‘YellowBag’ was a concept borne out of a need to nurture communities and the environment.
What started as a thought to restore the tradition of a cotton ‘Tamboolam’ bag instead of plastic bag that was being used by most, is now a thriving enterprising quantifying its impact in terms of livelihoods and avoided use of plastics. When we confront something too large to handle, the easiest thing is to look away and ignore the problem. Looking away was not an option for Madurai based IT professionals, Krishnan Subramanian and Gowri. Dealing with conscious consumption and creating sustainable livelihoods while enjoying your work is a source of inspiration for many.
How this initiative started?
Moving away from status quo creates resistance in most. How did this couple who were enjoying their well-paying software jobs gather courage to start their own enterprise and go deep with the concept, rather than replacing one source of income with another.
Krishnan and Gowri like regular people busy with their jobs were not concerned about environment when they were by themselves. However, as soon as their daughter came into the picture, her respiratory issues led them to link the chronic condition with the apathy that we have towards environment and how it impacts our health. “What was not palpable earlier became very big. We wanted to do something about the pollution and what we noticed was the plastic pollution that was getting out of control. You can’t be a passive on looker” suggests Krishnan. The problem and not been able to do anything about it needed more information and it was time to broaden their perspectives. Over one million species on the planet are prone to extinctions and 45% of world’s wealth is controlled by less than 1% of the population. Krishnan points out that these indicators can only shift when we are working to create more equity, creating opportunities for those who are at the bottom of the pyramid.
What is unique about the organization?
When it was decided, that ‘tamboolam’ bag needs replacement, the question became important as to how it should be structured. The purpose to provide dignified work for women, better education for their children and better health for their family became very important along with solving an environmental problem. It was decided that the purpose can be achieved through a promise which is of a rightly priced product with high quality and full transparency for the customer. The enterprise was set up in Madurai in 2019. Nearly eighty percent of the people working in the company are women.
What about your business model?
Our business model emphasizes on decentralized manufacturing that can employ women with any skill level and provide a space for earning and learning. Women can work from places near their homes, be part of a close-knit community, channelize their energy into productive purposes and ease the financial burden of the family. These opportunities may be normal, but these are rare for vulnerable and disadvantaged women from low-income communities. Being a part of a strata that is forced to be a part of care economy or manual labor, having a job with dignity and reliability is the promise of the organization.
Krishnan believes that just as he is interested in doing good for the planet and people, there are many others who want to do the same and are somehow tied up in their daily work schedules. So, the couple, through their close contacts could create a demand for the product that enabled them to have women working seamlessly creating the bags.
The organisation model is a hub and spoke model, where the YellowBag hub coordinates with the women and micro enterprises led by them in their locality. This creates an ownership of the space and the work for the women. Thereby creating a people-centric environment that helps them decide how much they want to work and when they want to work. The idea of running a people-centric organisation in a challenging area such as Madichiyam has required a lot of effort and innovation. While the company was registered two years ago, however, the actual work started six years ago as it took time to build trust with the community and to just encourage women to take the bold choice of standing up for themselves. In Krishnan’s own words “Our highlight is our persistent resolve to work with the disadvantaged of communities in the most humane and ethical model possible.”
What is the marketing strategy used and the volume of business done till date?
The company’s original strategy was to tap physical markets and exhibitions and COViD posed challenges for that market. However, this also created opportunities once the company to tap online digital marketing platforms. The current focus is on mainstream sources, focusing on global textile business platforms.
One of the first largest order that the company received was to manufacture 1 LAKH bags for a national bank. “It tested our persistence and team work. We are proud to say we did it! This order always reminds us that once women decide to do it, they will.”
What is the impact of the work so far?
The first impact is providing reliable consistent income for vulnerable women in urban slums. This helps them provide education for their children making them less vulnerable to the vagaries of life. The enterprise has enabled 200+ women to access financial independence. Most of the families have repaid their debts and are out of the poverty cycle. Knowing that they will receive regular income, they are able to save money and plan their future. Most of their children are going back to school. Some of the children are first generation collegegoers. Women have come out of harassment, abusive environments and stand up for their rights.
“One Million of cloth bags have effectively saved our earth from the likely debris of 50 million plastic bags.” This is based on the calculations that these bags are used multiple times and for many years.
Co-founder Gowri RG was awarded ‘Women Achiever’ by Tamil Nadu cultural academy for the YellowBag Initiative. The organization also got “Women Empowerment’ award by JCI and ‘Change Making Organization’ Award by Padikattugal, Madurai.
The bags have reached 850+ global customers. The 1.5 million bags produced by the company has replaced 7.5 million plastic bags from our environment, most of which are single use plastics.
Right now, the organization is looking at expanding its initiative to 100 more women. Mobilizing the women, providing skill- training, empowering them to become entrepreneurs of micro-enterprises. These micro-enterprises will form the Women’s tailoring network that shall satiate bulk and wholesale cloth bag needs, with prime quality and reliability.
Through a span of 7 years, we intend to empower 1000 women towards financial independence. Initiating a strong network of women led enterprises that not only uplifts them but also an entire community towards development.
“If you have the opportunity to acquire knowledge, skills and attitude to change the world, then do not succumb to social norms and limit your career. Proceed and change the world for better. The world needs more doers.” Says an enthusiastic Krishnan.