Meet the Ashoka Fellow defining sustainable fashion through plastics

Conserve India

“Social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry.” by Bill Drayton, Founder of Ashoka Changemaker

Ashoka Fellows are the changemakers who through their innovative solutions are changing the society for good. Impactpreneurs had a detailed talk with a 2007 Ashoka Fellow, Anita Ahuja, co-founder of Conserve India. Anita with her life-partner, Shalabh Ahuja is shaping the dual vision of uplifting the lives of the ragpickers and saving India from getting choked from excessive plastics through a unique recycling technique.

 

Conserve India
Anita Ahuja, Co-founder of Conserve India

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Our mission is to improve the lives of the ragpickers and also to improve the environment.” said Anita Ahuja.

Uniqueness of the product
Conserve India uses an innovative method for upcycling the plastic. They do not melt the plastic but fuse it together to convert it into a thicker fabric. During this conversion, they manage to retain the colour of the plastics, making it print free. This results in an inexpensive and eco-friendly technique for upcycling plastics. These, “handmade recycled plastics” are then used to manufacture plastic-based products like bags. Conserve India has already been serving a  loyal customer base of these high fashion bags in Europe and USA for a decade now. The organization also organizes soft skill and technical training programmes for the rag-pickers to develop their skills.

 

Products offered by Conserve India
Upcycled Products

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Having life-partner as business-partner
Definitely, working with family is a good idea as family understands you better and one can have a good partnership,” said Anita while talking about whether one should think of working with her/his life-partner. The duo works like two wheels of a cycle. Anita handles the design and supply chain whereas Shalabh handles the production and commercial aspects of the business.

 

Founders of Conserve India
Anita Ahuja and Shalabh Ahuja, Founders of Conserve India

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Experience as an Ashoka Fellow
Ashoka Fellowship is a wonderful programme. Being an Ashoka Fellow is very important to my life. It opens a door for you across the world, one can find Ashoka fellows across the world,” said Anita on talking about how being an Ashoka Fellow has impacted her life.

It is quite exciting to be a social entrepreneur,” said Anita on remarking on her journey as a changemaker.

Challenges faced by the organization
The market of upcycled products is not that active in India as it is in places like the USA and Europe. “People expect upcycled products to be cheap but they undermine the efforts invested in making these products. It is challenging to put upcycled products on the same shelf with the competitive brands. Upcycled products need to be given some tax relaxation” said Anita while talking about the challenges faced by the organization.

 

Upcycling of product
Washing unit where plastics are washed before upcycling them

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Impact created by the organization
The organization has paved a way of new and dignified living for ragpickers. They also support schools in slums where their employees reside. They have also removed landfills and have made the environment clean.  Currently, the organization aims to bring more employment opportunities, train more people through their soft-skill programmes, support more schools and also find more buyers. They are also striving to bring innovative designs for their products.

Schools in slum supported by Conserve India
Schools in slum supported by Conserve India

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Conserve India

Featured Image Credit: Conserve India

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