Saving our planet; one bag at a time

May 26, 2007

Looks like others also find Fair Trade expensive

Filed under: Environment — Kaajal @ 7:03 pm

Looks like others also find Fair Trade expensive

I just read a blog ( where the high cost of getting Fair Trade Certification is discussed.

The girl who wrote the blog – an American - seemed to think that companies should spend the money anyway because it is worth it. In many ways I agree with her and yet when I think of the reality around me, I wonder. For her, it would be impossible to appreciate the impact of the fact that one US dollar costs 41 Indian Rupees. 800 Euros a day to get the certification translates to around Rs.40,000 a day.

Earlier this afternoon I went to check on a small informal classroom at a friend’s home where she holds free classes for all the impoverished kinds from her neighboring areas where another friend of mine has agreed to go teach a skill that will help those kids learn crafts that will allow them to earn a livelihood in the future.

One day, when enough of them have learned and their skills developed perhaps we can have them make some products for us to offer visitors to our website.

This is what makes me think. That Rs.40,000 would allow such classes to be conducted for almost 3 months. That’s how much money it is here.

I’ve left a comment on her blog and hope to have a dialog with her.

Now, Green Fatigue sets in. Too much of a good thing?

Filed under: Branding, Environment — Kaajal @ 6:09 pm

Now, Green Fatigue sets in. Too much of a good thing?

I’m really happy that the environment is getting the attention it deserves but I can also easily appreciate why Green Fatigue could set in. Every little ecologically sensible move is accompanied by such a song and dance that people had to tune out.Action speaks louder than words and people respect it more. Giving away reusable fabric bags for instance.

Read a fascinating blog about Green Fatigue here

May 24, 2007

Can we afford a Fair Trade Certification?

Filed under: Branding, Environment — Kaajal @ 7:06 pm


A customer wrote to me asking whether we could offer a Fair Trade Certificate. I hadn’t heard of Fair Trade so I searched, read about it and discovered that it was a very powerful marketing medium and I was thrilled, until I wrote and asked how we could become members.

I found to my horror that it was restrictive – asking you to buy materials only from people they certify and expensive, it could cost 800 Euros a day to have someone come and sit in judgment on you.

I am proud that we run an extremely ethical organisation, not because some certification agency asks us to but because we enjoy being “good guys”. We offer way-above-excellent customer service (ask anyone who’s done business with us) again because it gives us joy and pride to do so, and we ensure that every stakeholder in our system is accorded the dignity he or she deserves. This also because we are humane people and want our people to feel part of it and proud to be part of an organisation that does right because it wants to not because it has to.

So, this is what I wrote back to my customer:

“You’re quite justified to ask. Many questions about the ethics and standards applied by Indian manufacturers are justified.

Due to the unfortunate ease of corrupting the government machinery set up to ensure ethical manufacturing practices, Indian industry has more than its share of shady types who employ child-labour and operate in suboptimal manufacturing conditions leading to a lack of credibility of all Indian manufacturers. So outside entities like Fair Trade and others have come up to ostensibly separate the good guys from the bad ones.

This leads to a piquant situation for some manufacturers. Us, for instance.

To become Fair Trade certified we’d have to agree to buy fabric only from companies on their approved list. That’s where the problem arises. None of the companies on their list make the fabrics we require. Also, many of the companies on their list are people I wouldn’t deal with. Reason? Very poor ethics. Clearly their certification isn’t done at very close range.

Then, because we’re in a dynamic and demanding business, we experiment all the time. Just last week, I went down to the river bed here in Ahmedabad where there were some folks working with waste yarn to make cords. These guys are the poorest of the poor, people who get kicked around and exploited because they don’t have the money to buy their own raw material.

Now I’m working on a plan to create a small fund that will remove this constraint and to expose them to the opportunities you, dear customer, make available to us. This will involve more than one small group of people who operate at very basic levels. People who will never have the time or the wherewithal or the knowledge to seek Fair Trade Certification.

So Fair Trade ain’t for us. Piquant isn’t it? We have the same objectives as Fair Trade – to provide opportunity for the poor and the exploited. Funnily getting Fair Trade Certification would prevent us from doing this.

I’m going to write to Fair Trade and ask them whether they can’t be more flexible.

They also need to find ways to allow more people to enter the system. While Fair Trade wishes to encourage smaller entities, their certification processes are barriers in themselves. To pay 800 Euros a day might seem affordable to get a certification may sound viable to Europeans, but out here 800 Euros translates to Rs.40,000 a day, more than a month’s turnover for some small scale enterprises.

So, I’m afraid this certification system isn’t working and I don’t believe we will be able to satisfy that requirement. But I’m going to write to them with my concerns and issues for sure. Maybe I’m making some wrong assumptions somewhere.

Meanwhile, you have seen for yourself that we run a very nice and humane little organisation where every individual is valued as an equal stakeholder (The picnic snaps are at where you’ll see that the relationship isn’t just work, work, work. Norquest is also about fun, fun, fun) and that includes every individual who works with us at any level. Just as we have evolved high standards of humanity and niceness where our working environment is concerned, we also have quality standards of our own which are far, far higher than any asked for by even the most stringent inspection agencies.

We don’t do this to gain any form of certification except the one that matters most, and that is our customer’s trust and respect. Similarly we work with very nice manufacturing practices because we know that mutual trust and respect allow us to produce to much better quality standards and those result in higher profitability and make complete and absolute business sense.

I am sure many buyers will, even after knowing this, insist on still buying from Fair Trade certified manufacturers. I know that they will do this not from any disrespect towards us, but just because they lack the time or the interest to go into the issues concerned and seek a quick answer to their ethical concerns.

That’s the risk we have to take. To be able to continue to service our existing customers with the kind of flexibility that allows us to offer the kinds of products we do, we will have to give up our chances with those customers who don’t know us and thus seek a Fair Trade certification. When it comes to choosing between the customers we have and new customers who may come in only if we get Fair Trade certification, we have no hesitation in making a choice.

You are more important to us. Far more important.


May 16, 2007

Green is coola than eva…

Filed under: Branding, Environment — Kaajal @ 5:02 pm

Green is coola than eva

Its so gratifying that after years of “selling” the idea of eco-friendly reusable bags to find myself in a position to look around me and find I don’t need to add anything to the attention the issue is already getting.

But some perspective does appear necessary.

Lloyd Kerry of Charlottetown in Canada supports the idea of using reusable grocery bags, but suggests they should be free, reports The Guardian.

Lloyd’s raised a fascinating issue, particularly from the marketing and branding perspectives. Reusable bags a must, yes. But what kind? Cheap ones or nice ones?

Today, most people are either already convinced or on their way to being convinced that plastic bags are an impractical and harmful way to take our shopping home and alternatives have to be found and used.

Some folks have tried to find the cheapest alternatives. This usually takes the form of a nonwoven polypropylene shopper that started being used in Australia and has quickly been adopted in many parts of the world (see this bag at

But the material this bag is made from polypropylene, a substance that isn’t biodegradable and is a burden on both, the earth and our limited oil supplies because it is made from a petroleum derivative.

Yes, it is reusable, but it isn’t very resistant to tear so it does come apart rather easily. Then you have to throw it away.

The other approach has been to revel in the pleasure of being right and to do it with style and aplomb by using well crafted and stitched cotton canvas and jute canvas bags. Yes, these are too expensive to be given away free, but the user derives so much more joy from using them, they feel so right, and also last so much longer than the cheaper polypropylene shoppers that these are actually a lot cheaper when you compare over a few months.You can read more about this on :

Many people don’t stop there – take Anya Hindmarch’s “I’m not a plastic bag” for instance. Launched at Sainsbury’s at £5 it immediately sold out and has now appeared on ebay at £200 plus.

Is it just the bag or the issue that is giving it its value?

There isn’t a simple, obvious answer available for that. The issue is becoming ever more complex as consumers begin to take more control over the marketplace and leverage their purchasing strength to make the market conform to their values.

Britain’s “ethical consumer” market was worth US$ 44 billion in 2003, according to researchers for American Express. The company estimates 1.5 million “conscience consumers” in the UK today, and expects four million by 2009.

“What we are seeing,” one researcher reported to Amex, “is a blurring of moral, social and lifestyle issues that is unprecedented. Brands can no longer separate their profits from how they make them.”

While 33% of British consumers in the survey identified themselves as “conscience consumers”, only 8% described themselves as “apolitical shoppers” who completely ignored the social implications of their consumption.

It’s a phenomenon savvy marketers are beginning to take note of.

The Daily Mail says that consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about the impact they’re having.

“Not so long ago, a good day’s shopping was represented by unbridled credit card abuse and armfuls of carrier bags — preferably glossy paper ones with smart rope handles. Today, shopping for the sheer pleasure of it is no longer enough. We want more than something new and pretty to take home - we want to know we made the world a better place by buying it and that the bag we’re carrying didn’t damage the environment”.

Carrying a visibly eco-friendly bag now has the kind of cachet that carrying an expensive designer bag does, that such concern puts you into the bracket of people like Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow and Julia Roberts.

Professor Gerald Zaltman has written a book called “How Customers Think: Essential Insights into the Mind of the Market”. That, as we all agree, is the Holy Grail. That’s where purchase decisions are made.

The trick, says Professor Zaltman, is to look for relevant, basic emotions that have been overlooked by other brands in the category.

Hmmm, you might think, as I did, what would be the relevant emotions my business could look for, stuff that my competition is overlooking?

An article by Professor Mukti Khaire answers our question. She believes growth comes from by developing intangible social resources such as legitimacy, status, and reputation.

Kind of answers the question, doesn’t it? Now what can you do that would confer these attributes to your business?

Plastic bags are doing untold harm to our planet and your stakeholders are fast becoming more aware of this. Making available reusable fabric bags in any manner – whether you give them away as premiums, distribute them at trade shows and events or even sell them at cost –will get you the positive image attributes Prof Khaire talks about.

Can a simple bag achieve this kind of impact? Ask yourself what YOU think of businesses that do a lot of common good even while promoting themselves. That will answer your question.

See what the big guys are doing: Unilever Group CEO Patrick Cescau believes the successful brands of will be those that not only satisfy consumers’ functional needs but also address concerns as citizens.

The group is developing a new process that enables a full analysis of social, economic and environmental issues relevant to each brand to be built into brand innovation and development strategies. Unilever terms it as ‘Brand Imprint’, which is being piloted with a number of its key brands.

Clearly, the time to act is here.

Thomas L. Friedman, world affairs correspondent for the New York Times and author of the book “The World is Flat” recently said that if he were the editor of Time magazine, his year ending cover would be a green colored one which says “Colour of the Year”.

He believes we reached the tipping point this year, and that green issues are now totally and irrevocably mainstream. Wal-Mart, in addition to using green to improve its image, also finds that being more energy efficient is highly profitable for itself and its customers. Politicians no longer consider green issues of interest only to elite audiences.

Now living, acting, designing, investing and manufacturing green has come to be understood by a critical mass of citizens, entrepreneurs and officials as the most patriotic, capitalistic, geopolitical, healthy and competitive thing they could do.

Politicians agree. Peter Ainsworth, Britain’s Shadow Environment Secretary for example.

Here are some numbers Peter quotes to make his point: “2006 was the year that consumers spent more on ethical goods than on beer and cigarettes - £29 billion on consumer goods alone.

So business, consumers and government appear, for the first time, to be getting serious about sustainability. Political parties of all colours raced to out green each other. We are genuinely at a tipping point”.

The Financial Times, London in a recent article quote the heads of AMV BBDO, JWT, Ogilvy, RKCR/Y&R and Saatchi & Saatchi as saying they believe green advertising will grow in the next 12 months.

Lee Daley, chairman and chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi UK, said: “Brands will not be able to opt out of this. Companies which do not live by a green protocol will be financially damaged because consumers will punish them. In the longer term, I do not think they will survive.”

But they sound a cautionary note. They warn companies against “rushing in” and exaggerating their environmental commitments, if they cannot substantiate them.

That’s why giving away reusable fabric bags is such a great idea. The medium itself substantiates your claim. Reinforces my belief that reusable fabric bags, particularly cotton or jute shopping bags, constitute one of the most cost effective advertising and promotional media in the world today. Just look at our line up of bags on our website and check out the prices.

May 4, 2007

Thank you, Anya Hindmarch!

Filed under: Branding, Environment — Kaajal @ 2:15 pm

Anya Hindmarch makes a sensible point with her bags.

Designer Anya Hindmarch put her signature onto a cotton canvas bag that said I’m not a plastic bag and they were a sellout at Sainsbury’s. When stocks ran out they were on Ebay at £200. I believe they’ve settled down at £50.

For those interested in owning a designer bag, the Anya Hindmarch name is what its all about, but there are hundreds of thousands of other people who laud her making plastic an issue and drawing attention to it in this graceful manner.

For them, we have a vast variety of environmentally friendly reusable cloth bags at priced for little more than a smile.

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