When she was 8, my
daughter Kaajal came home from school and told us that plastic bags
were BAD and that we wouldn't have them in our home EVER. Stamped her
feet and got quite emphatic about it.
I was intrigued and thrilled that she had picked up on an issue and
was so concerned. We banned plastic bags from out home, first to
indulge her, but when I started reading about it I realised that she
was talking about a major issue; one that should concern all of us. I
was appalled at the amount of plastic the world was throwing away
problem than we can see
This plastic waste doesn't biodegrade so it either chokes landfill or
is swallowed by innocent animals and marine life who die ghastly
deaths because plastic is toxic and indigestible and choked their
digestive systems. This is no random occurrence; 10,000 fish die of
the coast of Greece every day, and this is happening all over the
So, what are YOU doing about it?
I decided to go
into business making reusable cloth bags. Today, we are proud to be
shipping cotton, jute and other fabric bags to folks all over the
world (see our line at http://www.badlani.com/bags).
But we're just one little company, and scale of the problem is
colossal. And the convenience of plastic bags is so high that they
will continue to be used, regardless of whatever we do.
So what then?
One evening, a while
ago, I spoke to my friend Prakash Vani (he's a most interesting guy
and a great joy to get into discussions with) about what plastic bags were doing
to our world.
Prakash is a product designer who's paid special
attention to learning about plastics. He's fond of the stuff and sees
it as a force for good, not to be wasted in the form of plastic bags.
He has an insatiable curiosity and a desire to try what has never been
attempted before. Makes him an interesting guy.
problem than we can see
The problem with
plastic bags is that you see them one at a time and it is difficult
for most people to imagine the thought of one million plastic bags
being discarded every minute, and just piling up.
So we kicked it around
until we evolved some ideas.
Prakash discussed it with
his friend Himadri Ghosh, who was at the time with the National
Institute of Design, who also got very turned on by the thought of
doing something and before long, he'd thrown in his hat. Himadri also
has the itch to try out new stuff, new methods all the time.
Apart from finding a use for discarded plastic bags, we gave ourselves
India is a country of many contrasts. Even as the educated younger
people are finding great opportunities in the IT and BPO sectors, and
as our GDP growth rate races ahead to try and match China's, we remain
by and large a poor country.
Millions of uneducated folks
who grew up learning traditional skills are today completely
disoriented by what is happening around them.
We're concerned about
this tragic sociological drama we see being played out, and we decided
to try and see if we could utilize the skills these people had to let
them add a gainful activity to their repertoire, especially as the raw
material is so cheap and therefore affordable even by those who have
precious little to invest in working capital.
The problem more closely defined
The problem is all these plastic bags lying around
doing colossal harm. So, why not find a use for them, we thought, why
not use them as a raw material from which poor, unemployed people can
make a living?
look at this awful stuff. That's the stuff we start with.
They are not going to
biodegrade. If we leave them around they will choke landfill or be
eaten by innocent animals and marine life and cause them immense
misery before they die from choked digestive systems.
Why not turn them into something useful?
And, if we can, let's keep it so simple that
it takes almost no investment in equipment and requires no
additional energy to be used so that the poorest of the poor can
work at this and get some gainful employment.
we add the painstaking effort of sincere and hard working
add the skill and innovativeness of people who the world used
to wonder at, people who made an art form of weaving.
These instincts and skills put India on the world map as the
erstwhile textile center of the world.
These looms used to
generate a livelihood for many families who had weaving running
through their blood, but faster and more efficient power driven
weaving devices have made these skills redundant. This experiment of
ours hopes to revive the utility of these looms for these
families, allowing them to use discarded plastic bags as the raw
material to make interesting products from.
These are proud
people, but rendered helplessly disoriented with changing
technology and the fact that they haven't been able to find their
place in the newly emerging environment. We hope you will join us
making them relevant to our needs again.
It's not just their
learned skills we hope to tap into. It's the finely honed
instincts, the pride and the dignity, and the sheer native
innovativeness of the people we've been fortunate to be born
amidst. So, history got them a wee bit lost. We hope to be able to
help them find their way again. They'll take it from there!
Much better than these
bags choking animals and marine life wouldn't you say?
Make them beautiful!
Look at this line of
handbags and totes for example.
They are great looking and immensely sturdy. Use them and use them
and abuse them and they will still last for years. Click on any of
these pictures to open a bigger
picture to see how attractive they are (this feature isn't here
yet. We'll have it up shortly). Here's another set of
Here's a close up of
the incredibly attractive texture of the incredible material that
results from this technique.
The very randomness of colours and
thicknesses combines to form an
unpredictable but unbelievably beautiful set of textures, colours
and surfaces that are almost organic in their development,
following nature's way of evolving diversity. There are no
patterns, no effort nor any attempts to be homogenous. Every
piece that emerges is going to be magical in it's uniqueness,
reflecting the diversity of materials and people who made it
When you contrast
what you see here with what you see in the first picture in the
previous column, you
can see what wonders can be performed when folks come together to
apply their skills to make the best use of whatever they have, be
it dilapidated old looms, or plastic junk you wouldn't touch with
a barge pole.
Now we need to tie up
with similarly minded folks to make this exercise commercially
viable. We'll soon have a series of propositions up to discuss
with you. Meanwhile, if you run into this story and would like to
discuss a thought, email me at rajiv @ badlani.com