We’re all aware that farmers are the backbone of our country (indeed, their lives are intertwined with each of ours in one way or another) and equally aware of the different crises they face, from weather conditions to land scarcity. The need to protect and help them is continual and critical.
We often talk about this issue but it usually ends there. Going further to actually doing something about it is ‘No Nasties’ a “social enterprise disguised as a fashion brand.”
We caught up with founder Apurva Kothari to learn more about how the company’s organic and fair-trade clothing is helping to uplift the lives of farmers across the country.
1)Tell us a bit about yourself. Who is Apurva Kothari?
Last week we celebrated Fairtrade Week 🎷🎊🥁🎉 A celebration of the power of your choice to make a difference to the lives of the farmers & workers who grow and make our food and clothes. This year's theme was Spot the Mark #markidharhai – when you see the Fairtrade mark on a product, you know a fair price was paid. (That’s Apurva from @nonasties and Devika from Fairtrade India at the lovely @paperboatcollective store in Goa, who were there for the Conscious Fashion Festival organised by @alliancefrancaise Goa)
My personal background is in technology. I used to work in the U.S. for about 12 years in computer programming management before I came back to India and started ‘No Nasties’, thanks to my wife who motivated me to make the switch from tech to social entrepreneurship (laughs).
My wife who’s a fashion designer, was passionate about creating her own career back in India and starting her own label and store, so she initiated the move back. Meanwhile, I was exploring what I wanted to do with my own life. I had been reading about farmer suicides and eventually decided to do something about this, by incorporating my wife’s and my own expertise.
2)When did you decide to start the brand ‘No Nasties’? What is it about?
Have you met Doug? Did you know we started and run a non-profit project too? 🙂 It works with women from the cotton farming community of Maharashtra, India (from the regions that have the highest number of farmer suicides) to give them a reliable, secondary income AND create awareness of the agrarian crisis in their region. It's working! It's called Once Upon A Doug. Who's Doug, you ask? Find out here: www.onceuponadoug.com
We launched ‘No Nasties ‘in April 2011 as an organic fair trade t-shirt brand. And since then it has evolved to what you see now: a full-scale fashion brand.
I had been researching, meeting farming cooperatives and factories for 3-4 years before starting the brand. The trips to farmers coops is what gave me the clarity that while the crisis exists at the farm level, farmers themselves know what needs to be done, but they don’t have the support and resources for it.
And while there are many international buyers as well as support from western countries, Indian brands themselves are not stepping up to help their own farmers. This didn’t sit quite well with me, which is when the idea to start at the consumer phase crystallised.
We also have projects that we curate and support such as ‘Once Upon A Doug’ which is our non-profit initiative.This is also my personal favourite project where we work with a women’s NGO in Wardha, Maharashtra, to help provide women with a secondary reliable source of income. They make cloud shaped accessories by hand, which we then market and distribute around the world. And all the money then goes back to the women and the NGO.
3)Tell us a little about the ‘No Nasties’ team
We’re a small team running the business. My wife Shweta is the creative head, and Priyanka and Niyati manage the operations. Although it’s challenging, it’s also enjoyable and very focused on our happiness at the same time. We see our bottom line as happiness for ourselves and our customers and everyone involved.
We’re not looking to be a big brand. In fact, here I must quote something I came across recently and which is very apt: “We don’t want to set the world on fire, we just want to light a flame in your heart.”
4)What is organic and fair trade clothing all about? How is it different from other brands and why should one opt for it?
Being organic begins with the seeds. Instead of using genetically modified seeds which cost quite a bit and require fair amount of irrigation and pesticides, we use natural cotton seeds or hybrid seeds which don’t have any GM traits.
Then, at the farming stage, herbicides, pesticides and pest control is all done through natural means, such as the introduction of other pests and insects or using crop rotation to keep crops healthy and the soil rich.
Fair trade on the other hand, is more about ethical business standards. Financially, it addresses two things:
1) Guarantees a minimum price for the purchase of cotton.
2) Provides for a fair trade community premium beyond the price of the commodity. This is about 15-20% depending on where and what you buy, and goes directly to the farming groups to use as they see fit, for instance for building schools, hospitals, warehouses, roads or for drip irrigation. I think this is really beautiful, as it’s directly in their hands, and not some consulting firm sitting in some city trying to make decisions for the farmers.
5)What do you wish to achieve through this brand?
The challenge is to connect and engage consumers – Indian consumers mostly – with rural India and try to create awareness about the cotton farming crisis in the country and create a way for people to understand what’s going on and get involved.
To create this consumer movement, we try talking to as many people as we can, arranging conferences, attending talks and movie screenings on the topic, and engaging with other movements such as the Fashion Revolution movement.
We also offer solutions by way of our clothing which makes us a financially viable and sustainable company. That means making it attractive and affordable, and taking away all the reasons why a consumer may not choose your product.
We also want to serve as a lighthouse to other brands and be transparent about how we are doing this. This is why we share our supply chain information on our website, and actively work with other brands to launch similar clothing lines.
Our goal is not to compete or get the best prices, but actually strengthen the supply chain that is building this organic fair trade market. This is why we don’t want to set up our own factories or just go around in a bidding war.
In fact, we are the first ones to introduce 100% fair trade clothing in India, and since then we’ve seen a lot of other brands doing this and offering different product ranges. Fair trade India has also been set up since we launched, which is a great achievement.
Featured Image credit: No Nasties
Written by Additi Seth