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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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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Rahul Khera and Gautam Jindal, volunteers (aka hunger heroes) at Feeding India, were among the many Delhi NCR residents accustomed to seeing hungry children pick up half-eaten burgers or stale sandwiches from the dustbin and savour those with the brightest smiles. Like many others, they also had the will to promote equitable food distribution but was perplexed about the approach, until they learnt about the community fridge initiative which has gained unprecedented success in Saudi Arabia and few other European countries. Meanwhile, community fridges were already being installed outside restaurants or in public places in a handful of cities like Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Coimbatore and Kochi.
Thank you for overwhelming response for the Happy Fridge concept. We need more funds from you to install more fridges like this across India. With the limited funds avaialble Feeding India was able to install three fridges only. Kindly donate here http://bit.ly/happyfridge
Needless to mention, with a shocking 103rd rank in the Global Hunger Index and a food wastage estimate of around Rs 58,000 crore – India was perhaps the best country to implement such an initiative. With Gautam’s help, an enthusiastic Rahul invested his own savings to install a ‘Happy Fridge’ outside his residence at Sun City, Sector 54 in Gurgaon. Set up in 2017 by these Feeding India volunteers, the fridge in Gurgaon has inspired the NGO to scale up the project across India.
No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank
‘Happy Fridge’ fostered many smiles
It didn’t take long for the local residents to learn about this laudable endeavour. They welcomed it, as wastage of excess food was a recurring problem in almost every household. “Intimating the localities was no mammoth task, thanks to social media. However, it was difficult to spread the word among those who actually needed the food,” shares Rahul, who went from auto stands to slums, inviting rickshaw pullers, ragpickers or roadside vendors to avail the community fridge any time they feel hungry. “The security guards of our residential complex played a huge role in explaining how the fridge works to the beneficiaries,” he adds.
The operational and maintenance costs of the ‘ happy fridge ‘ are being maintained diligently by the community members.
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“I remember one young man who had arrived from a village looking for some menial day job. Somehow he had run out of his paltry savings and had no money to buy one decent meal a day. For about a month, our happy fridge was his solace, till he earned his first salary from a housekeeping job,” shares a jubilant Rahul.
In another incident, a truck driver returning in the wee hours of midnight was starving after a whole day’s hard work. He had run out of cooking fuel at his home, so our fridge was at his rescue.
“The residents keep all sorts of palatable dishes in the happy fridge, ranging from dry snacks, fruits to cooked meals. Sometimes, they even keep raw vegetables, to ensure not a single bit of good food ends up in their trash while other people go hungry to bed,” reveals Rahul.
On an average, each happy fridge supplies around 10-15 meals in a day. The gratitude and pure smiles of the hungry souls after a fulfilling meal are more than enough to continue to motivate Rahul and his neighbours. In fact, inspired by him, many other communities in the Delhi-NCR region set up community fridges in their areas.
Since the past few years, Feeding India has been a prominent organisation working in the forefront to solve the hunger problem in India. Primarily, they were involved in redistributing leftover food from weddings and parties among the underprivileged people in different cities of India. Their volunteers, better known as “Hunger Heroes of India”, worked actively to bridge the gap between food wastage and food crisis.
“We used to get a lot of calls from individual households to collect their excess food. However, unfortunately, we lacked the manpower and planning to launch our programme on a door to door basis. We were desperately looking for an alternative when we learnt about the community fridges,” shares Srishti Jain, co-founder of Feeding India.
After interacting with Rahul Khera and other campaigners of community fridges, Feeding India decided to amplify this extraordinary project throughout the length and breadth of India. Presently, they have launched the #FightFoodWaste campaign to install 500 community fridges – nicknamed ‘ Happy Fridge ’. So any passer-by – be it a kid going to school without a lunchbox, or a labourer returning home late at night with no promise of a dinner – can now grab a pack of biscuits or a bowl of ‘dal-chawal’ (rice & lentil soup) to satiate their hunger. Click here to contribute for ‘ Happy Fridge ‘ and ensure India never sleeps hungry again.
Feeding India also urges everyone to make a promise to stop wasting food and instead consider donating it to those in need.