On the occasion of International Women’s Day 2023, Outlook Planet catches up with start-ups high on sustainability when it comes to women’s products like garments, accessories, jewellery or cosmetics
The gender emission gap is set to widen. More and more start-ups are focussing exclusively on green products for women to turn climate challenges into environmentally correct business opportunities. These innovative products range from garments made of hemp or cannabis fibres, alternative leather bags crafted from pineapple leaf fibres, upcycled jewellery and vegan cosmetics to sanitary pads made of banana stalks and biodegradable menstrual cups.
Women are known to cause fewer emissions than men, according to a study conducted in Sweden and published in the ‘Journal for Industrial Ecology’. It was found that men emit 16% more Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) than women. The study observations that women’s expenses go mostly into decoration, health and clothes and men’s spending goes more into fuel, eating out, alcohol and tobacco hold true universally. With more green products for women, men’s contribution to emissions may increase more.
Irrespective of the fact whether Indian start-ups have the benefit of such findings or not, they are joining the green bandwagon. Surat-based start-up CanvaLoop uses proprietary technology to turn agriculture waste from banana, pineapple, nettle or cannabis into alternative textile fibres and manufacture what they call slow jeans. Founder Shreyans Kokra, an entrepreneurship alumnus from Babson F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business, says, “Our process is completely solvent-free and all the bio-chemicals we use are non-hazardous to the environment. We have a closed loop with zero liquid discharge system where we completely recycle the water used.” CanvaLoop claims to save 3,500 litres of water for every pair of jeans.
Talking about the Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) at CanvaLoop, Kokra adds, “Apart from saving water, there is a reduction of carbon dioxide emissions and energy consumption.” Such innovations assume importance since 4% of the global emissions are caused by the fashion industry, according to the ‘State of Fashion 2022’ report by McKinsey and Company.
To curtail wastage and unsold stocks, Delhi-based Tamarind Chutney, a feminist sustainable clothing start-up founded by Tanvi Bikhchandani from Columbia University and Charanya Shekar from National Institute of Fashion Technology, produces numbered pieces with fabrics sourced from artisan communities. Their products include sarees, dresses and other apparels. Bikhchandani says, “Aim is to be sustainable in every aspect of our production, starting from the type of fabric we source, what we do with the fabric waste and how we send out the product to the consumer.” Fabrics are dyed with vegetable dyes instead of chemicals.
Bikhchandani adds, “We try to stay away from plastic accessories. Instead of plastic, we make buttons from coconut shells and corozo nut, which has a more formal look to it.” Recycled paper is used for packaging, which is in keeping with times when single-use plastic has been banned. The start-up does not use aviation for transportation. Civil aviation contributes 6% of the GHG emissions, according to Third Biennial Update Report (BUR3) submitted by India to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Out of the many accessories, leather bags are most commonly used by women. Beej is making bags from alternative leather materials like Pinatex leather, which is derived from pineapple plants. The leaves of the plant are water resistant and biodegradable. The use of human powered handlooms for weaving instead of machines also causes less carbon emissions. The leather industry contributes 0.58% of carbon dioxide emissions in India, according to BUR3.
Mumbai-based Founder Arundhati Kumar says, “What I like about these materials is their low impact, circularity as well as how versatile they are. They allow you to create high quality and stylish alternatives to leather”. As opposed to conventional leather products, Pinatex products are cruelty-free, leave less water footprint and are semi-biodegradable. The discarded leather waste is also upcycled as part of their overall product. However, the alternative leather is expensive. Kumar says, “On an average bioleather is two to four times more expensive than high quality leather. Bio-materials use polymers and eco-friendly dyes to minimise environmental impact, which add to manufacturing costs.”
Understandably, the start-up focus is also on green makeup products. Mumbai-based Asa Beauty follows what they call a clean awakening philosophy of mindfulness not just at an individual level but for the larger good of the planet. Founders mother and daughter-in-law Asha and Sukriti Jindal Khaitan, who is an economics and psychology alum from New York University, say, “Asa was created to redefine the way luxury makeup is seen in India. Our philosophy is about making beauty more than just a gratifying experience. It is about following the ideals of conscious consumerism and paying close attention to our social impact.” Products are cruelty free, vegan and 92% natural.
The founders say, “Our aim is to lessen the scarring impact that the beauty and skincare industry leaves on the environment in terms of carbon footprint. We decided to develop refillable and recyclable products to reduce our contribution to waste. All the packaging has been specially engineered made out of aluminium following a refillable model.” Such models are useful to check the menace of waste caused by personal care and cosmetics products.
Mumbai-based Refash set up by Akanksha Kaila Akashi, an alum of the University of Arts London, has ventured into jewellery. Refash upcycles leftover material from fashion and export houses like silk, jute and cowrie shells into jewellery pieces. They also use natural colours instead of chemicals. Given that the conventional jewellery industry uses chemicals and mining of precious metals causes pollution, Refash is contributing in more ways than one to circular economy.
In the personal hygiene arena, Gujarat-based Saathi Pads follows zero waste production approach and uses agriculture waste like banana stalks and bamboo fibre for making sanitary pads. Regular plastic sanitary pads take more than 500 years to decompose. Their pads decompose 1,200 times faster. Says co-founder Kristin Kagetsu, an alum of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “We want to drive systemic change around how menstrual hygiene is addressed and thus drive a shift to a circular economy. We eliminate 60 kg of pad waste per woman in her lifetime. Since the pads are compostable and plastic-free, we can also provide plastic avoidance credits.” She adds, “Working at the intersection of health and sustainability, we measure our impact according to nine of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”
Similarly, reusable menstrual cups from Heyday Natural Care set up by Columbia University alum Deepanjali uses medical grade silicone or Bisphenol A or BPA-free silicone that lasts for eight years. Unlike plastic sanitary waste it does not add to emissions. It is biodegradable and simply turns into ashes. Besides, Heyday products are packed in soy coated paper boxes that are easy to decompose.
The list of such start-ups is ever growing to take on the challenge of climate change. The more, the better.