Woman earns Rs 1 Cr by turning 12,000 kg of plastic waste into bags

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KAnika Ahuja, founder of Lifaffa, remembers visiting a landfill as a child. “I wanted to climb what I assumed was a small hill. I saw lots of other local kids playing there. However, I was forbidden to do so. I was told that I would get injured or get sick if I played there,” she told The Better India.

Recalling the vivid images of waste piling up in the landfill, Kanika also remembers growing up in a household that was extremely conscious of how much and what they consumed. “Trying to find ways to move towards a circular economy became something that I consciously started working towards,” she says.

An early start

Kanika at Lakme Fashion Week.

In 1998, Kanika’s parents, Anita and Shalabh Ahuja, established Conserve India, an NGO focusing on energy efficiency. They finally started working on ways to tackle the plastic threat that Delhi was and still is dealing with. While her parents were up to their necks in running this NGO, they were not enthusiastic about Kanika joining this line of work.

“My father, in particular, did not want me to join this profession. So I studied engineering at Manipal Institute of Technology, Karnataka, then did an MBA at SRCC, Delhi. In 2015, I joined a market research company. It was during my time in this company that I wanted to change direction and be part of the development sector,” she says.

So in 2016, she joined the NGO that her parents had founded. “There came a time when the work that Conserve India was doing seemed to be just that of an export house and that’s when we took a break and decided to reassess this work that we were doing “, she adds.

This rupture gave birth in 2017 to Lifaffa, a brand that designs and markets recycled plastic products in India, the USA and Europe.

Today, nearly 12 tonnes of discarded plastic is recycled into wallets, bags, laptop sleeves, placemats, etc., every year, keeping plastics out of landfills.

After breaking the Rs 1 crore revenue barrier last year, the brand is poised to break that record.

“Over the years, Conserve India has built a network of buyers. So we started by training groups of people to make these products, which we then marketed under the Lifaffa brand,” she explains.

Towards a circular economy

A yellow tote by Lifaffa.  plastic waste
A bright sunny yellow tote.

“We launched Lifaffa in 2017 as an independent social enterprise. The objective was to train groups in the recovery of used plastic bags and to move towards a decentralized production system in India,” she adds. In its first few months, Lifaffa also secured funding from Ashoka, a global venture capital fund that identifies and supports social enterprises around the world. Kanika mentions that the seed funding they received gave the business a much-needed boost.

“We started by working on developing sustainable innovations to upcycle and upcycle single-use plastics, which no one was collecting or working with at the time. At Lifaffa, we have developed a technology to convert single-use plastic into a new fabric. Given the number of colors in these single-use plastic bags, etc., we were able to use that to our advantage and create beautiful designs out of it,” she adds.

A good break also came in the form of an invitation to be part of Lakme Fashion Week in 2017. “It was during this forum that we were able to showcase some of our fashion accessories like bags and wallets and that, in a way, has been a great launch pad for the brand,” she adds.

To date, the brand recycles almost a ton of plastic month after month.

Turning plastic waste into value
Women working to transform plastic into fashionable products.

“Although the pandemic has had a negative impact on our work, we are now returning to these numbers. The fact that we offered people an alternative to leather was a huge plus for us. It was also at a time when consumers were looking for alternatives,” she adds.

Mahima Harjai, a Lifaffa client based in Noida, says, “I discovered Lifaffa about three years ago and liked them and the work they do, instantly. The brand understands the importance of making the right choices, while using high quality materials, with minimal impact on the environment. It took me a while to adapt to the concept of making greener choices when it comes to my wardrobe and slowly moving towards sustainability. Lifaffa made this trip easier.

She continues: “What’s even better is that the brand offers products suitable for all budgets. I feel good to be able to contribute to a sustainable world in my own way. My favorite from the collection is the practical bracelet made from scrap tires with beautiful Afghani embroidery and the recycled tire planters that adorn my home.

Make sustainable fashion attractive

Red shopping bag
An easy-to-wear red tote.

Currently, Lifaffa works with 200 garbage collectors and 300 artisans. Many of them are women and even refugees. Iram Ali, one of the women associated with the brand, says: “I have worked with Conserve India and now Lifaffa for over eight years. The process of converting something as redundant as plastic waste into such beautiful products has always been fascinating. We are a group of 40 women who work to make these products.

“It takes us about a day and a half to make a bag and for a month of work, we bring home nearly Rs 8,000. Not just bags, we now also make tablecloths, mats, trays, etc. . “, she adds.

Iram Ali - Lifaffa busy at work.  Transform plastic
Iram Ali – Busy at work.

Kanika has also collaborated with a group of Afghan refugee women in India specializing in traditional crafts. “The idea is to make sustainable fashion appealing to all age groups. It can be durable and yet very fashionable. Merging these different styles and design elements leads to the creation of great accessories,” she says.

In 2019, Kanika was one of eight designers selected for the Circular Design Challenge – a collaboration between R | Elan ‘Fashion for Earth’, Lakmé Fashion Week (LFW) and the United Nations (UN) in India. She made the shortlist of 900 entries from more than 30 cities across the country.

Asked what certification brands like Lifaffa can apply for, she said: “While there are certifications like the Global Recycling Standard or Fair Trade, given the scale of the brands’ business, it is not still possible to request it. With most businesses now having a presence on social media, it is easy for potential customers to contact them and get all their questions answered. »

The biggest challenge has been to bring about a change in mentality. “People are still wondering why they should spend money buying something that is made from ‘waste’. Although we have come a long way, the journey is far from over,” she says.

To see some of the products sold by Lifaffa, click here.

(Editing by Yoshita Rao)

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