worse?” says Tejashree.
Between switching jobs, volunteering with various ecological projects and trying her hand at a range of NGOs, Tejashree finally found her calling. The idea, first suggested by her husband, a fashion photographer, was a perfect amalgamation of her skills and passion. “Since I have spent years studying IT, we thought of establishing an e-commerce website. We believed that it could be a wonderful way to support and uplift the underprivileged village communities, local artisans and in turn, also focus on the concept of sustainability,” she says. “There is an entire part of India that still remains completely unaware of sustainable fashion,” she adds.
The Co Company extensively focuses on reverse migration: encouraging more people to move back to villages. In motivating people to continue living in villages, the firm aims at long-term sustainability, generating income for the rural masses, preserving the cultural heritage, the conservation of natural resources and the reduction in carbon footprint. Since the organisation is dedicated to the betterment of people and working together towards an enlightened future, there couldn’t have been a better name (with the ‘Co’ in it standing for together) for the company.
Tejashree emphasises on the need of using indigenous instead of genetically modified cotton, since the entire process of growing the latter is extremely unsustainable. So, some products at The Co Company are made from Kala cotton – a pure, indigenous, Old World cotton of India. Further, Tejashree also talks about the advent of Ambar Charkha, a technologically advanced charkha, which is slowly replacing the original spinning wheel. The device runs on mechanical energy without the weaver touching the thread, while the beauty of the hand spun yarn lies in the varying pressure put on the thread.
So what does the future look like for sustainable fashion? “A few years later, chemical dyes will disappear and handloom will become a luxury only the rich will be able to afford. Today, it is still affordable because the weavers are not paid enough for their work,” she says.
Tejashree has visited over 50 villages in India and been associated with around 20 entities including weavers, master weavers, organisations, NGOs, middlemen and co-operatives. Clearly, the ride has been long and winding, but also humbling and fruitful for Tejashree. Along with receiving tremendous footfall from consumers both local and from across the country, The Co Company also receives five to six international orders per month.
From visiting the pockets and interiors of states like Gujarat and Orissa, fuelling inspiration in hesitant village artisans and coming up with some exquisite and unprecedented production techniques along the way, it has indeed been an unpredictably beautiful journey, more like a series of discovery for Tejashree Bhanawala and her monumental brainchild.
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