Trash Into Treasure: She Upcycled Over 40,000 Kg Of Cloth Waste From Landfills Into Backpacks, Furniture, Pet Beds & What Not

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Rimagined – a unique socio-environmental venture by Bengaluru resident Shailaja Rangarajan. One of the frontrunners in the recycling sector in India, Rimagined markets a wide range of upcycled products, all crafted and curated by marginalised women from the low-income strata.

How can we leave a non-livable planet for our children?

A former business consultant, Shailaja’s inspiration for upcycling started from the most basic step – waste management. However, she believes it was her motherly instincts that made her realise the importance of the concept in practicality.

Talking to Efforts For Good, she shares, “My first exposure to waste management was when we set up our own waste handling process in our apartment complex in Bangalore. I noticed how this simple step has an immensely positive impact on the environment.”

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

Motivated, Shailaja started volunteering with non-profits in the waste management sector, which involved directly dealing with mounds of garbage disposed of in the nooks and crannies of the city. “While collaborating with Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), I ended up walking through heaps of garbage. I have always been conscious of my personal choices. But, the thought of handing over a non-livable planet to the next generation, to my daughter, shook me as a mother. I started to think more seriously about what can be done to fix this problem we only have created,” Shailaja narrates.

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The start of Rimagined

She started to feel that all these waste management measures fall short to address the main issue of a lifestyle of uninhibited consumption. “Just the way dropping a bottle in the Recycle bin is no justification for the use-and-throw way of living, segregating waste and dumping things. While walking through garbage, I could see so many things that can be salvaged and repurposed. This sprouted the idea of upcycling in my mind,” shares Shailaja.

In 2016, Shailaja conceptualised Rimagined which was initially a movement solely dedicated to sensitising people about better and possible re-utilisation of resources. A few months into the project, she felt that unless she integrates her venture into the mainstream market domain, it is nearly impossible to bring any change. “That’s how Rimagined has evolved into a brand of its own with our own handcrafted range of upcycled products,” she informs.

Zero compromise on quality is our mantra

Rimagined sells anything and everything. From trendy bags made of recycled denim to interior decor items of scrap metal, the online e-commerce site is the go-to destination for every conscious buyer. They source their raw materials from landfills and household excess and has successfully managed to upcycle around 40 tonnes of waste so far. In turn, they have reduced quite a significant amount of carbon footprint.

Rimagined
Footwear that reduces carbon footprint

Shailaja wishes to clarify that unlike the popular notion, upcycling never compromises on quality.

“The Indian mindset is that since the product is created from waste, it should be practically free. So our team has turned it a habit to explain the step-by-step intricacies of creating an upcycled product, so they are ready to opt for a sustainable version of a common household item,” she explains her core challenge.

Creativity from the other end of consumption

Rimagined, a term which is a wordplay on the term ‘Re-imagined’, sports a logo with a reverse R in the front, which summarises their entire concept – finding creativity at the other end of consumption.

Rimagined
The Rimagined store

The Bengaluru based enterprise has found a sizeable consumer base among the younger and aware urban residents. Recently, they have also branched out to cater to pan India customers. The founder feels that as one of the very few successful e-commerce ventures in the upcycling sector, it is their responsibility to create widespread awareness in the nooks and corners of the country, not just restricted to a handful of metropolitan clusters.

From mistreated housemaids to proud employees – how Rimagined changed lives

Perhaps the best aspect of Rimagined is their workforce which exclusively comprises mothers and housewives from a lesser privileged background. Though based out of Bengaluru, Rimagined has its production centre in Kolkata. There is a heartwarming story that explains the distance.

Shailaja shares, “A year after we launched, when I decided to create the Rimagined label of products, I chose to create a women-centric team. Coincidentally, my friend Debopriya in Kolkata, an artist who teaches special kids from a low-income background reached out to me with an unusual appeal. She noticed that the mothers who accompany these kids, sit outside waiting for the classes to get over. She asked me if there was something that can be done to help them augment their income by using that waiting time.”

Rimagined
Women at work

It was just a matter of connecting the dots after that. The women, who either worked as housemaids or were unemployed before, started their journey with Rimagined from January 2018. For all of them, there has been no looking back.

“One lady has saved money and bought an auto-rickshaw for her husband. For another, the newfound financial independence gave her a voice. Despite her husband’s apathy, she now sends her kid to a special school and dreams a better future for him. Another woman has purchased a one bedroom flat for her family,” Shailaja shares some snippets of dreams they fulfilled.They also work with handloom weavers in West Bengal and Bhuj, Gujarat.

Rimagined
A heap of denim waste which has been recycled by Rimagined

One small check before you buy something

As a social entrepreneur, Shailaja Rangarajan has achieved milestones which very few dare to aim. She is indeed a true inspiration for the new generation of women who are aspiring to explore the aspects of social entrepreneurship. At the end of the day, Shailaja believes herself to be another conscious individual, on a mission to save the future of the planet and her people.

“My only request to everyone has always been to know and understand where your products come from. Before you buy any product, just check if there is an upcycled, low carbon footprint version available. If you perform this one check every time you buy something, you will automatically make a huge impact on the environment,” she signs off.

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It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote

A Group Of Karnataka Women Pushes Alcoholic, Abusive Husbands & Social Stigma Aside, Earns Through Recycling Workshop

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At thirteen, Neela was married off to a husband much older than her. At sixteen, she became a mother, and at nineteen, she was a widow. Despite having no regular income, she was faced with the daunting task of taking care of her in-laws, her own parents and of course, her little daughter. For young Neela, life has never known a trajectory where her voice is heard and her destiny is not blamed. That was until she came under the ambit of Hosa Belaku Artisan’s Foundation and discovered a new identity for herself. The taste of financial independence was indeed delightful for her, but her zeal to work hard for a newer, better life stood at the helm of it all.

No one has ever become poor by giving – Anne Frank

Founded by Kameshwari from Bengaluru, the foundation works with distressed women in three Karnataka villages, helping them to earn their livelihood by handcrafting a wide range of decorative or daily-use household items. Like Neela, nineteen women with struggles similar or worse, have found a new lease of life at Hosa Belaku Artisan’s Foundation. Every piece of item created at Hosa Belaku is recycled from leftover fabrics, paper, dry waste or scrap metals.

Hosa Belaku – a new dawn

“I have been working in the social sector for the past two decades. Since 2013, I got associated with Belaku Trust, who was working with rural women in Karnataka,” shares Kameshwari, a former legal executive. 

“Most of these women were victims of alcohol abuse and harassment on the domestic front. Some were widowed, single mothers or differently-abled – making life all the more hard for them in a patriarchal society. Unfortunately, circumstances led Belaku Trust to close their operations in 2015. The women were left in a lurch,” she narrates.

Some of these women desperately pleaded with Kameshwari to let them sustain their only source of income and independence. Moved by their plight, Kameshwari resolved to do her best to help as many women as possible. Investing a sizeable proportion of her own savings, she launched the Hosa Belaku Artisan’s Foundation in 2017.

At present, the foundation has active workshops in three villages in the suburbs of Bengaluru, namely, Halasuru, Achalu and Kadahalli. 

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The gritty women of Hosa Belaku

At the prime of her life, Pavithra’s husband left her for another woman. Heartbroken and devastated, she was clueless about how to earn her living. The story is similar for many other women in these villagers, with careless, abusive or estranged husbands, most being alcohol addicts. The pangs of poverty would sometimes become more unbearable than the constant physical abuse by their husbands. Yet, they had no way to have some respite from the ordeal. Few women did work seasonally as agricultural labourers. The backbreaking toil in the sun would take a toll on their health, while the deplorable situation at their homes would haunt them for the rest of the year.

Empower Poor Women To Rise Out Of Poverty

Kameshwari mortgaged her jewelery for Rs 6 lakh to start Hosa Belaku Artisian's Foundation. Most of the women employed in this foundation face domestic violence in their homes. Kindly donate here : bit.ly/hosabelaku

Posted by Efforts For Good on Sunday, July 21, 2019

Society, with its primitive doctrines, only made it worse for these women. For instance, nobody was willing to marry Shivlingi because she had a facial deformity. After a point, her own brothers abandoned her as if she had become a liability.

If one visits these women now, they would be found basking in their newfound success with Hosa Belaku. But, not only the women, Hosa Belaku’s workforce comprises a 19-year-old young man as well. All his life, Yogi, who is affected by Polio, had accompanied his mother everywhere. She used to work with the foundation until she recently passed away in an accident. Yogi’s father is visually-challenged, so the entire family received a major emotional and financial setback after his mother’s sudden demise. A helpless Yogi would painstakingly drag himself from door to door in search of work. “We took him in and trained him in toy-making. Now you would find him in a corner, making beautiful toys for children,” shares a proud Kameshwari.

Sunshine, Lamp and Dawn – Illuminating lives

The women groups at the three villages are designated with three unique names and assigned with a unique task each. Kirana (Sunshine), the group at Kadahalli is involved with paper products, making notepads, bags and jewellery.

The Halsuru group Deepa (Lamp) has adopted the art of block printing. Vibrant, stylish and beautiful handbags, cushion covers, stoles and notebooks are curated with the utmost care and precision by the women.

At Ushe (Dawn), needle and thread rules. Women who were already skilled in sewing and embroidery now earn by making stuffed toys, patchwork products and embroidered fabrics.

True to their names, the groups have indeed brought new light into the lives of their employees.

Suma and Jayamma are both senior workers at Kirana who have succeeded in constructing small concrete houses for themselves, a huge step up from the dilapidated huts they spent their youth in. Another aged lady in the same group has another compelling achievement to be proud of. Bearing the taunts and trauma from her drunkard husband all her life, she has single-handedly raised a son and a daughter with proper education. Her son, who is currently an aspiring engineer, was supported with a laptop from Hosa Belaku. Honamma, a young widow from the group Deepa is treading a similar path, raising her son all on her own.

The only solace

How much gratitude these women have towards Hosa Belaku is perhaps evident from Shri’s unwavering dedication. Diabetes is taking a toll on her eyesight yet she refuses to give up and continues etching her grit on the ornate block-printed fabrics.

The reason for such gratitude is manifold. For the conscious urban consumers, Hosa Belaku is striving to save the environment with their 100%-recycled policy. But, for the workers, it is the lifeline which not only offers them economic security but also allows them a place to voice, share and resolve the problems plaguing their lives.

“They come here and find a peaceful break from their household obligations. Some still face domestic violence regularly, the workshop is an escape for them. They discuss their issues and try to find feasible solutions. It takes the load off their tired minds. The work here is a breath of fresh air for them,” Kameshwari asserts.

“We have been assisted time and again by established non-profits and retail chains across Bengaluru, who have graciously showcased and marketed products made by our artisans. We would like more people to know about Hosa Belaku and its incredible women, and respect their brilliant spirit by purchasing their crafts,” Kameshwari expresses her wish.

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Quote
It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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