CHENNAI: Pouches made of recycled fabrics. Bags made of newspapers. Buttons made of coconut shells. These are only a few among the plenty of eco-friendly alternatives for everyday use available at Ekagrata store in Mylapore. Hotelier-turned-designer Kavithaa Narasimhan has a story behind every product on display.
Five years back, when she moved from Yercaud to Chennai, Kavithaa started her career at Vidya Sagar Special Education Centre. “I spent most of my time with special children. My perspective changed towards wanting to provide employment opportunities for people with disability. There are several rural employment programmes for women in villages. Everybody gets trained in tailoring. But only a handful get jobs. I decided to go to rural areas with a small team to select groups of people that I can work with. That lead to the inception of this brand in February 2019. Only one out of the 50 people I work with are from the city. The rest are scattered across different parts,” she said.
The shop has personal care, clothes, stationery and edible items. Apple cider vinegar, wheat flour, coconut herbal oil, shampoo bars and jams are prepared by Kavithaa. Accessories and wall decor with coconut shell designs are made by youngsters with intellectual disabilities from Tirunelveli as part of their creative therapy. “If you take these wired baskets, it requires a particular type of knotting. This task tests the dexterity and speed of hand movements. It’s woven by kids with poor vision. It takes a month for them to complete one bag. We’ve recently taught them to use alternatives like bamboo and palm leaves. Nobody is forced with a task. We identify their talent and let them work accordingly,” she shared.
There’s a range of repurposed bags — multi-compartment bags, storage bags, reversible bags, backpacks, shopping bags and pouches. “Each variety of storage bag is suitable for a vegetable. The ones made of cheesecloth are good for spinach, coriander and herbs. The netted bags are good for tomatoes. The bags are made by people with spinal cord injuries and polio. They cannot work for a longer time so they know only one type of stitching. The bags are of the same designs. It’s the colour combination that makes them special. We’ve trained kids with bamboo and paper quilling for hand coordination. The quilled products in different shapes are used to make magnets and coasters. The waste cloth bits from all these are used to make accessories like chain, earrings and bracelet,” said Kavithaa, who comes up with options based on client requirements.
Recently, a customer wanted to gift her son his worn-out jeans after modification. Kavithaa made a wall holder with enclosures out of the denim pants. “The challenge is to keep thinking or I won’t be able to help sustain the livelihood of artisans from villages. The orders are placed based on demands and the money is transferred to those who make it. Looking forward, we hope to work around more alternatives. Our aim is to offer handmade sustainable products by special people at affordable pricing,” she said.
Something for everyone
● Block-printed saris, stoles, duppattas, pants and cushion covers
● There’s a range of repurposed bags — multi-compartment bags, storage bags, potli bags, reversible bags and backpacks
● Products are priced from Rs 25 onwards
Ekagrata is located in Ananadapuram, Mylapore. For details, visit their Instagram page: Ekagrata @Madras 4 Enterprises