Making a strong case for organically-grown cotton and fair-trade practices, Apurva Kothari of No Nasties tells
DEEPA GEORGE how the decision of going organic, even in clothing, is one of the easiest solutions to a happier life, healthier community and a better planet
Apurva Kothari was the quintessential New York-based techie leading a ‘successful’ life when news of farmer suicides back home in India caught his attention. Married to a fashion designer and despite not having the entrepreneurial bug in him, he seemed to be driven to create a socially- conscious business. That it merged with his wife, Shweta Deliwala’s skill sets, only made it logical.
The cotton belt in Maharashtra is known as the suicide belt. The statistic of one farmer committing suicide every 30 minutes got me thinking. I kept researching this space and the viability of organic cotton farming. A simple product like a T-shirt cannot be exploitative. I found an opportunity in this niche not just as a business proposition but an authentic need for involvement. When we moved back to India in 2011, we decided to take the plunge though we had begun meeting suppliers four years before that, he exlained.
The clothing brand, ‘No Nasties’ was born in 2011 in Mumbai and relocated to Goa in 2015. In six years, they have gained a sizeable fan following and have created a global business based out of Goa that sells primarily through e-commerce with a few pop up stores in Goa.
Detailing the premise of the brand, Apurva states, “Our promise is that ‘No Nasties’ - no genetically modified (GMO) seeds, no carcinogenic pesticides, no toxic dyes and no unfair business practices goes into making our products. In fact. we believe in transparency and share our supply chain model. Our focus is on collaborating rather than competing.” With a strong sense of purpose, it is noteworthy that No Nasties is India’s first fair-trade licensed clothing brand.
Giving us a background on the farmer crisis, Apurva says GMO crops promise a better yield in the short term but it’s like playing roulette with the farmers. If the market price drops, they can’t sustain themselves. On the other hand, to grow organic cotton, the cost of seeds and fertiliser is far less and so is the eventual risk to the farmer but since GMO seeds are more easily available most farmers buy them, taking huge loans in the hope of a better yield and the vicious cycle continues.
Besides, a poor monsoon can be the difference between life and death. What more can one say when DDT is subsidised in India when it’s banned everywhere else in the world, he adds.
Partnering with Chetna Organic - a farmer support organisation that works as a cooperative across multiple states in India, Apurva seems candid. “Without being preachy, the best way a consumer can make a difference is just by way of our purchases. If we support organic, there will be more demand for it creating a snowball effect for more people to come in offering a range of organic products.”
Wary of ‘greenwashing’, Apurva is all for a better evaluation method and fair trade certifications with no middle men involved. Demystifying fair-trade, he says, “Free trade defines a set of values around sustainability. For one, there is a minimum price guarantee to the farmer. Secondly, the fair-trade premium is dedicated to community development for schools, hospitals, roads, better irrigation facilities etc. There is zero tolerance towards child labour or forced labour and everything is audited. The Traceability Certificate ensures accountability and traces the money going back to the farmer, through Chetna Organic.”
India has a history of sustainable clothing in 'khadi' but consumers want more ‘cool’ clothes with modern styles and designs. Today, there are far more ‘conscious’ consumers who know the difference and are willing to pay a slight premium to support ethical brands. We are committed to offering 100 per cent organic cotton clothing. It can get limiting sometimes but we don’t want to veer from cotton, he points out.
Adding to the buzz of the ‘Conscious Fashion Festival’ organised in Goa, Apurva’s face lights up, “Being here gives us more leeway to innovate and makes us more happiness driven than bottomline driven.”
If the business model in itself wasn’t enough, Apurva and Shweta have recently launched a one of it’s kind non-profit project called ‘Once Upon A Doug’ that supports women in the cotton farming community in Vidarbha.
The plight of the women in the farming community is distressing. We wanted to create a symbol for their stories and share them with the world. ‘Doug’ as in ‘Dugh’ meaning cloud in Marathi is symbolic of their story, he laments. Through this initiative, women get free training and raw material in making this fashion accessory in the shape of a cloud akin to the Tsunamika doll that was created by fisherwomen during the Tsunami that hit coastal Chennai. They are paid for every doug they make and 100 per cent of the money made goes back to the community for supporting local projects. Funds for this project were raised internationally by students from UK, Netherlands and Germany who promote ‘Doug’ as part of their project work at business school.
Having launched a children’s range recently, No Nasties has many dream clouds to coast and a retail store in Goa is also on the anvil.
An Ultimate Frisbee champ who represented India and currently teaches anyone above the age of 10 at Miramar beach, Apurva clearly lives his life with a passion and purpose that transcends the brand. With a turnover of Rs. 75 lakhs a year, he just added serious swag to the sustainable organic business that makes being ethical also lucrative.