Designers make clothes using 100% rainwater and solar energy; Reach the US and UK
TNestled in picturesque Almora in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand is a vibrant textile design studio – Peoli. Founded in 2015, by two alumni (and teammates) of the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad – Abhinav Dhoundiyal and Vasanthi Veluri, Peoli takes its name from the yellow wild flower native to this region. Peoli blooms in spring and the duo believe it brings warmth and hope after a long and harsh winter. Just like what they hope their business will do for the locals.
Peoli is a remarkable company for several reasons. It uses only natural fibers and dyes and revives traditional know-how. In addition, he follows several environmentally friendly practices and empowers the local women he employs by providing them with a comfortable livelihood.
The Peoli brand offers overcoats, sweaters, cardigans, shawls, scarves and accessories such as socks, caps, gloves and bags. While Almora-owned Abhinav leads design and production, Vasanthi focuses on marketing and sales.
“We believe in slow fashion. The amount produced and the frequency with which a consumer buys something new are factors that have environmental implications in terms of the use of natural resources and the production of waste. That is why we ensure the durability of the product and keep our classic designs so that they endure in terms of fashion trends. We don’t release a new line of products every few months. We take a long time to develop our products. We dye and manufacture products in small batches, which helps us align our processes with the often uncertain weather conditions, ”says Vasanthi.
Peoli recently won two awards – one for design and one for being an eco-friendly company. “AIACA (All India Artisans and Craftworkers Welfare Association) awarded us the first Shilp Udyam Samman for the best green business in 2021. The amount of the award will allow us to further reduce our carbon footprint. This has helped us to increase rainwater harvesting capacity and natural dyeing efforts and to expand and reach new international markets, ”Abhinav says with a smile.
Natural and indigenous fibers are used to make their clothes and accessories. Cotton from Kutch (grown with less water and no synthetic fertilizer), Harsil wool from Uttarakhand, Tibetan wool, nettle and Himalayan hemp, Ahimsa silk from Assam (obtained without harming silkworms) and merino wool (imported from New Zealand) are the main raw materials.
In addition, only natural dyes and dyes are used. Locally available dyes like the flowers of walnut, kamala, rhododendron (locally known as burhansh) and pomegranate peel are used to achieve hundreds of shades.
All processes are controlled manually. Knitting, weaving, embroidery, beading, and shibori (Japanese tie-dye technique) are all done by hand. The fiber is spun into a soft, supple yarn using a hand spindle or a “Bageshwari Charkha”, a native-made pedal spinning wheel. In addition, the yarn is woven, knitted and sewn by hand.
“At every stage, we are substituting the use of machines for human energy, thus reducing our dependence on non-renewable energy sources. The materials and processes make the product unique and significantly differentiate it from the competition. Skills and livelihoods are top priorities for us. On several occasions, we have chosen manual rather than mechanized production, even if this implied an increase in costs ”, underlines Abhinav.
“For the past two years, we’ve made sure that all the water we use for our dyeing and other treatments is 100% rainwater. We see this as an important achievement because the mountains are still running low on water. Peoli’s average consumption of collected rainwater has increased from 30,000 liters / month in 2016 to 90,000 liters / month today, ”says Abhinav.
As the water source is rainwater, no mechanized energy is used to obtain it. The energy source used in dyeing is renewable, as solar energy is used to heat water. Another important environmentally friendly practice adopted is the use of environmentally friendly chemicals to treat textiles.
When dyeing, continuous dye baths are used to reduce wastage. In addition, the dyes are reused several times. This ensures that a smaller amount of effluent is released into the environment. Since the dyes are not chemical, the effluents are also less harmful.
In addition, an attempt is made to preserve, sort and recycle each piece of yarn and fabric into accessories such as bags or scarves. Peoli products are packaged in bags using waste yarn. The raw material is rarely rejected due to defects. Thus, the mantra of reduce-reuse-recycle is practiced at Peoli.
The use of natural textile materials and natural substances for dyeing is soothing for the skin of the wearer as well as for craftsmen handling textiles. Many natural dyes like indigo, madder, and harda, which are herbal, have antimicrobial properties.
To make choices
Meera Goradia, former director of Khamir, is the founder of the craft community Creative Dignity which helps artisans affected by the pandemic. She visited Peoli and observed the design and production processes closely. Her take on Peoli: “The special feature of Peoli is that Abhinav and Vasanthi have managed to bring together the skills of Almora women with their design expertise and together create a contemporary language. It is a partnership between designers, artisans and, of course, materials!
“This duo is really talking about them,” Meera says. “They made some important choices. They did not let the market determine their choices. They decided to develop intelligently, patiently and gradually. And they let the material determine the shape and design.
Swasti Singh Ghai, senior professor at the textile design department at NID, Ahmedabad, taught the duo. According to her, “Through their company Peoli, Abhinav and Vasanthi demonstrated how design can become a tool for social empowerment while adhering to the four pillars of sustainability – people, planet, profit and culture. At Peoli, there is a celebration of the rustic.
“The founders have tenaciously maintained their core values without any compromise. Peoli is proof of how proper design can help decentralized, local and culturally rooted livelihoods while providing returns in pounds and dollars, ”said Swasti.
Peoli has 11 regular employees (all women) who come to the design studio and work. In addition, 40 to 50 women work from home and visit the studio when needed.
It takes Himani Bisht 15 minutes to walk to the studio each day. She lives with her husband, her son and her mother-in-law. Her husband runs a shop. The happy craftswoman declares: “I have worked for Peoli for five years. I love working here because I keep learning something new. I knew how to knit, but I learned to spin after joining Peoli.
Vasanthi says: “Many of the women employed in Peoli are the only breadwinners. Depending on their skill level and ability, they earn between 5,000 and 12,000 rupees per month, which is 50 to 100% more than what they could earn elsewhere. When a craftswoman proudly says that it is now her who orders at home and not her husband – because she brings money to the table – it makes me so happy!
“The retail price range of our knitted wool products for sweaters is Rs 8,000-20,000, overcoats are priced at Rs 20,000-30,000, scarves and shawls are Rs 4,000-7,000. Rs and socks, gloves and caps range from Rs 2,000 to Rs 4,000. Bags cost between Rs 4,000 and 5,000, ”Vasanthi explains.
“We have an exclusive and limited range of models that we release each year. We sell to around 50 premium customers annually during our sales season – November through February. Over the past six years, we have built a small but loyal customer base that spends over Rs. 1 lakh on every purchase. Currently, we have about five to six Indian and International brands that we wholesale do business with in the US, Australia, and China, which gives us the bulk of our revenue and helps us ensure a continuous workflow for artisans, ”she explains.
Peoli’s market presence has spread to buyers in the UK, Europe, US, Australia, China and South Korea. Peoli now has seven stores in India and five overseas stores.
The road map to come? “In the future, we want to focus on accessing foreign markets (through agents and stores) and increasing our B2B activity with bigger brands and through wholesale platforms. It helped us have a stable business during the pandemic. In addition, over the next three years, we aim to secure jobs for 250 women in our region, ”said Abhinav.
“Our Peoli is a flower, which emerged from a strong philosophy rooted in conscious design practices, and we hope to continue to nurture it with our efforts,” says determined Vasanthi.
(Written by Aruna Raghuram; edited by Yoshita Rao)