Just a few days back, the whole world celebrated Mahatma Gandhi’s (Bapu) birth anniversary. Buying khadi’s products is also a tribute to the father of nation. Even Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged the people to buy khadi products to mark ‘Bapu’s Jayanti with great fervour’.
For a majority of people, khadi is once a year thing but a textile designer from the National Institute of Fashion Technology has taken khadi for masses as a mission. Abhishek Pathak, Founder & CEO at Greenwear, Lucknow took the help of technology and rural women to promote khadi. This initiative not only supported women empowerment but also worked towards protecting the environment. With the idea of using solar energy to the maximum, right from weaving to stitching, Greenwear is India’s first solar-vastra and sustainable fashion brand that follows and promotes the traditional Indian concept of khadi (household-based production) powered by renewable energy resources in a bid to create high-quality yet affordable textiles and garments. Having exposure of working with textile companies and social organisations, Abhishek’s passion is to uplift the underprivileged and unorganised artisan clusters and marginalised communities of rural India.
To follow his passion of working with artisans, skilling rural communities and business development, Abhishek joined Bhartiya Harit Khadi Gramodaya Sansthan (BHKGS), Lucknow as its CEO implementing the pilot project for the Mission Solar Charkha. This organisation, supporting more than 3500 women, was lacking a market platform where its yarn can get converted into fabric and garments. So in 2019, Abhishek started Greenwear, dedicated to developing fabric and garments of the yarn received from BHKGS.
Greenwear offers western and ethnicwear for women, ethnicwear for men and kids as well as home furnishing products too. He started this organisation with an initial investment of around Rs. 50 lakh. The interesting aspect is that the products of the company are at par with the normal garments available in the market.
Greenwear’s internal value chain is based on ‘solar-vastra’ i.e. yarns are spun on solar charkhas, fabrics are woven on solar looms and garments are stitched on solar sewing machines. Currently, the company has around 120 stitching machines that use only solar energy.
Out of 120 machines, around 20 machines are given to women at their houses and they do have solar panels at their homes. It is generating livelihoods for more than 350 rural women with productive use of solar charkhas and looms.
“As per law, khadi has a condition to be made by hand only but in this case it has limited production as well as limited income for the people involved in producing khadi. Our organisation, with the help of solar charkhas, not only increased the production of khadi, but also helped the women to make more money. As across our all operations, we are using solar energy and it is in the favour of environment also,” says Abhishek.
As there is no drudgery in operating solar charkhas, a woman can easily run two machines simultaneously and earn up to Rs. 10,000 or even Rs. 12,000 per month while working from her household. Gaya, Bhagalpur, Varanasi and Bijnaur are some of the areas where women are getting benefits from this initiative.
It is worth mentioning here that the popularity of khadi is growing as official data shows that Khadi Village Industries Commission (KVIC) records highest ever turnover in FY 2020-21 despite COVID-19. KVIC registered a gross annual turnover of Rs. 95,741 crore, as compared to Rs. 88,887 crore turnover in 2019-20, thus, registering an increase of 7.71 per cent. Various initiatives like Khadi e-portal, Khadi masks, Khadi footwear, Khadi Prakritik Paint, Khadi hand sanitizers, etc., setting up of a record number of new Prime Minister’s Employment Generation Programme (PMEGP) units, new SFURTI clusters, Government’s push to ‘Swadeshi’ and KVIC’s historic agreements with paramilitary forces for supply of provisions increased the turnover of village industry sector. But at the same time, the production and sales in the khadi sector, however, slightly declined as spinning and weaving activities across the country took a major hit during Covid. The overall production in the khadi sector in 2020-21 was recorded at Rs. 1904.49 crore as compared to Rs. 2292.44 crore in 2019-20.
Greenwear is closely working with its community partner BHKGS and the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC). It is amongst one of the 6 companies selected for the ‘Powering Livelihoods’ programme jointly run by Council On Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) and Villgro Innovations Foundation. The company got seed funding of Rs. 50 lakh from the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta Innovation Park (IIMCIP) in 2019 and last year, it received its first Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) of Rs. Rs. 35 lakh from impact investor Upaya Social Ventures (Impact Investor).
Greenwear majorly procures yarns from BHKGS and creates a further value chain of fabrics and garments. BHKGS has successfully run the pilot project for Solar Charkha Mission and is now gearing up to provide knowledge support to 50 other solar charkha training cum production centres (TPC)
The company is working as a jobworking unit also for prestigious brand ‘W’ and has its 2 own stores in Lucknow. Its e-commerce platform will be ready in the next 2 months and soon it will be available on the other leading e-commerce portals. Recently it entered into export as it added a US-based client Nomadory and shipped an order of pouches. For the same buyer, PD is continuing on terry towels. It is also in discussion with few other leading Indian brands and can start working for them also.
“When we started in 2019, Indian market had the impact of demonetisation and GST; then we faced lockdown and to survive and grow, we worked in multi-directions and grabbed business from wherever it was coming but at the same time we were focused to promote our brand Greenwear and the concept of sustainability,” says Abhishek.
The company aspires to penetrate new market segments to expand its collection and introduce segments such as maternitywear, yogawear, loungewear, kidswear, hospitalwear and hospitalitywear. In collaboration with Kolkata-based company Zyenika, Greenwear is working on ‘Bavanbuti’ (52 motifs) – the local craft of Nalanda (Bihar). It is also working on a project with TCNS Clothing company’s brand Folk Song using the local craft of Bihar.
Currently having a turnover of Rs.2 crore per year, the company is expecting Rs. 15 crore turnover by 2024 as Abhishek believes that the projects in the pipeline will surely work as per hopes. “I am happy that my organisation is working on two major fronts, supporting environment and women empowerment. In the coming years we will grow as we have skill, scale and speed for the mass market also,” concludes Abhishek.