It was a rare sight. “I was 40 to 50 km deep inside the jungle on one of my trips and I spotted a plastic bag there. I don’t think anyone frequents that place and those people living inside the jungle, the tribals do not use plastic,” recalls Sashikanth Kaja.
He analyses and says, “Someone must have disposed it on the highway, it flew all the way, 50 km into the jungle. There are endangered animals living in the jungle and it is a threat.”
This was just one of the several instances that he witnessed while interning with NGOs that work for protection of the environment and led him to start Rewheel – a company that manufactures eco-friendly cloth bags.
“As part of the internships I did, we made people aware of, apart from the many other things, the harmful effects of using plastic. They patiently listened, but I am pretty sure no one took us seriously,” shares the 24-year-old entrepreneur.
He wanted to do something more than that.
And it was not an easy task, especially for someone who didn’t even know what khadi felt like.
“It started from Ranigunj. I asked them where they got it from, but they didn’t tell me. Once when I bought a 100 metres, I saw Burhanpur printed on the cloth. I took that as the lead, some money I saved and travelled all the way to Madhya Pradesh. I didn’t find the right match. Then one young man told me to go to Erode. By then I was completely exhausted. After a month or so, I went on shoot, made some more money and went to Erode. There I got what I wanted. I came back and got to business,” he shares.
While he operates from a vibrant office in Kundanbagh, he has a workshop located in Bholaram.
“I have four women working with me right now. I wanted to employ those women who have never had a job earlier. I am willing to take that risk,” shares Sashikanth.
These women are willing to work despite a lot of constraints.
“They have flexible work timings through the week. They have to meet certain targets, that is all,” he explains and adds that the women are paid on a monthly basis.
While Rewheel cloth bags are available on retail basis, and priced around `30 per bag, Sashikanth’s vision is much larger and he is working towards it full time.
“We have tied up with certain supermarkets in the city and that gives customers a choice to spend 20 extra bucks and buy a cloth bag. We also found out that people working in the corporate sector mostly shop on their way back to home from office. We tied up with a few of these companies and strategically placed these bags in their premises. It is a way of telling them that they can choose to use these bags, instead of plastic. That way, we are spreading the message we want to,” he says and adds, “We have a long way to go. This is just the beginning.”
They also plan to extend to schools and spread awareness among children.