Scanning the booths at the Eindhoven Makers Fair last September, my eye was caught. Ooooh! Eye-candy! I saw a display of beautiful totes, bags, and electronics cases that made me want to reach out and touch the smooth, shiny surfaces. When I did, I could feel that these items were sturdy and well constructed.
Then the woman showing these beautiful things told me they’re made of plastic garbage.
Yes, garbage. This is reCharkha. Entrepreneur and innovator Amita Deshpande has been resisting the plastic tide since she was a teenager. After earning her Masters and working in IT in the US, she returned to India determined to take her commitment to another level. Research and exploration of different crafts brought her to an idea: use the ancient and traditional technologies of India to address the very modern problem of plastic waste.
I had the great good luck to talk to Ms. Deshpande, the founder and director of reCharkha The Ecosocial Tribe, as well as Ashwini Joshi, the Business Development Manager & head representative of reCharkha Ecosocial in Europe.
Before we talked, I found out a lot about the company online. They’ve done a good job representing themselves, their products, and their mission. But I was curious about the technology they’re using.
A New Problem; an Old Technology
The Charkha is the spinning wheel of India. Charkhas and hand looms were used in India for many hundreds of years, to make all cloth. The charkha became the symbol of the independence movement in India. It was the wheel at the center of the flag of the new nation. Amita used the term “reCharkha” to hark back to Gandhi, to independence and self sufficiency. But she’s thinking now in terms of taking care of the natural world, addressing both the problems of plastic and of social equity, and of making a personal response.
I asked Amita if people were eager to learn traditional spinning and weaving. “The answer to that is very interesting, psychologically,” she said. When they were starting up and looking for employees, people from traditional weavers families weren’t interested in the work. “It was old-school to them – something their grandma did. The people who were interested and enthusiastic to learn were new to spinning and weaving.”
“It’s not hard to learn; just takes patience. The most difficult step is setting up the loom with thread made from plastic bottles. That takes a couple of days,” Amita says.
The looms and charkhas came from an abandoned sari-making business. After a decade of dust was removed, they were ready to be used again.
Sustaining Rural Livelihoods
A job with reCharkha means a person can help support her family while living in her home town. She doesn’t have to go to the city to work. The company has about 24 artisans making their products right now.
Here you can see the process. First comes collecting, cleaning, and cutting many kinds of plastic. Then it’s spun into thread on the charkha. The thread is woven into cloth on the loom. The cloth is cut and sewn into the beautiful products that reCharkha designs and markets in India and around the world.
Households and businesses in the area clean and save their plastic, sending it to reCharkha to use. The company has educated these suppliers over time to know what is suitable and how it needs to be prepared. Amita says they have plenty.
As valuable as this work is, both Deshpande and Joshi see reduction of plastic as the true goal. “Transformation of behavior is important. We must reduce waste creation – don’t buy fashion products, buy up-cycled products – for clients, for Christmas gifts, all that,” said Amita.
Ashwini added that reCharkha is offering free shipping in Europe on orders of over €50. In The Netherlands, reCharkha products will be on display at Landbouwbelang Biesenwal 3 in Maastricht on 11-12 December.
This is just genius thinking, in so many ways!
- Using an efficient traditional technology, keeping it relevant and alive;
2. Providing people with a good livelihood doing meaningful work in their home town;
3. Giving a second life – longer, more useful, and more beautiful – to garbage that would otherwise end up in landfills or the ocean;
4. Educating consumers at every level.
The robots and electronics on display at the Makers Fair were fun to see, and very clever. But what I took away was the inspiration, encouragement, and optimism of the folks at the Ecosocial Tribe. So glad to have found out about them!