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Here is this 26-year-old's quest to substitute plastic packaging with eco-friendly sabai grass

Updated: Jan 13, 2022

Published in edex

The initiative Chandni Khandelwal, a graduate from NIFT Bhubaneswar, started is called Ecoloop and she works with 200 female artisans in Odisha to come up with eco-friendly packaging material

A peculiar turn of events landed Chandni Khandelwal and five other NIFT Bhubaneswar students in Baripada, when an artisan cluster was receiving a young couple who had eloped to get married. Marriage means celebration and that calls for dressing up in all finery and this is the problem that the cluster was grappling with — how do we dress up the bride in a way that the occasion calls for. Chandni, along with the other students, stepped up and offered to take care of it. Right from flowers to the sari pallu and, of course, the make up — by the time the students were done, the blushing bride was a sight to behold. While the couple got married, another relationship was cemented — that of the woman artisans and Chandni. Now, the youngster is a 26-year-old who works with women from the same cluster to offer eco-friendly packaging options made from sabai grass, bamboo and papier-mâché. The initiative is called Ecoloop and it was launched by Chandni in January 2021.

"I've always wanted to work with eco-friendly and sustainable products and a six-month internship (November 2018 to April 2019) at Rhizome, Ahmedabad, under its founder and World Bamboo Ambassador Dr Rebecca Reubens, was the main turning point that gave me the confidence to work in this space," says the youngster who pursued Fashion and Lifestyle Accessory Design from NIFT Bhubaneswar. For Rhizome's in-house brand Baka, Chandni came up with an eco-friendly packaging alternative made from cardboard waste discarded by the railways, flex sheets and more, which was handmade by marginalised women. From the designer who transformed Mumbai Airport's Terminal 2, Rajeev Sethi, to actor Konkana Sen Sharma, the packaging managed to grab many eyeballs and this was all that Chandni needed. After this, working with ORMAS (Odisha Rural Development And Marketing Society) for a year helped her build more contacts.

It was her mother who encouraged her towards arts and crafts. Late Shyam Prasad Pattanaik, Director of School of Art and Crafts, Baripada, where Chandni studied, also encouraged her a lot

And that's how she arrived at Ecoloop. "First and foremost, a lot of empathy was needed to establish trust with the women. I shifted from Baripada to Delhi two months ago, so long distance coordination can get tricky," informs Chandni. To counter this, the youngster leverages smartphones and still manages to work intimately with the women. And since clients are always looking for a modern touch to products, Chandni ensures this is factored in too. With the help of 200+ women, various kinds of baskets and boxes are made and delivered. There is a man deployed specifically for quality control before any product is shipped out to ensure that all products are top-notch. Till date, they have served over seven clients. "A market survey I conducted before starting this initiative — a survey that I continue to carry out periodically — involves me sending out catalogues to various brands asking them if this is the kind of packaging that they would expect. By doing this, I receive a lot of feedback and constantly get to upgrade my products," she shares.

So what's up next for Ecoloop? They are experimenting with other natural materials like wood so that the packaging they offer is more affordable and aesthetically more pleasing as well. The path that they walk is no bed of roses, but Chandni's belief that this is the green way forward makes the path worth treading.

What makes sabai grass special - Called Eulaliopsis binata, sabai grass grows wild in Odisha and West Bengal - The fine natural fibre is light and easy to work with. It can be easily dyed too - Once used to make ropes, now it is used to make various products - Locally known as babuii or bobai ghaso, there are communities whose livelihood depends on it - Sabai grass was actually used by the British Army in India for pulling their artillery

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