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Beej bags made with ‘khesh’. (Photo: Abhijit Data)
Beej bags made with ‘khesh’. (Photo: Abhijit Data)

Swap leather for ‘khesh’ accessories

In the world of conscious fashion, made-in-India bags and biomaterials make the right moves

A week before the lockdown was announced, I found myself in the sparkling new workshop-cum-office of Beej founder Arundhati Kumar in Mumbai. It’s one of the newest eco-conscious labels, which crafts totes, hobos and satchels with natural materials, such as cork sourced from Portugal, Piñatex procured from Spain and khesh from Santiniketan in West Bengal. The label, positioned for the premium sustainable accessories market, was launched in January.

Her self-funded entrepreneurial journey started with a simple question— “If I don’t want a leather bag, what are my options?" During preliminary research last year, she discovered that though the market for bags in India stood at 1,000 crore, the premium bags category, with labels such as Hidesign and Da Milano, accounted for about 200 crore and the sustainable bag segment, a minuscule 2 crore.

Kumar sensed an opportunity, launching her brand in the midst of a market that focuses on essentially polyurethane marketed as vegan leather or shabby jhola-like fabric bags unsuitable for an office environment. The average price: 8,000-9,000.

As a professional who had spent about 17 years in luxury lifestyle conglomerates such as the Taj group and Condé Nast India, she just needed to polish her understanding of the customer who seeks premium products and services, as well as the finer nuances of design.

Arundhati Kumar.
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Arundhati Kumar. (Photo: Abhijit Data)

As a startup, she says, it’s a challenge to acquire certificates to legitimize the claim of an eco-conscious brand. “The only way to maintain complete transparency is to source from manufacturers who have the necessary certificates."

The lockdown, however, soon put a stop to everything. But they restarted in June, with a focus on the local. She has explored khesh and upcycled leather in her new collection—appropriately titled Dvija, or second life.

While conscious fashion clothing has gained greater prominence, there are just a handful of players in the accessories category—most of them new

* In early 2019, Mumbai-based Supriya Satam founded FOReT to introduce a collection of jewellery and bags made with cork sourced from Portugal. During the lockdown, she started work on a new jewellery collection that uses white cork and multicoloured ceramic beads.

* The Kerala-based label Malai uses made-in-India natural materials, such as the coconut fibre extracted from coconut waste. Co-founder Zuzana Gombošová says that though they have had customers from around the world, they got many queries from the domestic market during the lockdown. “It is a positive sign."

* Phool, a Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, based organization started in 2015, has introduced Fleather, a leather-like material made from floral waste. It won the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals India award for Best Innovation in Fashion for this product in February.

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