‘Waste'd  Wonders 

When it comes to waste, the weight of our decisions is shared by the planet.
‘Waste'd  Wonders 

CHENNAI: When it comes to waste, the weight of our decisions is shared by the planet. Think of the times you have asked for plastic bags instead of carrying a cloth one, indulged in disposable water bottles when you could have brought a reusable one from home, bought non-degradable items when you could afford the alternative, or when you threw out all of these in the garbage instead of recycling them. Every year, we add to the mountains of trash that has been getting accumulated for centuries, increasing the detriments — toxins, greenhouse gases, pollution — to the earth and eventually, ourselves. While there is a need for significant changes by industries and policymakers, smaller businesses have taken the awareness baton. Sahana Iyer finds eight local businesses that work against the increasing carbon footprint, delivering upcycled or recycled products of quality with a coloured past.


Sustainable fashion is seen as inaccessible in society, given its reputation as an expensive alternative. However, there is little truth to this, according to Sanah Sharma. The founder of an eponymous city-based sustainable fashion brand was inspired to create an upcycled collection of saris called ‘Made from Nothing’ when the pandemic curbed household expenditure.

“We sent out calls to our communities and families to send us saris that they are not using, that are redundant to them. With these, we started crafting avant-garde pieces. And by procuring pre-loved saris, we eliminated the cost of raw materials, making them affordable,” she says. The designer has an unusual work style where she cuts the fabric while listening to a song or music piece she associates with it. She adds, “We play the song and I cut the fabric intuitively, without a pattern. There are random curves and sharp turns in tune with the rhythm of the music. It’s called risk-taking design. This results in one-of-a-kind garments.” The brand is looking to make these saris into a perennial collection. Contact: @sanahsharmaofficial on Instagram; sanahsharma.com/shop Studio: No.7, Sai Nagar, Karpagam Avenue, RA Puram, Chennai


In 2015, InkLink Charitable Trust began working with the women of Kannagi Nagar on upcycling projects through which they could be taught marketable skills. Using polythene bags, 360 women created coasters, jewellery and waste bins till the ban of plastic carry bags in 2017. Co-founder of the Trust, Lily Sengupta, wanted to do more. “While the projects were impactful, they were also temporary and would only fetch the women a stipend for five-six months.

I wished to do something sustainable for them. Ten women put their trust in me and that’s how I founded Lily & the Wonder Women in 2019,” she says. Lily and the Wonder Women create small and cute upcycled toys made from katran or waste textile scraps. The katran is sourced from local tailors in Kannagi Nagar, either collected or bought to support them. “Our designs are unique since the material being used is never the same. Hence, customers can ask for customised designs,” adds Lily. The pandemic has brought hurdles in the process, reducing the women employed part-time to five. However, the business is looking forward to new endeavours, planning a sustainability awareness programme online soon. Contact: @ lilyndthewonderwomen on Instagram; lilysengupta. wixsite.com/ lilyndthewonderwomen


Gone are the days when people bought standardised furniture for their homes; it’s the age of personalisation. Vidya Bhat’s endeavour, Chittaara, repurposes bottles to create gorgeous, unique lamps. Based in Chennai, Vidya’s interest in the idea bloomed when the self-taught artist decided to paint on Amul Kool bottles at home one day. Soon, she sourced used alcohol bottles from friends and family to experiment with her painting. The results were much appreciated by her companions. Around the same time, she began searching for night lamps that match her artistic taste, to little success. With a light source, Vidya turned her painted bottles into lamps, springing her business. Now, she even creates customised orders with bottles sourced from junkyards, beach clean-ups and donations. According to Vidya, upcycling has much-untapped potential in the city and country. “There is a lot of scope for unused material. If only upcycling was looked into and researched enough, I am sure the market can grow to a much larger extent,” she says. Contact: @artschittaara on Instagram


In January 2020, Bengaluru resident Roma Revankar Rao began her small business of refurbishing furniture. However, during the lockdown, she shifted her focus to the items she found around her house. With containers, toiletries, etc. she created detailed handmade boxes and magnets, and began selling them on her Instagram page. Speaking of upcycling in the art industry, Roma shares, “There is so much waste created in the name of art. People created unnecessary DIYs with new materials. In my opinion, it is better to upcycle something and reduce the waste of resources.” She adds that art is the way to go for those who wish to upcycle since it is an activity that everybody can accomplish. Contact: @conscious.crafter on Instagram


They say little things make a difference. Created in 2018 by Vibitha Ida Edward, city-based Vie Jewellery seems to exemplify this philosophy. The brand repurposes natural buttons — used, discarded or factory rejects — into beautiful jewellery. “There are several buttons that get rejected for minor flaws. We source these and design jewellery that highlights the button. No gems or stones overshadow it,” shares Vibitha. The buttons used by Vie are biodegradable, made of coconut shells, reclaimed wood, shells and vegetable ivory (a nut). Vibitha was introduced to the concept of upcycling in 2014, when she moved to the United Kingdom to pursue her Master’s degree. A deep dive into the concept, coupled with her childhood fascination with buttons led to the creation of Vie Jewellery. “All of us have something in our house that can be reused or repurposed and this should be taught to us from a young age. I think it should be a part of our education, the way an art class is taught to schoolchildren,” opines Vibitha

Contact: @itsvie.story on Instagram; itsvie.com Flagship store: 35A Bazullah Road, T.Nagar,
Chennai. Appointments only.


There is much research required in the field of upcycling and recycling. Chennai-based design and manufacturing house, Samsara - The Recycle Company has focussed on research and development for 2.5 years, experimenting with different processes to create their recycled furniture and decor brand. Founded by architects Pradyumna Rao and Mridhula Chandramohan in 2018, Samsara is a part of Precious Plastic, an opensource platform that develops recycling solutions.

The brand uses compression moulding to transform recycled raw materials into plastic sheets that are eventually used to make aesthetic and long-lasting furniture. According to Pradyumna, it is important to consider the value you add as a designer in the process. “We turn things from paper into reality. There is a lot of responsibility to consider various factors while choosing a material. For example, plastic is a great material for long-term items but it is widely used in short-lived paper bags and bottles for convenience and economic reasons.” Contact: @samsara_trc on Instagram; samsaratrc.com


The pandemic altered several household spending habits in the country. For example, as Ann Anra, founder of waste management company Wasted 360 Solutions, explains, several households in Chennai switched from daily subscription milk packets to tetra paks to avoid regular contact.

Upon recognising this increase, the company contacted Tetra Pak Delhi to join hands on the Chennai edition of the Take Me Back Campaign, through which used beverage cartons are remade into furniture for orphanages and  corporation schools in the city. A multitude of donation drop boxes (a sample of their recycled products) have been set up in 20 supermarkets around the city, locations of which can be viewed on their Instagram page. They are also appealing to schools and corporate setups for donations. The cartons must be cleaned and flattened before submission. These cartons are then received by Arpanam Trust NGO for checking and eventually moulded into furniture. If someone has over 50 cartons, the campaign can collect it from their doorstep via Dunzo. 

Contact: @takemebackchennai, @indiawasted, @gogreenwithtetrapak on Instagram; takemebackcampaign.com


Recycled or pre-loved fabric can be used to create new garments, but what about the smaller scraps of material left behind? Oh Scrap! Madras has the solution. Offering a wide range of products, including garments, decorations, jewellery, pillow cover, scrunchies and more, this brand was founded in 2019 by Priyanjoli Basu and Dominique Lopez. The former ran a sustainable fashion brand and saw potential in handling the waste and scrap produced during the tailoring process. Dominique, on her sustainable journey, joined the endeavour. “We realised we wanted to do more and better,” she says. While their store has seen great success, there is much to do on the upcycling front. “People have inhibitions about buying upcycled products due to lack of availability and notoriety of being costly. There is a need for a mindset change where people buy items that are handmade, locally sourced, mindfully created, long-lasting and of better quality, instead of giving into fast fashion for cheap prices,” she adds .

Contact: @ohscrapmadras on Instagram

Related Stories

No stories found.

The New Indian Express