As we near the International Women’s Day 2019, we gear up to celebrate women in all walks of life. At such a juncture, Efforts For Good aims to highlight some incredible women achievers, who are uplifting marginalised communities and the lesser privileged gender, away from all the limelight.
In our second article of the series, we bring you the story of 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.