After a 14-year stint as a finance professional abroad, Meera Thampan returned to Kerala intending to indulge in a business along with her sister-in-law Meenakshi Menon that promised her a decent income to support a medical charity and at the same time shape an eco-friendly business model for conserving nature.
That thought shaped the enterprise Namaskriti at Irinjalakuda near Thrissur, which creates custom-made jute bags, reusable sanitary pads and bags out of used cloths. The upcycling model, apart from drawing on the taste and demand of the customers also makes files, folders and pouches, which are entirely plastic-free.
Meera spoke to Onmanorama on the details of her business, her craving for a waste-free environment, and her vision of a nature-friendly human life on earth.
It is a tailoring enterprise where creativity meets environmental consciousness. The unit founded by Meera Thampan has five women employees. It makes jute bags, cloth bags, folders, and reusable sanitary pads. Except for jute bags, all products are made of discarded clothes. "Each item is a customised product and hence unique," says Meera. "We don't make and stock items in one particular design. But, yes when there is a demand for bulk items in a particular design, for example for a seminar or conference, we make bags or folders of uniform design."
How it all began
The enterprise was launched as a means to fund a charitable trust named after Meera's father. "The K R Thampan Smaraka Trust is basically into medical charity. When there was a shortage of funds, we planned to start a business that can support the trust financially. It was the time when the ban on plastic was in place. So we started with a material called GSM for making bags. There was minimal plastic content in it and the products could be reused. But, later that didn't work out and we shifted to making cloth and jute bags to completely avoid plastic.
The main item of Namaskriti is jute bags. All types of jute bags are made of natural jute, jute cotton, laminate jute and Oxford jute, among others. Fancy bags for women, sling bags, make-up bags, dancers' costume bags, bags for men, traveling bags, files, folders, etc. are made at Namaskriti. Most of the bags are made as per the demand. "People who approach us usually bring their samples of designs," says Meera.
Speaking about why she preferred jute over other materials, Mera says, "Jute is a very flexible material. It's very natural, unlike plastic or rexine. Besides, jute is very beautiful. You do not need to add anything more to beautify it. With some minor embellishments, it becomes exquisite." According to Meera, jute products are in great demand. "Earlier, when we had to source it from Kerala the cost of production was high, but later, when we were able to get it in bulk quantities from Tamil Nadu we're able to offer products at competitive rates," she says.
The making of reusable sanitary pads was Namaskriti's early successful experiment. "I have a fixed clientele and the products are moving satisfactorily. The pad is completely plastic-free. We don't use the PUL material, which is generally used as the leak-proof layer in the sanitary pads available in the market. Instead, we keep natural rubber as the leak-proof material. This means we can keep reusing the pads after washing them for even a year. Our pads help in waste management considerably since pads from stores generally create a huge waste problem in the households as they can't be discarded like other wastes," says Meera.
Despite the growing popularity of Namaskriti products, Meera and her associates haven't thought of branding them. They are satisfied with their steady customer base. The products are not even labelled. "I haven't created any brand as such. I can make bags out of whatever clothes you give me, whether it's torn shirt, jeans, or whatever," she says laughing. "That's what gives me a sense of satisfaction." People mostly bring old clothes, like a gifted sari or a shirt, which they are unable to use anymore but are too dear to discard." So Meera designs each of the bags according to the material and the customer's emotional attachment to the clothes.
Men sometimes take trousers to Namaskriti to make shopping bags. These shopping bags are a good means to avoid the plastic carry bag culture. Meera also has a trick to overcome forgetfulness of taking a shopping bag as people often shop while returning from work. She makes a key-chain ball inside. "You don't forget your car's key, right? So the bag will remain attached to your key," Meera quips.
The products are marketed mainly online. They are sold from the tailoring unit as well. "The Namaskriti bags are promoted through online women entrepreneurs groups like Queens Business Global (QBG) of which I am a member and also the clients contact me through social media," says Meera.
Need for a change in attitude
Meera says people need to undergo some drastic change in their mindsets. Two things are very important - one is the sense of conserving nature. Next is being proud, not ashamed, of going nature's way like carrying a shopping bag and so on. "Usually, middle-aged women are averse to using cloth pads but new-generation girls are willing to accept them. Also, people are ashamed to carry a vessel to buy parcels from the hotel. Before blaming the government or the local administration, we should first admit our part in the piling up of garbage around us. What happened in Brahmapuram should be an eye-opener," she says.
"Each of us should ensure that we discard the least waste from our homes. I can say with conviction that the least amount of waste is dumped on my house premises," says Meera. "It's high time the government and people come together and do something urgently to arrest the waste menace before things get out of hand," she adds.
Meera's husband Dinesh Nair works in Dubai and their son Achuthan is pursuing a BA degree from Christ University in Bengaluru. Her mother, Meenakshi Thampan, is a former MLA from Kodungallur (1991-1996 and 1996-2001).