What if someone told you that there are plastic-free, 100 per cent handmade natural fabric bags that are water-resistant, low maintenance, military-grade material and for every bag sold, five trees are planted in India?
On this Plastic Free Bag Days, meet Clan Earth – Manufacturers of plastic-free eco-friendly bags made out of canvas who plant five trees for each sale made, Co-Founder of Clan Earth PRIYANKA MANDAL who also runs an NGO and lives a zero-waste life talks about the story of Clan Earth in conversation with Sruthi Bhat for the #volocal campaign an initiative by News Aur Chai.
Launched their first product in January 2020 by Priyanka and Broteen Biswas, Clan Earth is a manufacturer of high-quality Plastic-free bags made out of Canvas. Though the brand began its operations only in January 2020, the duo researched and built the brand from an idea for over a year all while handling their full-time jobs as a Business Analyst and Software Developer respectively.
Despite being from Kolkata that has a large number of leather industries and bag manufacturers, they braved many challenges in building this unconventional brand.
Priyanka and Broteen had been volunteering at a lot of local communities in Kolkata for five years educating kids and teaching handicrafts to the adults through their NGO.
Over the years, they realised that the root cause of poverty was extreme dependence on daily wage-paying odd jobs which sometimes also lead to severe unemployment. With a view to eliminate poverty, they wanted to start a community based, value-driven business so they could employ the local community without causing harm to nature and at the same time where the work roles were not gendered.
“The basis of Clan Earth is to empower people,” says Priyanka about some values that they wanted to embody in the brand they were building.
“When we were zeroing down on products for the business, we wanted it to be community-based and slightly easier to learn to make,” she recalls. They had a lot of people from the local community who already knew how to sew and use sewing machines and hence they decided on to make bags but also wanted to ensure that these bags did not harm the environment in any way. “When we think of bags, India is filled with polyester bags; not many recognise the fact that the backpacks that have been ruling the market are also non-biodegradable and will end up in a landfill where they will take 500-800 years to decompose,” she says.
Thus the hunt for the perfect material began where Priyanka and Broteen spent days researching how bags are manufactured, understanding the primary raw materials used, finding alternatives for non-biodegradable raw materials etc. “Finding the perfect material took the longest in our journey, every alternate we stumbled upon was not feasible one way or the other,” recounts Priyanka.
Finally, they ended up with Cotton canvas which when coated with wax gave the perfect eco-friendly water-resistant bags. Furthermore, all their fittings are made of metal, resulting in reusable and recyclable bags. They go the extra mile and offer to take back the bags once the customers feel they have lived their life so that the metal parts can either be recycled or reused.
Being Gen Y Entrepreneurs, they didn’t have to go far off when it came to designing their bags. Both Priyanka and Broteen brainstormed to come up with the designs. “Since our target customers were from our age group, we just asked ourselves what all we would want in a bag and just incorporated it in our designs keeping in mind the lifestyle we live,” says Priyanka. They paid attention to tiny details like having allocated compartments for Gadgets, Keys, stationery etc.
“We didn’t want to make bags just for fashion where a customer moves on from it after four-five months of using it; we wanted to make a high utility, long-lasting backpack designed to solve the problems of everyday adult life,” she adds.
Aiming to create a brand that customers could value not just for their products but also the ethics they work with, they kept their designs simple, minimal and eco friendly. Their portfolio currently has five variants that cover all kinds of bags a person would ever need – a small pouch, a convertible sling, an everyday backpack, a travelling backpack and a duffel bag for the gym or short trips.
To add value to the bags and name them in a way that represented the values the brand stood for, they decided to name them after endangered animals based on their designs. Their smallest backpack is called the Koala, and the duffel is called the Rhino. This not only helped create awareness about endangered species but also left a mark on the customers to be a tad bit more eco-friendly.
“We wanted to tell stories through our bags and related the design of the bags, to the endangered animals so that we could tell the story of that animal through our bag,” says Priyanka.
However, they didn’t stop there, “We asked ourselves, can we do more for the planet?” she says, and that is how they came up with the idea of planting trees for every sale made. Again, they were faced with the challenge of how to do it systematically. “We are from the city, and we knew that planting trees here was difficult, plus even if we did, they wouldn’t survive long,” she adds. With that in mind, they wanted to ensure that the survival rate was 100%, and decided to team up with a Reforestation Organisation. Although, there again, they ensured that they chose one that worked closely with local communities and prevented deforestation in addition to reforestation activities.
When they did finally put together a year of hard work and research into launching their first product in January 2020, within three months of operations, the pandemic hit resulting in the nation-wide lockdown which was a challenge the duo did not anticipate. To their surprise, they got quite good reviews “We were a little sceptical at first about how the brand would progress, but over the lockdown, we had great reviews come in, not only from our customers but also from people who hadn’t bought our bags but appreciated what we were doing as a brand,” says Priyanka who had quit her job in November 2019 to be involved in each and every progressive step made by the company.
Affordably priced, they managed to keep their margins really low as they identified India to be a highly price-sensitive market and the only way to capture it without a deep pocket for marketing was to cut down margins and focus on quality and brand’s values. “We usually get replies from people saying that most sustainable products are highly-priced, but they loved how our bags are such high quality, craftsmanship and we do so much as a brand; moreover, still our prices are so competitive,” says Priyanka. “This actually encourages us even though our margins are low to help people make a sustainable shift,” she adds.
Closely Knit, the five-member backend team has taken it upon themselves to hustle throughout even during the lockdown. “Till mid-March, we had good sales, but once the lockdown was announced, it started dwindling, we were distraught, we just thought to ourselves that we have bad timing, and spent days confused about what to do in the future,” she says. With a never back down attitude and counting on all the love they were getting over social media, they vowed to take it forward, “We just started marketing our brand and our values a little more, and some sales started happening; thus it sort of came back on track,” she adds.
With Unlock 1.0, the Clan has been showered with love and has managed to plant 750 Trees. Going forward, they plan to add a few more variants like laptop sleeves and kits shortly, based on the requests they have been receiving from their customers. They want to inspire a generation to become “Earth Ambassadors”, who are thoughtful about our home planet and who find fashion, style and a lifestyle which doesn’t have negative but a net positive impact on our planet and our vulnerable communities.
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