Designers Make Clothes Using 100% Rainwater, Solar Energy; Reach US & UK

THidden away in picturesque Almora in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand is a busy textile design studio – Peoli. Founded in 2015 by two alumni (and colleagues) of the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad – Abhinav Dhoundiyal and Vasanthi Veluri, Peoli is named after the yellow wildflower native to the region. The peoli bloom in spring and the duo believe it will bring warmth and hope after the long, harsh winter. Just like they hope their company will help the local people.

Peoli is a remarkable company for a number of reasons. It uses only natural fibers and dyes, and revives traditional crafts. It also has several environmentally friendly practices and empowers the women who work there by providing them with a comfortable livelihood.
The Peoli brand offers coats, sweaters, cardigans, shawls, scarves and accessories such as socks, hats, gloves and bags. While Abhinav, who is part of Almora, is in charge of design and production, Vasanthi focuses on marketing and sales.

Slow fashion

A Peoli wool sweater, knitted from a combination of local wool from Uttarakhand and imported merino wool – a contemporary adaptation of the local and the global, handmade and for the modern customer.

“We believe in slow fashion. How much is produced and how often a consumer buys something new are factors that have an impact on the environment in terms of the use of natural resources and the generation of waste. That is why we ensure the longevity of the product and keep our designs classic so that they keep up with fashion trends. We don’t bring a new line of products out every few months. We need a lot of time to develop our products. We dye and manufacture products in small batches, which helps us to adapt our processes to the often unsafe weather conditions, ”explains Vasanthi.

Peoli recently won two awards – one for design and one for its environmentally friendly company. “The AIACA (All India Artisans and Craftworkers Welfare Association) awarded us the first Shilp Udyam Samman in 2021 as the best environmentally friendly company. The prize money will enable us to further minimize our carbon footprint. It has helped us to increase our rainwater harvesting and natural dyeing capacities and to open up new international markets, ”says Abhinav with a smile.

Green practices

Peoli uses natural dyes and elementsUsing locally available raw materials such as the seed coat of a native plant called Mallotus Philippensis, also known as Kamala, to produce color.

Natural and indigenous fibers are used in the manufacture of their clothing and accessories. Cotton from Kutch (grown with less water and without synthetic fertilizers), Harsil wool from Uttarakhand, Tibetan wool, Himalayan nettle and hemp, Ahimsa silk from Assam (without harming the silkworms) and Merino wool (imported from New Zealand) are the main raw materials Material.

In addition, only natural dyes and dyes are used. Locally available dyes like walnut, kamala, rhododendron (known locally as burhansh), and pomegranate peel are used to derive hundreds of hues.

All processes are hand-controlled. Knitting, weaving, embroidery, beading, and shibori (a Japanese batik technique) are all done by hand. The fiber is spun into a soft, supple yarn using a hand spindle or a ‘Bageshwari Charkha’, a foot-operated spinning wheel of indigenous manufacture. In addition, the yarn is woven, knitted and sewn by hand.

“In every phase we replace the use of machines with human energy and reduce our dependence on non-renewable energy sources. Both the materials and the processes make the product unique and clearly set it apart from the competition. Training and catering are our top priority. We have preferred manual production to mechanized production several times, even if this meant an increase in costs, ”emphasizes Abhinav.

“For the past two years we have been making sure that all of the water we use for our dyeing and other processing operations consists of 100 percent rainwater. We consider this a remarkable achievement, because there is always a lack of water in the mountains. Peoli’s average consumption of collected rainwater has increased from 30,000 liters / month in 2016 to 90,000 liters / month now, ”says Abhinav.

Since the water source is rainwater, no mechanized energy is used to extract it. The energy source used in dyeing is renewable as solar energy is used to heat the water. The use of environmentally friendly chemicals to process the textile materials is another important environmentally friendly practice.

Continuous dye baths are used in dyeing to reduce rejects. In addition, the dyes are reused several times. This ensures that less wastewater gets into the environment. Since the dyes are not chemicals, the wastewater is also less harmful.

In addition, attempts are made to preserve, sort and process every piece of yarn and fabric into accessories such as bags or scarves. Peoli products are packed in sacks with waste yarn. The raw material is rarely rejected due to defects. In this way, the mantra “reduce-reuse-recycle” is practiced at Peoli.

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The use of natural textile materials and fabrics for dyeing is beneficial for the wearer’s skin as well as for the craftsmen who handle the textiles. Many natural dyes such as indigo, madder, and harda that are plant-based have antimicrobial properties.

Make choices

Peoli artisansCraftsman Vimla Joshi (in the foreground). Peoli employs around sixty craftswomen who are looking for ways to support their families economically.

Meera Goradia, former director of Khamir, is the founder of the craft community Creative Dignity, which supports artisans affected by the pandemic. She visited Peoli and closely watched the design and production processes. Her opinion on Peoli: “The special thing about Peoli is that Abhinav and Vasanthi have succeeded in combining the skills of the women from Almora with their design competence and together to create a contemporary language. It’s a partnership between designers, craftsmen and of course the materials! “
“This duo really gets into conversation,” says Meera. “You made some important decisions. They did not allow the market to make their decisions. You have chosen to grow smart, patiently, and gradually. And they let the material shape and design determine. “
Social empowerment

Swasti Singh Ghai, Senior Faculty in the textile design department at NID, Ahmedabad, has taught the duo. She says: “Through their company, Peoli, Abhinav and Vasanthi have shown how design can become a tool for social empowerment while holding on to the four pillars of sustainability – people, planet, profit and culture. The rustic is celebrated at Peoli. “

“The founders stubbornly stuck to their core values ​​and did not accept any compromises. Peoli is proof of how proper design can support decentralized, local, culturally rooted livelihoods and still generate returns in pounds and dollars, ”says Swasti.
Peoli has 11 permanent employees (all women) who come to the design studio and work. In addition, there are 40-50 women who work from home and visit the studio if necessary.

Himani Bisht takes 15 minutes walking from home to the studio every day. She lives with her husband, son and mother-in-law. Your husband runs a shop. The happy craftsman says: “I’ve been working for Peoli for five years. I enjoy working here because I am always learning new things. I knew how to knit, but I learned to spin when I came to Peoli. “

Vasanthi says: “Many of the women employed by Peoli are the sole breadwinners of their families. Depending on their skill level and skills, they earn 5,000-12,000 rupees per month, which is 50-100 percent more than what they could earn elsewhere. When a craftswoman proudly says that she now has the say at home and not her husband – because she brings money to the table – then I give it up! “
“The retail price of our wool knit sweaters is between 8,000 and 20,000 rupees, coats between 20,000 and 30,000 rupees, scarves and shawls cost 4,000 to 7,000 rupees, and socks, gloves and hats cost 2,000 to 4,000 rupees. Bags cost between 4,000 and 5,000 rupees, ”says Vasanthi.
“We have an exclusive and limited selection of designs that we release every year. During our sales season – November to February – we sell to around 50 premium customers every year. Over the past six years we’ve built a small but loyal customer base who are spending more than Rs. 1 lakh with every purchase. We currently have around five to six Indian as well as international brands that we do wholesaling with in the US, Australia, and China that bring us the bulk of our sales and help us keep the artisans going to work, ”she explains.

Peoli’s market presence has grown to include buyers in the UK, Europe, the US, Australia, China and South Korea. Peoli now has seven stores in India and five stores overseas.

The roadmap in front of you? “For the future, we would like to shift our focus to access to foreign markets (via agents and boutiques) and the expansion of our B2B business with larger brands and via wholesale platforms. This has helped us run a stable business during the pandemic. In addition, we want to secure jobs for 250 women in our region over the next three years, ”says Abhinav.

“Our peoli is a flower that grew out of a strong philosophy rooted in mindful design practices, and we hope to continue cultivating it with our efforts,” says Vasanthi determined.

(Written by Aruna Raghuram; edited by Yoshita Rao)

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