As I walk into the TÜLA store in Indira Nagar, Adyar, the first thing that catches my eye is an off-white wrap-over peplum top. It looks well-cut and perfect for Chennai’s weather, and rather chic too. The room also has on display a range of kurtas, palazzos and shirts for men and women, all fashioned out of organic cotton and natural dyes.
So yes, while there are no bright colours that pop, there are subtle off-whites, blues, greys and madders.
Set up in 2014 by 15 like-minded friends who invested Rs. 1 lakh each when they saw that farmers and artisans were in dire need of support, the group stepped in to make a difference by bringing a niche clothing line using organic rain-fed desi cotton, while ensuring that all parties and individuals involved were well-remunerated.
Over the course of two years, the organisation has managed to empower several people, including organic cotton farmers in Maharashtra and Karnataka, local weavers, dyers, artisans and tailors, eventually creating an entire organic eco-system of sorts. Says Srinath Suresh, business developer at the volunteer-driven organisation, “We have people from various parts of India creating the garments for us. For instance, the cotton is procured from farmers in Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Karnataka, the embroidery happens in Channapatna, hand spinning in Gadag, weaving and natural dyeing in Melkote, block prints happen in Wardha, and so on,” he says, adding, “The garments are designed by Tara Aslam of Bangalore, who has her own brand called Nature Alley.”
With the growing move towards organic products and reviving native seeds, the city is witnessing the creation of an organic eco-system with several players stepping into the fray with organic produce, products and clothing.
Take for example Sheela Subramanian, founder of Paati’s Kaimanam. She retails pickles, masalas, podis and leghyam, all made from organic produce. “I make everything myself, while my mother monitors my work. I procure my ingredients either from an organic store in the city or directly from an organic farmer,” she says. The USP of Paati’s Kaimanam is also that Sheela is working towards reviving traditional recipes and methods of making these products. “I specialise in Tanjore cuisine and use recipes that date back at least 200-250 years; these have been passed down by my grandmother, great grandmother, and the women before them. Until now, these recipes were handed down by word of mouth, but now I’ve begun recording them. In fact, I still use the same measuring tumbler that they did.”
And, there are no shortcuts when it comes to sun-drying or roasting the ingredients, she insists. “Sambar podi, for example, has to be sun-dried for at least a week, and I am very particular about the way the spices are roasted and ground. Which is also why I prefer making everything myself,” she says.
Her reason for choosing organic ingredients, she says, is because her initial market research exposed her to the amount of adulteration that goes into regular products. “This is my attempt to cut out the chemicals and commercialisation. I largely operate based on Facebook or WhatsApp orders. I don’t want to sell in stores simply because it will mean scaling up the manufacturing. It’ll become one among the other products in the market,” says Sheela, who is also setting up a distribution system in Bangalore with the help of a friend.
Kalaimagal Subramani, a city-based entrepreneur, also chose to set up an organic store called Nature’s Bucket, specifically to help people lead a healthier lifestyle. “We retail only natural products; even the packaging we use for all our products is ecofriendly. We’ve tied up with organic farmers to procure the produce and also make it a point to monitor these farms frequently to ensure quality control. In fact, we’d started off by cultivating in our land near Karur for about a year-and-a-half before we decided to expand, given the growing demand,” says the former IT employee, who switched to an organic way of life after facing health issues.
Though the movement is slow, it is gaining traction because people living in cities are growing more aware about the way their food is grown and produced. Says Alladi Mahadevan, founder of Green Embryo and an organic farmer himself, “Things are definitely looking up. Even farmers are more aware and are changing the way they cultivate crops. In the cities, entire communities are coming together to adopt a healthier way of life and are even growing their own fruits and vegetables minus the chemicals.”
Paati’s Kaimanam: 98401 80916
Nature’s Bucket: 99622 50949
Green Embryo: 98402 77566
First published by The Hindu