Holistic businesses strive to create self-sustaining cycles, and believe in giving back to nature as much as they have taken from it, says Punya Srivastava.
t was during one of my visits to Jaipur that I got to witness a dastkaar at work. An elderly artisan hunched over a low wooden table, his skilled hands deftly carving intricate designs on a block of wood. Beside him was a pile of several such other blocks – some seeping with natural dyes – as well as photographs with dignitaries and letters from his ardent fans across the globe. Looking at his dedicated application to his craft unmindful of external disturbances, and then glancing at the various letters of appreciation he has received over the years, filled me with a warm, fuzzy feeling. He was one of the dastkaars associated with Anokhi – an ethnic clothes brand that has been working since the last 40 years for the revival of traditional textile skills. Through their patronage at a time when Indian handicrafts and handlooms are dying, enterprises like Anokhi and Fabindia have provided the Indian craftsman with much-needed dignity while displaying respect for his craft and skill. Ventures like these strive to take care of all those who are associated with them – from people to planet. Thus they embody what we may term as holistic businesses. Traditionally, businesses have been profit-driven and consumed with an unstoppable zeal to produce and sell 'more and more, both of which have caused them to be exploitative of all resources from labour to nature. ‘Holistic business, on the other hand, implies a focus on the larger good that governs not just what they produce or sell but how they produce or sell. A business is holistic when it is mindful of its impact on the body-mind- spirit of both the employee and the consumer, and the milieu it is influencing. A business is holistic when it strives to create self-sustaining cycles when it comes to using nature’s resources so that it gives back as much as it takes; and a business is holistic when the leader and the workers – both share the same sense of belonging to the enterprise. So do such utopian businesses exist? Yes, they do. They may not be the norm as yet, but that they exist and even thrive is enough hope that their time may be right around the corner.
Moving beyond money
When a passion for serving the greater good is the motivation for an enterprise, profits become a byproduct. And generally speaking, even though profits will take a longer time to appear than in the regular form of business, and may be more uncertain, its growth will be exponential. But what will remain steady is the great satisfaction of making a difference, of realising one’s creative potential, and of growing as a person and a producer. Running a business holistically, therefore, is an extended reflection of that person's karmayog. Bangalore-based Jayaram HR is one such karmayogi who has gradually built a successful brand name through his sheer dedication and passion for sustainable and holistic living. “Sustainable living is closely related to a celebration of life,” says Jayaram, a lawyer by profession and an organic farmer by passion. When kids his age dreamt of completing education and taking up jobs, he dreamt of expanding his family's farms and becoming a better farmer. After saving enough money through his law practice, he bought a piece of land and started farming. However, after a year and a half of conventional chemical farming, he switched to organic. “I had come across Masanobu Fukuoka's book, One-straw Revolution on natural farming which shifted my perspective. I started my endeavour of living and promoting sustainable living with Sukrishi organic farm which over the next 20 years, led to the branching of Greenpath – an umbrella under which Era organic store, Forgotten Food restaurant, Detox Cafe, Eco Apart hotel and Eco retreats are run,” he says. Another reason behind this shift in his lifestyle was the way he started looking at his self. “I realised how precious and pristine my body and mind are, and in order to maintain them, I must live consciously. Organic became a way of life,” he says. The minimalistic lifestyle that he practises at home gets carried over to his professional practices too. All the profits from his various ventures are put back in the business, while a major chunk goes into his recently-founded Greenpath Eco Foundation. He still lives in a rented house with his family. His Forgotten Food restaurant, which has become popular because of his innovative use of the locally grown millets (millet pizza, anyone?), enjoys high rankings at the food review website, Zomato, and has been awarded the prestigious Times Food award 2016. “To generate profit from such ventures is challenging because it is quite a task to go 100 per cent holistic and sustainable. But as this concept becomes prevalent, and as more and more people embrace this lifestyle, the path will get smoothened out, of that I am sure,” he maintains. Sure enough, his restaurant has created a niche name for itself in Bangalore and many dignitaries and celebrities can be spotted relishing delicious dishes made of local and traditional foods. Foreigners have left rave reviews of their experiences on online websites and blogs, singing paeans about Jayaram’s dedicated and continuous efforts in mixing education with hospitality. He is not one to sit in his office from morning to evening, but instead moves around jovially amongst his guests, answering their queries with patience and passion – about all the eco-friendly and sustainable practices that are implemented throughout all of his properties. He humbly says, “Through all the ventures that I have started, I want to create a legacy – that of value-based businesses that promote the idea of sustainability. Through my Greenpath Eco Foundation, I strive to build a global commune of people who live and promote conscious living.”
When tradition beckons
For Ahmedabad-based Jainam Kumarpal, Founder of Bhu:sattva – a luxury organic fashion brand, the most important parameter behind a successful holistic venture is its echo of the owner's value system. “My work is a reflection of my lifestyle,” he says. A vegan, striving to live a conscious lifestyle, Kumarpal is a firm follower and believer of ahimsa, and this very value had been his guiding force behind starting Bhu:sattva in 2009. His company uses cruelty-free silk and nature derived fibres such as organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, jute, soya bean, aloe vera, banana, pineapple, flax, and milk protein fibre to fashion garments. Coming from a family with a thriving textile business, Kumarpal was enthused by the increasing number of queries for organic fabrics by customers. He devoted eight to nine months in travelling and doing R&D across 35 cities in Gujarat. “The most satisfying part of this whole process is that I have been able to bring back weavers and artisans to their craft (many of them had switched to daily labour to earn a living),” he says. Almost all the products at Bhu:sattva are handmade with techniques like hand painting, hand embroidery and hand block printing using natural dyes. Not only that, his direct engagement with organic cotton farmers ensures that the fledgling community is ably supported to thrive again. Sourcing directly from farmers, engaging directly with weavers and craftsmen, and bridging the gap between the latter and his designers have been some of the defining policies of his establishment. Hence, he not only looks after his customers’ needs but also takes care of the artisans, uplifting them economically and socially. One such initiative has been his ‘Khadi Art’ artistic line with Women Empowerment Corporation and One World Mandala – organisations that aim to develop a model of education based on ahimsa. Apparently, Bhu:sattva also promotes the use of herbs with known medicinal properties for colouring its garments. “One of the reasons behind going all natural is the fact that over the years we have pilfered heavily from nature and damaged it thoughtlessly to an extent that we are soon going to reach a tipping point. Now, our focus should be on its restoration,” says Kumarpal, who uses natural dyes like beetroot, pomegranate, henna, and turmeric, teak tree leaves, madder, kesu, haritaki, sewali, indigo. Ask him what keeps him driven and he says, “To see the day when organic and natural will not be alternative choices but a part of every person’s basic wardrobe.” Indricka is another successful clothes brand that promotes urban, ethical and organic clothing. It was born out of textile export expert Vijaya Dewan’s planet-friendly heart, and apparently fuelled by actor Deepa Sahi’s query about bringing organic cotton to the Indian urban clothing. Indricka creates earth-friendly and sustainable tees and tunics from organic cotton and natural dyes. As the Managing Director and co-founder, Dewan has envisioned a cleaner and greener future for the garment industry. Thanks to her expertise and a vast experience of 36 years in the textile sphere, organic supply chains have been created for large international brands such as Billabong, Quicksilver and Marmaxx.
Organic at your doorstep
Bringing back natural and organic means bringing back India’s traditional way of living. We have always been an agro-based country that sourced most of its needs from nature. Artificiality penetrated deeply only in the last six-seven decades. And it is such a relief to see people looking towards organic despite its seemingly high cost. “Soon, a day will come when organic would be even more economic than the conventional options in vogue today,” says Jayaram. Delhi-NCR- based Ashmeet Kapoor too echoes the same thought, and is working hard to be a change-maker in this direction. This 30-year- old USA-returned didn’t waste any time in setting up I Say Organic – an online retail organic store that sources directly from the farmers all across north and central India – for he had always been aware that his heart lay in doing something in the direction of livelihoods, environment, sustainable living, agriculture, food, and nutrition. All these things fascinated him, because of their vast network of interconnection. His personal preference for veganism too broadened his sensitivity to the planet’s present health. During his travels, he came across the plight of the farmers along with that of the soil, and realised that food is the one link that has the potential to bring a vast shift in various aspects of living, simultaneously. Ashmeet started I Say Organic in 2011 and has gradually built a large network of 3,000 farmers. “The day the majority of us begin to think consciously about the food we eat, from how it’s grown to how the distribution systems ensure the producers also benefit, most of our social, economic and environmental problems will vanish,” he says. His work ethic? “Organic is good for the earth, good for the farmer, and good for you.” Also, farmers are given their due premium. “Our team routinely visits all the farmers that are associated with us for quality check and for certification, and over the years, we have built a strong network. It is heartening to see these farmers urging their peers to adopt organic farming,” he adds. One of his innovative policies is to directly connect the consumers to the producers, through a page dedicated to his farmers on his website from where customers can schedule a visit to any farm. “This brings in a lot of transparency and authenticity, which inevitably boosts customers’ faith in organic,” maintains Ashmeet. Ask him about how successful his initiative has been and this is what he says, “Our growth is planned. I wish to gain profits but without contradicting the company’s philosophy. I see success in a different light; for me success is when I am able to make things favourable for my farmers.” This is one of the significant features of leading a holistic business – methodical expansion. When the focus is on sticking to the ideology, expansion is not at a breakneck speed, but steady. As Fabindia’s Managing director William Bissell observed once, “Growth can stress and strain an organisation, so expansion has to be in proportion to the growth.” Hence, in the last six years, I Say Organic has expanded its operations steadily and has launched a retail store in Gurgaon, apart from adding more farmers to its network from several states of the country. A believer of building a learning culture at the work front, he strives hard to build a team that is keen on ‘reflecting, learning, and improving’ holistically, instead of merely focussing on profit generation. This holistic approach reflects in his office and residential space too where Ashmeet has installed solar panels to become energy efficient and lower his energy consumption footprint.
When passion meets success
Mumbai-based Nirmal Minawala belongs to an affluent family of jewellers. And that is the only thing he has in common with them, for young Nirmal knew that he was destined to chart his own course in life. “I could never relate with that mindset. I wanted to create something on my own,” he says. Around 1987-88, Nirmal was in college when he serendipitously met someone who worked with a Swiss company. The man offered Nirmal his perfumery lab in which to experiment to his heart’s content. “That meeting changed my life; I gained so much exposure and experience – I learnt a lot about fragrances and within no time, I was blending and creating perfumes on my own,” he adds. In the year 2000, along with his wife Araadna, Nirmal laid the foundation of Aroma Treasures which has garnered a big brand name today in the aroma sphere. However, when they started with minimum capital and numerous operational challenges, things were challenging. “And yet, I feel as I have been immensely favoured by luck – challenges would rise and be sorted out in no time, situations would get difficult but solutions took little to implement, funds would dwindle and friends would come rushing to help,” he reminisces. Aroma Treasures was one of the first few of their kind to venture into aroma oils and natural-extract based skin care products, which gradually branched into hair care, personal care and wellness. These products are developed with the infusion of essential oils, vegetable oils, herbal extracts, sea salts, clays and mud. Nirmal also wrote a book titled, Aromatherapy made easy, in order to spread awareness about aroma therapy to the masses. “When we started, we were one of the initial players with a specialisation in aroma oils and products, and the only task before us was to sensitise people about the nature of these oils and their therapeutic properties,” he explains. What made his task easy was the fact that people were quick to grasp the effectiveness of nature-based products, thanks to the Indian tradition of home remedies and ayurveda. And this faith in nature forms his work ethic too. “I have reached a point where I have established a brand name for Aroma Treasures. Conventionally, I could go out with full force to leverage its name and gain more and more profits, but this is not my life’s purpose. I wish to dedicate my time in creating newer value- based products, and take things as they come,” he concludes. As William Bissell once commented in an interview, “People and companies have to look deep within themselves to ask what they are doing. Is what we do a mere stamp or is this improving our lives? Jayaram HR, Nirmal Minawala, Vijaya Dewan, Jainam Kumarpal and Ashmeet Kapoor have already answered that question, and are creating a legacy that will make the lives of their fellow human beings so much better. Not to mention that of Mother Earth.
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