Consumer culture isn’t that bad if your shopping leaves the world a better place. These four brands make products that are high on quality, low on price, while also protecting the planet and uplifting the underprivileged.
TARAgram (Madhya Pradesh)
Looking for quirky homeware that also gives livelihood to hundreds of rural women? Look no further. Launched in 1995 by Development Alternatives, TARAgram is a platform that trains women from the Sahariya tribal community and other marginalized groups in Bundelkhand in Madhya Pradesh to become skilled artisans.
These women learn to make paper products that are sold under the brand name TARAgram in cities and online. Over the last two decades, TARAgram has become a profitable business that creates livelihoods and incomes, and is much sought-after by its urban customers – especially mothers looking to invest in sustainable and safe stationery for their children.
TARAgram paper and paper products are specially handcrafted after much hard work and quality control. One ton of TARAgram recycled rag paper saves three tons of wood and 100 cubic metres of water, giving us six trees.
They have also started supporting women weaver clusters, enabling them in all varieties of handloom techniques. Development Alternatives is the brainchild of award-winning environmentalist Dr Ashok Khosla, who holds a PhD in experimental physics from Harvard University.
Buy on: Amazon.in, select stores
Champa Aur Chinti (Odisha)
Founded by NIFT alumnus Siddartha Patnaik to promote Odisha’s rich heritage of sustainable handicrafts and handlooms, Champa Aur Chinti is a lifestyle label that fits well in contemporary urban homes.
Created with ethical fair-trade principles and based on a philosophy of cooperation, the products not only brighten up your home with their eclectic, cheerful designs but also support entire artisan communities with a source of livelihood.
Based in Bhubaneshwar, the brand’s forte is handloom textiles from Odisha’s Kotpad Mrigan community, Pipli appliqué and Patachitra art along with associated crafts like palm-leaf engraving, papier mache and wood carving.
The range includes high-end apparel for men, women and kids; fashion accessories; home furnishings; wall art and table linen. The products are developed with organic materials and designed keeping an urban clientele in mind. They are retailed through their own website, besides through exhibitions, trade shows and cultural festivals.
Buy on: Champaaurchinti.com
Last Forest (Tamil Nadu)
Their products tell stories of the forests of the Nilgiris, the wide variety of flora and fauna of Kotagiri and the traditions of the tribal groups who have lived there for centuries.
Last Forest is a profit-hybrid institution that was launched by the NGO Keystone Foundation to serve as a marketing platform to help indigenous groups and social enterprises in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. Their eco-development initiatives are designed to increase benefits for the tribal producers, generate employment and are fair trade certified.
They have a large range of products, their flagship item being wild honey from the Giant Rock Bee, collected using traditional methods by these indigenous communities. They also use ethically sourced beeswax in a large variety of personal care products like soaps and lip balm, and home-ware like beeswax wrappers as an eco-friendly, reusable alternative to aluminum foil.
Their production centres are built in villages inside the forest, and quality checks are done at the head office in Kotagiri, Tamil Nadu. Traditional techniques are combined with modern design and quality control procedures, and the enterprise has affected thousands of lives in the past 20 years. They retail online and offline through stores and exhibitions, and also take orders for corporate gifting.
Buy on: LastForest.in, Amazon.in, Green Shop stores (Ooty, Coonor, Kotagiri, Coimbatore)
Chhoti Si Asha (Punjab)
Registered in 2009 as a non-profit, social-driven enterprise, Chhoti Si Asha (CSA) makes trendy handbags, conference merchandise and home accessories. They use materials such as hand-printed cotton, jute, canvas, denim and leather. You can try their personal accessories such as jewellery, scarves, pouches, wallets and home accessories like pouffes, cushion covers, table mats, runners and coasters.
They have a range of over 200+ designs of handbags, which are retailed in India, USA and UK. Of late, they have also forayed into women’s wear. They supply conference merchandise to leading universities including Panjab University and Ashoka University.
As a fair-trade organization, they pay their workforce above-market wages, and re-plough 100% of their profits into growing the business and on community activities such as workshops on meditation, street theatre, hygiene and co-operative games.
CSA was founded by Gagan (Liza) Chawla, a former IT professional who had worked both in India and Silicon Valley with Fortune 500 companies. She and her husband quit their corporate jobs in 2005 and relocated from California to India to do things “closer to their heart”. Liza started Chhoti Si Asha with an objective to build sustainable livelihoods for underprivileged women living in slum communities of Chandigarh.
Buy on: Itokri.com, Shopo.com, Rhope.org, Greenthemap.com and People Tree retail store
This is part 2 of the “Love of the Earth’ series first published in the April 2018 issue of eShe magazine. Read it for free here or buy the print edition.
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