Nandan Bhat is the founder of EcoKaari, which upcycles 2 lakh waste single-use plastic pieces to make beautiful eco-friendly fashion accessories and other products.
The name EcoKaari is a combination of the word ‘Eco’ from eco-friendly and ‘Kaari’ from the Hindi word Kaarigar, which means artisan.
EcoKaari has one centre at present and aims to have 100 centres across the country by 2025.
Nandan Bhat, the Founder of Ecokaari, a social enterprise focused on the twin objectives of environmental conservation and empowering women and youth, is a man on a mission.
Nandan quit a cushy job with a large media conglomerate to set up Ecokaari, which upcycles single-use plastic waste and converts it into beautiful bags, pouches, and other products.
“EcoKaari has two missions. The first is to help in environmental conservation by upcycling single-use plastic bags such as chips packets, gift wrappers, carry bags, etc. The second is to empower women and youth from humble backgrounds by providing them livelihood opportunities,” says Nandan, who founded the startup in September 2020.
Even the name EcoKaari is a combination of the word ‘Eco’ from eco-friendly and ‘Kaari’ from the Hindi word Kaarigar, which means artisan.
EcoKaari collects plastic waste, which goes through an elaborate cleaning and sanitisation process. The plastic is cut into strips and rolled on a traditional wooden spindle (charkha). It is then woven into fabric on a handloom, followed by designing and stitching the fabric into unique eco-friendly fashion accessories, handbags, home decor items, laptop bags, planters, tissue holders, and many more products. EcoKaari presently upcycles 2 lakh waste plastic pieces a month.
Ironically, the single-use plastic waste that Nandan came across while trekking in the Himalayas and other places with friends inspired him to establish EcoKaari.
“Many beautiful spots had become garbage spots because of constant dumping. While plastic and glass bottles were collected, single-use plastic bags were mostly left as it is since they would fetch hardly any money. I wanted to do something to address this problem, and this is how the idea of EcoKaari was born. Later, we expanded the idea also to include livelihood generation,” he recalls.
“Our entire process is manual, right from waste collection to making the final products. There is no need for electricity or any heavy machinery at any stage, and the centres can be easily set up even in the remotest places. We will be able to upcycle two crore waste pieces a month when we reach our goal, and that is the kind of impact we want to create,” says the young entrepreneur.
Nandan believes each EcoKaari centre can provide livelihood opportunities to 50 artisans, which means 100 centres would be in a position to support 5,000 artisans.
“We aim to give a fillip to our traditional weaving arts. We are also focusing on innovating and presenting sustainable alternatives by pairing traditional Indian crafts with our upcycled handcrafted fabrics with contemporary designs,” says Nandan, who hails from Kashmir and spent many years in migrant camps in Jammu after his family migrated in the face of the rising insurgency. His family was in the apple business but had to leave everything behind and make a fresh start in camps.
Nandan shifted to Mumbai in 1998 to pursue engineering. Later, he also earned an MBA in marketing from Pune. He worked with Satyam Infoway, Tata Indicom, Big Bazaar and was working with Sony India before founding EcoKaari.
EcoKaari sells its eco-friendly products online as well as through leading e-commerce players.
“We are selling in good quantities in many European and other western countries. Corporate gifting also accounts for a major chunk of our sales. Since we make fabric from plastic waste, we can create customised products and designs for corporates. We also have tie-ups with leading boutiques that sell only handmade products. We are constantly expanding our presence both online and offline,” says Nandan.
Asked about the challenges facing his startup, Nandan identifies mainly two challenges.
“The first challenge is that plastic waste is everywhere, but it is not in the right form. These bags are used for dumping anything and everything, including food waste, sanitary napkins, diapers, blades, etc. The waste is not only unhygienic and hazardous but almost impossible to retrieve. We are required to work with ragpickers who segregate the waste and give it to us before we can begin work,” he says.
“The second challenge is that a particular community does weaving in India. It is not passed on to other communities. Weaving is an art, and learning to weave is time taking. We have to spend a lot of time training women and youth in weaving,” he adds.