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College Duo Quits Well-paid Job to Start a Sustainable and Profitable Leather Alternative Business

Alok and Isha from Gurugram left their jobs to start Waraq, a sustainable business that produces bags and other items from materials like coconut and orange peels as well as offers leather substitutes.

Shruti Kandwal
Waraq has launched several collections making products out of coconut leather, cactus leather, orange peel, etc.
Waraq has launched several collections making products out of coconut leather, cactus leather, orange peel, etc.

In the year 2020, when everyone was quarantined inside their homes due to the pandemic, Alok Dhodapkar and Isha C came up with an idea that is now a sustainable luxury business.

The two, who have been friends since college, had long been eager to launch their own business. They both worked as brand managers for more than ten years, yet for years, their careers took a separate path.

But in July of this year, the pair decided to leave their successful jobs to launch Waraq, a sustainable brand based in Gurugram that makes bags, keychains, slings, and purses from sustainable, vegan, and biodegradable materials. This was a result of brainstorming various ideas and researching various eco-friendly materials.

"At the time, turning vegan and the growing popularity of products made without using animals were topics of much discussion. But after doing some research, I found that the majority of things were produced with rexine or faux leather, which is not at all sustainable,” Isha said.

She added, “when we first started throwing around ideas, we were certain that we wanted to develop things that were 100% sustainable and organic."

Also, they ensured that the items would be original and striking.

Alok, the co-founder of Waraq, said, “we wanted to have fun in addition to working. We wanted to make something of our own and find several options that are more sustainable.”

‘Zero Harm to Environment’

Using sustainable materials including orange peels, bemberg satin, coconut leather, cactus leather, and organic dyes, Waraq produces a number of product lines.

"Coconut leather was used to create our first collection. We worked together with Malai, a business that makes coconut leather in Kerala. Then, we used Mexican-sourced cactus leather. We used it to create handbags and slings. Its name is Gul, and Rogan Art, an ancient art form, is blended into it. Our collection of scarves is another one that we have.” Isha said that they are made of bemberg stain, a totally biodegradable cloth created from cotton seeds.

“We have always enjoyed researching and testing out many kinds of alternative fabrics and materials. We used fabric derived from orange peel in another scarf line we released. The product comes from Myanmar. It is a silk substitute that is both cruelty-free and biodegradable,” she continued.

Alok adds that whenever he and his team looked into a material, they made sure it would look well as an accessory and not have a negative impact on the environment.

“The items are colored using organic, plant-based dyes. For instance, the honeydew color of our sling bags is derived from Catechu, an Acacia tree extract,” according to Isha.

Although several green alternatives may be used from all around the world, the co-founders claim that employing them was not always an easy task.

"Getting karigars (artists) to use these materials was quite challenging. Many of them are unwilling to adapt since they have been dealing with conventional animal skin leather for years. The process of figuring out how to fit our materials into their machinery included a lot of back and forth. We discovered that coconut leather, like animal leather, was much thicker than expected and needed to be flattened out in order to fit in the machines,” according to Alok.

"It has been quite a process with every material that we have utilized in our collection, from acquiring to knowing what product would be best built from it," he added.

“For example, we had to grate down wallets made of coconut leather since they would otherwise be quite rough and coarse to the touch. These various materials have served as a canvas for new artworks. We continue to refer to ourselves as learners.”

Although sustainable living is a hot topic, the co-founders believe that Indian manufacturers are yet unprepared to use alternative materials.

Isha said, “Kanpur is home to some of the biggest leather goods producers in the nation, yet we discovered that these producers are completely unaware of the alternatives. Finding individuals with the capacity to modify their method of production and create these items was challenging.”

Aims for Affordability and Zero Waste

The brand has already established its objectives: minimal waste and no mass production.

"Every new material we use serves as a learning experience for both the producers and ourselves. Even though we are a small company, we strive to produce no waste. We release a few tiny collections, get feedback, and then create more. If we mass manufacture these and they don't sell, all of our hard work would have been for nothing,” said Alok.

Isha explained that the reason why our products are so expensive in India is that Indian consumers continue to be drawn to them because they are aesthetically beautiful.

Many of these raw materials, such as coconut leather and cactus leather, must be imported. They bring up the price since they are quite expensive. However, we strive to make our goods as cost-effective and robust as we can. The price will undoubtedly decrease in the future as demand for these items grows, according to Alok, who also notes that they want to make their products accessible to all customers.

Despite being a new entry to the market by just six months, the brand has already built up a strong consumer base and is earning well. They have two stores in Hyderabad and Kolkata as well as an online store where customers can purchase their goods.

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