Today marks the beginning of Navratri, a festival that celebrates the strength and power of the warrior goddess. In reality, we don’t need to look far to encounter the divine feminine. Everywhere, we see examples of gorgeous and powerful women who embody the spirit of the goddess. This year, we’re celebrating by shining the spotlight on nine modern, empowered women who are paving the way for the green future of the next generation.
While travelling through the country I started interviewing them and spent most of my time in Varanasi, conversing with them. Our chats were filled with empowerment, passion, dreams, and compassion. They are visionaries who have a strong focus on sustainability and they run their businesses with the ethics and values born of a deep sensitivity towards humanity’s future.
Now, I’ve journeyed on to Kolkata, just in time for Durga Puja. As the city becomes positively abuzz with joy, excitement, and promise, I write the snippets of my conversation with these inspiring social entrepreneurs, who are leading by example and making the world a better place.
Ever since Industrialization, our lifestyle is driven by convenience and consumerism rather than consciousness and sustainability. Before we lose hope and wrap our fates in single-use plastic, we need to look at these 9 powerful women – Hustlers with a vision, warriors of sustainability and champions of a better world.
For the next 9 days, we’ll feature an inspiring entrepreneur and her journey towards a better future. Scroll to read about our numero uno.
Bhagyashree Patwardhan feels that India’s rich, traditional design aesthetic needs a contemporary makeover and we quite agree. She runs Paper Boat Collective, a sustainable concept store that showcases diverse handmade products that portray a responsible and contemporary India.
As we conversed about the importance of sustainability in her life and business, we couldn’t help but be inspired by her drive and commitment towards leading a responsible life. She stands strong in the face of adversity – unbowed, unbent and unbroken.
MY COLLEGE NICKNAME WAS DUSTBIN
I come from a design background and have worked in design for several years in different areas. After my Masters from National Institute of Design, I worked across different industries and profiles – From retail, design, branding to even running my own company. Throughout my career, I kept collecting bits and pieces of things I would like to bring together. Since 16, I’ve been involved in a lot of environmental education with kids.
In college, people used to call me Dustbin because I would collect everyone’s trash, put it in my pocket and make sure that it’s properly disposed of. So making conscious and organic choices is deeply rooted in my lifestyle. While I continued working, I realized that I couldn’t add more clutter and undertake any project unless my heart and conscience say it’s the right thing to do. All these things came together with my skill set which was creating new products, styling, how I see and interpret things and how I tell a story.
I moved to Goa from Mumbai about 8 years ago after realizing I need to do something on my own. In January 2013, I launched Paper Boat collective. It’s a design store for everyday, handmade objects that are curated with untapped resources of artisans and design talents in India. Paper boat Collective, as a platform, showcases them in the right manner and context and gives it the attention it deserves.
NATURAL, HANDCRAFTED BY MODERN INDIAN DESIGN TALENT
We were one of the pioneers to work towards a conscious business. For me, we had to be building towards being sustainable and organic. In today’s world, it’s very difficult to be 100% organic but the ethos of Paper Boat has never been compromised.
Everything that we showcase is natural, handcrafted and made by upcoming young talents in the contemporary, Indian design scene. The designers and craftsmen we work with adopt indigenous skills and simple production techniques. As we grow, we are gearing to take it up a notch. As the years go by, we hope to continue to raise the standards of our organic and sustainable practices.
THE FIRST THING WE EVER MADE WAS A PAPERBOAT
As a kid, one of the first things you make, by hand, is usually a paper boat. You put all your love into making it and then you let it go. This simple act of creation is the same way we look at creating our products, hence the name Paper Boat collective. Our renditions are simplistic, stylized and it fits into the model of contextual living of Indians today. Context is particularly important as even though we have a great history of traditional arts and crafts, it’s not adaptable to our current lifestyle in its original style. They are irrelevant from a monetary and aesthetic perspective but there’s great scope to reinvent it in a contemporary context and yet keep it simple.
Our vision reflects in all aspects of how we run our business as well. Our plus points are our customers, our suppliers, with how we bill, how we package, how we represent ourselves, everything had to be on the similar sort of level and standard.
SUSTAINABLE LIFESTYLE IS MISTAKEN FOR AN ELITIST MOVEMENT
The movement started off more elitist because you have to have a certain mind space to think about these sorts of things and a more educated and responsible outlook.
If you keep that aside and look at how we used to live in India, about 30 years ago, you see evidence of a more organic lifestyle. Somewhere, in the past few decades easy, cheap and fast took over. If sustainable and organic practices were rampant and not just used by a select few, they wouldn’t be so expensive. If farming or other organic practices were running with the same parameters that industrialization did, then we could see an immediate impact on the cost of the products. In fact, that’s the reason why plastic is so cheap today, it’s all about the manufacturing process.
That’s one side of it, the other side is being able to see a product or service’s true value. It’s not about buying more, but to buy good quality products that you need. So, if you compare buying 5 items from a cheaper brand say for Rs. 300 or Rs. 500 with a 6 month shelf-life against buying something that is Rs. 3000rs but lasts 3 years, then it has good value. Essentially you’re buying and throwing away less and getting more value for your money.
THE KEY VALUE OF SMALL BUSINESS IS INDIVIDUALITY
Another key value which small businesses bring is individuality. As a business, we thrive on our individuality and we try to promote that through our audience as well. If you buy something expensive from a big brand, chances are you find 300 people wearing the exact same thing. With brands like us, you’ll end up with an exclusive, uniquely-handcrafted piece, for the same amount of money.
THE SLOW MOVEMENT, #SLOWLIVING
It’s all about the mindset which I am happy to see a steady change in as I hear more people talking about organic and sustainable products, especially the middle class of our society, which is where actual change takes place. If more and more people visit even 20 of these stores, they won’t visit chain stores anymore. Then chain stores are going to have to look at these small businesses, see how they can advocate and collaborate and bring their customers back. They have to change their viewpoint because the mass outlook is not going to work anymore.
About 30 years ago in Europe, they started the Slow Food movement where they advocated growing food which was more conscious and also cooking more consciously. Historically, this is something we used to do, when your grandparents or parents spoke about how food should be cooked, bought and eaten as a family.
The Slow movement, gradually, spread across other aspects of life where you pause and take some time and allow your conscience to dictate what is good for you and only then take action. That is Slow Living. It’s basically a more conscious, heartfelt and feeling-driven life. You can look at ‘slow’ in other aspects as well, like how you create products. When it comes to production, there are weavers and artisans working on your product with their bare hands and not machines so the whole art of it is slow. It’s a well-thought out and integrated process which takes effort and feeling to create.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE EXPERIENCE
My store is designed as an experience, it’s designed for you to actually feel and take in everything. You have to be here, get involved with the product and then decide to bring it into your life and that holds real meaning. It’s all about the experience, which is what remains while products come and go. My business indulges you in an experience across all sensory points. The store is planned as a visual delight, you can touch and get the feel of the garment, there’s a certain pleasant fragrance that helps you in engaging with the products. A curated playlist gives you company and when you pop in a piece of sweet on the table, then you engage with taste. Through these sensory levels, the store interaction is a holistic experience and stays with you far longer than the courier at your doorstep – the delight factor is far higher.
Ethical means the cotton has to grow in a certain way; the farmers should be paid fairly, no child labour, making the product with certain production specifications, sustainable working environment and using organic dyes and less chemicals. All these factors involved in production, make it ethical. You are not harming anyone in the process or causing intentional damage while being sensitive and considerate of everyone involved in the process. This comes back to being conscious as an entrepreneur because when you’re conscious, it means you’re paying attention.
YOU HAVE TO STICK TO WHAT YOU BELIEVE IN, ONLY THEN WILL IT HAPPEN
When you try to run a conscious business which has a more ethical undertaking, you have to be very strong and stick to your belief system and build on that philosophy because the market is very tough. It doesn’t allow you to do that unless you are determined. It gives you many opportunities to let go because you have to sustain at the end of the day which is very difficult. You have to stick to what believe in, only then will it happen. There will be difficulties and days when it will be super hard but you cannot give up. And honestly, if you stick to your values then the consumer will see it too. They feel the energy of what you are trying to say and that way the conversion of the consumer is not very difficult. The same goes for all the people involved in making the product, if they believe in the work that they are doing then they are happy.
Bhagyashree’s simple style and sharp ideas are inspiring to us and her ruthless determination to keep following her heart and do right by her conscience is extremely motivating. If everyone runs their business with a happiness quotient rather than a financial one, we will see a different and permanent kind of progress. Bhagyashree’s work can be seen at www.paperboatcollective.in and on Instagram @paperboatcollective. You can also visit her store at Sangolda, Goa.