Laura Rana, founder of social enterprise start-up Khushi Kantha, shares her experience of ensuring products and supply chain is a green as possible
At Khushi Kantha (which translates as ‘Happy Blanket’ in Bengali), we don’t like to use words that describe our products – or our social enterprise mission – that don’t have any substance behind them. And at this very early stage in our journey, it’s really important to us to be transparent about where we’re at, and where we’re aiming to get to. As the mothers we partner with in Bangladesh are busy hand-stitching our first ever collection of Happy Blankets, I’m focusing on how we ensure that every aspect of our production process – and supply chain – is as ‘sustainable’ as possible.
Regenerating the ‘kantha’ tradition
‘Kantha’ refers to the Bengali tradition of repurposing old cotton saris into ultra-soft, multi-layered blankets, especially for babies.
We’re reworking that tradition to meet global hygiene and safety standards while retaining its circular principles. After extensive discussions with a product safety lawyer and a fabric technologist and global safety testing expert, I realised that it wasn’t going to be possible to use second-hand saris to create baby blankets that meet the understandably strict standards we need to adhere to…..so we had to re-think the concept of ‘reclaim, repurpose, reuse’.
Bangladesh is infamous for its garments industry. Lots of fabric gets wasted at various stages of the garments supply chain – and Khushi Kantha is partnering with sustainably-minded members of the industry to breathe new life into what is known as ‘deadstock’ cotton fabric, by upcycling it as the inside layers of our blankets.
The outside layers of a Khushi Kantha are made from traditional handloom fabric, which is hand-dyed using dyes that are certified with an Oeko-Tek Eco Passport – a comprehensive verification and certification system for textile chemicals, dyes and auxiliaries.
The best things come in small (eco-friendly!) packages
We haven’t totally given up on the idea of vintage saris! Each of our Happy Blankets will come packaged in a re-usable cotton bag, hand-stitched from a sari offcut.
But we need to package the handmade bags into some form of envelope, in order to send them out to customers. So I’ve been looking into various recycled – and recyclable – options, and seeking customer feedback on which option they’d prefer.
Beyond the functional elements of packaging, even those who shop sustainably like things to look pretty! There seem to be lots of ‘eco-friendly’ options out there for branded stickers – but we’ve ultimately gone with the option of a branded stamp.
Finally, our double-sided packaging inserts – which feature the photo and story of the mother who made the specific blanket received by the customer – are being printed on recycled – and recyclable – card.
A sustainable supply chain
There’s no getting around the fact that our blankets will have to travel from Bangladesh to our customers in the UK – and around the world – via air-freight. Our first collection comprises 200 blankets – and each blanket will be around 0.55kg once we’ve added packaging. We simply don’t have the volumes to justify sending them by sea at this stage.
So far, the figure has come out at 0.36159 tCO2e – very low for the type of product we are selling. Due to our hand-made design template using natural indigo powder, the hand-dyeing and hand-weaving of the handloom fabric that forms the outside layers of our blankets, and the hand-sewing of the re-usable bags made from vintage sari offcuts that they come packaged in, our production process relies on very little electricity.
We’d love to support a carbon offsetting scheme that works with mothers in Bangladesh, but unfortunately I couldn’t find one that is Gold Standard certified. So we’re choosing between improved cookstoves for women in India and Cambodia’s National Biodigester Programme.
I’d welcome any advice on how else we could ensure that sustainability is threaded into everything we do at Khushi Kantha. What steps are you taking to put the substance into sustainability?
The role of social enterprises in tackling the climate emergency will be a key focus of Social Enterprise Futures – a month long festival from 8 November to 8 December for those who believe that changing how we do business is vital to building a fairer, more sustainable world. We’ll be exploring the links between social and environmental justice and also responding to the fallout from COP26 itself. Find out more and get your tickets here >> socentfutures.digileaders.com