23 Aug 2022 3:16 PM GMT
‘The Aesthete’ is a weekly column by journalist and editor Namrata Zakaria, illuminating the best in Indian style and design.
Before there was talk of sustainability in Indian fashion and apparel businesses, there was No Nasties. The 100 percent organic cotton t-shirt (and now a full-fledged fashion) label was founded in 2011 by Apurva Kothari as a cri de coeur. Kothari, a software engineer, was living and working in the US for over 12 years when he chanced upon an article on India’s ‘Suicide Belt’. Cotton farmers in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka were taking their own lives as they couldn’t repay the loans they had taken for growing cotton, so cheap was its production and so poorly they were paid.
“I came back to India and started researching what to do. I read there were enough cooperative movements in place, and yet there was no support from Indians. Only foreign brands or reporters were interested in their lives and struggles. This is when I decided to bridge the divide between urban India and rural Bharat, where Indian consumers could support Indian farmers,” Kothari, 47, explains.
No Nasties started as a small t-shirt company, got itself certified from Fairtrade International – a worldwide organisation that licenses companies that pay fair wages to farmers. Fairtrade India didn’t even exist then. “We never set out to be an H&M and Zara, but wanted to be financially sustainable. Longevity of business means a larger impact,” he avers. Kothari worked out of his Santacruz bedroom for two years and with two interns. He started with an investment of Rs 20 lakh, and broke even in two years. Fast forward 10 years later, he now employs 10 people and even has a standalone store in a restored Portuguese house in Goa’s posh Assagaon area.
“It has French doors and a nice garden. We can even afford our own warehouse and a design team now,” he smiles. Last year, No Nasties clocked in Rs 3.5 crores. “But our goal is throwing a snowball and creating an avalanche. Sustainability needs to be simple and accessible to all, like the green dot/red dot on food packaging.” Importantly, No Nasties makes elegant simple basics, without the fast fashion story.
In 2011, sustainability was hardly a thing to worry about. There were no watchdogs or barely a spark of interest in consumers. “There were challenges of course, especially in our supply chain. Organic Fairtrade was built around the export number where they had enough numbers. It was nearly impossible to get a small production batch from factories. Most people would hang up on us. Or then my Winter collection would come out in Spring,” he laughs. Kothari finally found a partner is Rajlakshmi Cotton Mills in Kolkata that supported small businesses. And Chetna Organic Farmers Association, one of India’s largest organic farmer cooperatives. “Most organic farmers own an acre of land, depend on rain and depend on one order to see them through the season. The cooperative movement is thus imperative.”
Moreover, 11 years ago, barely any consumers understood what organic meant. Most confused natural fabric with organic fabric. “Now we know what organic is but we still don’t understand fairtrade. Carbon footprint was barely a discussion at all. Now I can see the conversation shifting,” he avers.
Kothari has spun the idea that fashion is the world’s greatest polluter on its head. He has begun a Planet Positive movement, which talks of offsetting carbon with every purchase. “We can’t not buy clothes, but we have to pay the price for our purchase. Once we can measure the impact of our purchase, we can minimise it, and then optimise the loss. If we create a t-shirt created of 5 kg of CO2, then we need to neutralise it by planting enough trees offset off 300 percent of the footprint. If we use up carbon, we reintroduce more carbon onto the planet,” he explains. No Nasties has already planted over 70,000 trees and offset over 1,66,000 kg carbon already.
They use no plastic in their buttons or packaging. In fact they are the first brand to have returnable packaging so they can use it over and over again. “It’s actually a cheaper business model to reverse shipping than to make new boxes,” he says.
No Nasties, though profitable, is still a challenge for Kothari. For starters, he has moved to Goa (without complaint I’m sure). “Small businesses force you to live in a small town. I’m a classic start-up story, so everything is cheaper in small towns,” he smiles.
Now that No Nasties is a full-fledged fashion brand, Kothari aims to take it beyond fashion too. “I want to introduce carbon neutral coffee, cosmetics, and food too. But it’s going to be a long journey,” he says of his fully-owned, self-funded company. “The more important thing is to inspire more people to follow suit.”
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