Staying Fashionable with Solar Powered Clothing

Highlights :

“If only five percent of Indian villages become solar charkha clusters, it can produce 180 Cr kgs cotton yarn which is almost 50% of India’s current cotton yarn capacity and generate livelihood for 1.2 Cr people without migrating from their villages.” ‘

“If government can support on the procurement side for every State, it will be very encouraging for firms working on sustainable fashion, besides giving great results for environment.”

“Our target is to tie up with atleast 10 major national and international brands in the next two years. We also plan a presence in 20+ major cities in India during this time frame.”

According to the UN, globally, from material sourcing, through supply chains to washing and waste, the fashion industry produces an estimated 10% of all carbon emissions. It is also the second-largest consumer of the world’s water supply and pollutes the oceans with microplastics. Yet, there is little awareness about these facts. Greenwear Fashion, is among the few such players trying to mitigate the impact of fashion with what it calls solar powered clothing. Greenwear follows and promotes the traditional Indian concept of Khadi powered by renewable energy resources. The Lucknow-based, Greenwear sells cotton yarns, cotton fabrics, cotton blends – silk, linen, and wool as both fabric and garments. Greenwear’s CEO and founder, Mr. Abhishek Pathak talks about their journey so far and other market plans.

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Q. 1 What is the concept and idea behind ‘Solar Vastra‘? How is the fabric and clothes under this brand being marketed?

Abhishek Pathak, CEO and Founder, Greenwear

Abhishek Pathak, CEO and Founder, Greenwear

Solar vastra, is basically a natural fabric woven using solar powered looms using yarns spun on solar charkhas, which are compact spinning machines. The idea behind solar-vastra was to increase income of khadi artisans and productivity of decentralized textile value chain.

We are marketing our products as a ‘sustainable’ fashion brand, where a decentralized value chain is being powered by renewable energy resources. The solar vastra’s look and feel is much like Khadi, yet there is a lot of difference. To weave Khadi, women weave for eight hours to produce the yarn, and there is uneven production. So, you do not find many spinners on ground. What we did was we installed the Pre-Magnetic Direct Current into the motor which is powered by a 120 Watt solar panel on the same charkha. With this, women would just need to monitor the yarn breakage. We expect solar-vastra to emerge as a new avatar of Khadi. But at the same time, we need focused marketing campaigns to make people understand that solar vastra is not a khadi look like, even though look and feel is the same. Customers have to be educated so that they are not misled. For this reason, we are also working on putting QR codes which would give out information like when and where yarn was produced, how it was produced and tested among other important details about the yarn. We are also working on having an in-house testing lab by 2022 using which we will categorise to differentiate between various yarns produced.

Q. 2 Can you talk about your retail network and your overall presence in India?

We have a head office based in Lucknow, and our manufacturing unit is in Safedabad (Barabanki district). We have two retail stores in Lucknow. Till date, we have established our presence in various locations across Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. We are launching our e-commerce website in January 2022.

We plan to be in every capital city of the country, and have a well- defined network in the tier 2 cities. We have tied up with major brands like Amazon, Flipkart and Karigari to reach out to the prospective consumer base. By the fourth quarter of the next financial year, we are targeting retail presence in some other cities including Delhi, Patna, Ranchi and Surat.

Q. 3 The fashion industry has major harmful effects for the environment. What measures are you taking to mitigate the impact here?

Both, globally as well as in India, fashion industry has very harmful effects. The pollution adds at every level starting from vast usage of pesticides in cotton value chain, air pollution from mills, polyester thrown into the oceans, huge water consumptions by industry among other things. Textile and fashion industries need urgent reforms to reduce polluting earth.

We are taking one step at a time and currently are very small against the problem. However, we believe that the solar vastra value chain if added with natural fibers and organic processes will create immense impact in reducing carbon footprint from textile industry. If only 5% of Indian villages become solar charkha clusters (around 30,000), it can produce 180 Cr kgs cotton yarn which is almost 50% of India’s current cotton yarn capacity and generate livelihood for 1.2 Cr people without migrating from their villages.

For instance, in India, about 360 crore KW of energy can be saved per year using solar charkhas. Add to this, an amount of one lakh crore can be infused into the rural economy as wage payments.

Q. 4 What is the level of acceptance and penetration you see for ‘sustainable fashion’ in India? Is there a plan in place to target a mass audience and focus on volumes?  

Indian fashion market is gaining consciousness for sustainable fashion. After lockdowns and other factors people are becoming increasingly aware about the impacts on environment. In the Lakme Fashion Week, 16 major brands expressed their wish to be in the sustainable fashion market. Now many brands are coming up with their versions of sustainability story for consumers.

However, it is still a niche category. To bring this closer to masses, government’s intervention is required. For example, from past two years, UP government is routing some khadi organizations to produce school uniforms. Bihar government is also working on the same line.

Q. 5 What kind of policy and regulations support are you looking from the government.

Solar chakhras are an extremely viable option for mass production. We did a pilot project in UP, where we supplied school uniforms in one block of one district. It was an extremely successful project with great results and response. If government can support on the procurement side for every State, it will be very encouraging for firms working on sustainable fashion, besides giving great results for environment.

This will also help reduce dependence on Chinese yarn. We are in talks with Bihar government, where they will be utilizing the Jeevika women for stitching and local weavers for weaving the cloth. Also, there needs to be a change in perception about working only with Khadi institutions. Social enterprises also need to be encouraged.

Q. 6 India has a rich history when it comes to garments and fabric manufacturing. How are you building on that?

Greenwear uses natural fibers. So, it doesn’t add to long-term landfills as polyester fabrics do. Along with usual value chain of solar-vastra, Greenwear is also working on reviving some languishing crafts of India. To start with, Bawan Boota handloom cluster was explored. This is the only cluster in Bihar where intricate motifs are woven. The first president of India Shri Rajendra Prasad took personal interest into this fabric and a few bawan boota curtains in Rastrapati Bhawan are still proudly exhibited.

It is based in Nepura and Baswan Bigha villages of Nalanda in Bihar and is originally characterized by 52 miniature woven with extra wefts (usually with tassar silk yarns) motifs consisting of Hindu or Buddhist symbols. The genesis of the word “Bawan Boota” lies in the realm of mythology, folklore and tradition. This ancient art of Bihar is as old as the Nalanda University and primarily produced sarees and robes as gifts to daughters at the time of her marriage among Buddhist follower families.

Q.7 What are some of the challenges you faced when training rural women on solar charkha spinning for Mission Solar Charkha?

Training rural women on solar charkha spinning is not at all challenging. However, training them on how to take care of solar sets requires different attention and approach. Also, in decentralized production, quality control becomes a huge problem.

Q. 8 What are the kind of synergies and partnerships you are looking at to broaden your base?

We are currently working with India’s leading womenswear brands – W for Women and Aurelia. To broaden our base, we need to have partnerships with brands like Fabindia for fabric consumption. We are also in talks with other major brands in fashion. Greenwear is also one of the six cohort enterprises supported by Powering Livelihoods — a CEEW-Villgro initiative that aims to boost India’s rural economy by scaling up the penetration of clean energy-powered appliances for livelihoods. In addition to providing us with financial assistance, the Powering Livelihoods program has supported us in a variety of ways, including providing important inputs to streamline our business model, exploring more efficient processes in running the business, testing new products, market planning, and much more. With the continuous help and support from the Powering Livelihoods initiative, we were able to seamlessly overcome challenges during the Covid-19 period as well.

Q. 9 Who are your competitors in this space? What are your expansion plans? 

We have the first-mover advantage in solar-vastra space. We do not see companies emerging in sustainable fashion brands as competitors, but we see them as potential collaborators. Our USP is in-house/internal value chain which gives us the advantage of being cost competitive. We aspire to be a market-place for all organizations working under the Mission Solari Charkha. Our target is to tie up with atleast 10 major national and international brands in the next two years. We also plan a presence in 20+ major cities in India during this time frame.

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