The world over companies are bio engineering textiles from waste pineapple leaves, cactus pulp, mushrooms, apples and other agricultural produce to create eco-friendly sustainable alternatives to leather. At home, in India, Malai Biomaterials has created fabric from agricultural waste sourced from the coconut industry for which they won the second edition of the Circular Design Challenge (CDC) at Lakme Fashion Week’s Spring/Summer 2020 edition in February.
Studio Beej is one of the first few brands in India to create bags
with these new-age materials. The brand is extremely vocal and transparent about their suppliers and manufacturing process so that consumers are not greenwashed into buying another fashion
accessory with an eco-friendly tag with no facts to prove its claim.
One of the fabrics that they work with is Pinatex, which is made from waste pineapple leaves. It is made with no additional use of water or toxic chemicals like in the leather industry, conserving the resources. It also provides another means of income to farmers. While the top of the water-resistant material is chemically treated, the lower layers of the fabric are biodegradable. Another fabric that they work with is cork and Desserto, a fabric made from cactus pulp.
Arundhati Kumar, Founder of Studio Beej, talks to LuxeBook
about creating a brand that is driven by sustainability.
How did you decide to start Studio Beej?
I come from a family of leather exporters. I completed my MBA
and became an HR professional. I have worked with many corporate houses, including the Taj Group. Last year, I decided to get into business, but didn’t want to work with leather. A trip to Prague with my daughter and close friends to celebrate my fortieth birthday made me realise that climate change was real – Prague was scorching at 40 degree Celsius! When I came back, I decided to start Studio Beej, an accessory brand that is sustainable from start to finish.
Tell us about the materials that you use.
I wanted my products to be sustainable across the supply chain,
so I began researching on alternative materials that fit the bill. I came across Pinatex. Made by Ananas Anam, it uses waste pineapple leaves to create a material that has a low environmental impact. It is vegan and cruelty-free. We also import material made from cactus pulp called Desserto from Mexico.
Currently, our bags are made from Pinatex and cork, which is sourced from Portugal where it is responsibly harvested. Our lining fabric comes from a very interesting weavers’ community outside Bengaluru called Khaloom. They recycle post-consumer-used yarn to create new fabrics. Our zippers from Japanese brand YKK are made from recycled PET plastic. We are slowly trying to replace other bits such as the boards for bag structure. These little design differences go a long way.
Our packaging can be reused. The bags come in a jute bag, which is placed in a box with a coconut coir base. We provide plant seeds so that you can turn the box into a micro garden.
How durable are the materials?
Cork is very durable, long lasting and maintaining it is simple. Pinatex has been around for three-four years. Ananas Anam has done a lot of research on its durability and longevity. In fact, I read that Skoda showcased two new SUVs – Vision IN and VW Taigun – in which they have replaced leather for the car seats with Pinatex at the Auto Expo in Delhi earlier this year.
How many bag designs do you have?
We went live in January 2020 with 15 different bags and wallets
in a couple of colours. We are constantly adding to it and plan to
design men’s accessories soon.
Was cost a concern while producing the bags?
Getting it right was more important than the cost. Pinatex is manufactured by only one company. There are no alternatives, so the cost is what it is. Anything that is recycled is costlier —recycled zippers and fabrics are five times more expensive.
One of the big challenges in the fashion world is greenwashing. Brands say they are sustainable, but when one reads the fine print, one realizes that only a small part is. We list our suppliers on our website and each material comes with the right certifications. We want people to ask questions and know what goes into the product. Our products are expensive, but also genuine.
Do you plan to source fabrics locally as well?
There are many sustainable fabrics available in India. As a country, we have a lot of traditional practices that are eco-friendly. I come from Bengal and conducted a lot of research in
the state. We are exploring Khesh, a material woven out of old cotton saris. The saris are torn into strips, turned into yarn and then rewoven. We are also testing Madur mats woven out of reeds.
Another company that we are in talks with is Malai Biomaterials. There is a lot to be explored in India. At the same time most of the cutting-edge research is happening outside the country. I am very conscious of the carbon footprints generated when importing materials. I want to offset this. I want to incorporate more Indian options into the range, but I will not stop using international fabrics altogether.
What is your definition of sustainability?
Everyone interprets it differently. For us, it was important, as a brand, to agree on what is sustainable. We don’t compromise on eco-friendly materials or our choice of certified partners.
Even when it comes to our choices of growth, we consciously chose to stay away from Amazon because they package products in tons of plastic. We are talking to other e-commerce platforms such as Tata Cliq and Nykaa to grow the brand.
What are your goals for 2020?
A large part of our job is to go out there and tell people why we are different. Creating and spreading awareness about the brand and the materials we use is our biggest goal right now. There is a mental block against expensive, non-leather materials.
Six months ago, I knew nothing about these fabrics, but today it is ingrained in my team because we have read so much and educated ourselves to get here. India will take time to catch up. Right now, the movement is on the side lines. We want more people to make similar products because then it will become mainstream.