Bengaluru Mom Upcycled Over 40,000 Kg Of Waste From Landfills Into Furniture, Backpacks, Pet Beds & What Not

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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.

Rimagined
The women workforce of Rimagined

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.

Rimagined
An upcycled denim backpack

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.

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

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.

Also Read: She Builds Biogas Plants In Bihar Villages To Provide Electricity, Fuel And Better Crop To Marginalised Farmers

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MyStory: “Two Months After I Joined IIT For My PhD I Was Diagnosed With TB”

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A person suffering from Tuberculosis (TB) not only battles the ‘Mycobacterium tuberculosis’ bacteria inside his lungs but also from the stigma attached to the disease. It weakens the patients in many different ways in their fight against the dreaded disease.  

My fight with TB was also filled with stigma. I joined IIT Kharagpur for my PhD in January 2015. Two months later, in March 2015, I was diagnosed with TB. I had to take sick leave from March 2015 that eventually lasted till June 2016. Initially, I did not respond well to medication. Further tests revealed that I had multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB). This meant that the type of TB I had was resistant to two or more of the antitubercular medication I was taking.

About a year after the intensive phase of my treatment, I felt better and applied for readmission to IIT in July 2016. A prerequisite for rejoining was that my faculty members had to verify my application. With the formalities completed, I resumed my education, but I felt that something was amiss. 

My guide indicated that he did not want his work to suffer on account of my illness. I also heard from a senior colleague that my guide had said that I would spread the disease like an ‘infested animal’. I was disheartened at being subjected to this indignity by my supposed mentor.

However, my primary concern was defeating TB, so I didn’t dwell on it. Today, as I reflect on it, I realise the reasons behind the stigma were ignorance as well as fear.

Even among the educated, there are misconceptions about TB. People think all forms of TB are contagious. Others believe the patient is infectious for the entire length of the treatment. Some even believe that TB spreads through touch. This breeds the fear of contracting the illness.

As we know, people stigmatise and discriminate when they fear. I felt the impact of the stigma on two levels – in my professional life and my personal life.

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Professionally, the reluctance of my supervisor to mentor me and his discouragement affected me. I could not decide whether I should wait for the IIT authorities to tell me to leave or drop out. That decision was made for me by luck when I found out that my CSIR grant application was never processed. 

This meant that I would have to pay for my education. Given the expenditure on my treatment, this was unaffordable for me. This was the final nail in the coffin. I was forced to drop out and could not go back to completing my PhD.

What I faced was not technically illegal. I was discouraged from doing my PhD, but it was still a form of stigma. The external stigma I faced led to depression and isolation. 

Eventually, I realised I had to fight. The treatment for TB is difficult, requiring strict compliance and the management of side effects, and these demands resolve. I began motivating myself. I began following a proper diet and completing my treatment to ensure I could recover. I also turned to books as they transported me to other worlds and helped with my isolation. I also focused on reviving my old relationships.

Gradually, things improved. I could not proceed on my desired career path, but I am an educator now. I constantly realise that I have a role to play in shaping young minds. 

Workplace stigma has tangible consequences. It affects an individual’s career, financial opportunities and their right to work with dignity. So what can we do to address this stigma? 

First, we need to sensitise people by educating them about TB, and the impact stigma has on patients.

Another measure is group counselling involving the patient, the employer and the immediate supervisor. Informal versions of these sessions happen in the workplace in the context of illnesses like cancer. Why should it be any different for TB? 

The goal of this session would be to ensure that the patient is in a supportive environment. 

Finally, at a systemic level, there needs to be a workplace policy on stigma mitigation and a mechanism where the patients can anonymously register their concerns about stigma at the workplace.

A person’s career or job is often their calling and a provider of financial security. Workplace stigma creates a hostile work environment, affecting a person’s ability to do their job and their financial security. Financial insecurity and stigma make it harder for the patient to fight TB both in terms of means and motivation. Therefore, addressing stigma in the workplace is critical to patient well-being and recovery but also to their right to work with dignity.

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It's not how much we give
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