Sonika Bhasin is a sustainability enthusiast who inspires multitudes by endorsing the idea of low waste and sustainable living through her life.
- You advocate for a mindful low-waste lifestyle in more ways than one. And as I mentioned, you are leading by example. Was it always the same? Is there any particular value/memory from childhood that helps you keep up with the current lifestyle?
It wasn’t like this until a few years ago. I’ve always hated waste, and wasting things (especially food), in general. But until my son was born, I hadn’t really thought about the waste we generate or how that was harming the planet. The tuning point in my life was the purchase of a cloth diaper! It introduced me to a community of conscious parents and I realized our wasteful lifestyle was bad for the environment and what’s bad for the environment, is ultimately bad for us. And of course, bad for our son’s future.
- Curious to understand what sustainability means to you? Not the literal definition, but your translation in a more pragmatic, yet relatable way.
I can sum it up in two words – Being mindful. Everything starts from there. Being mindful about our actions and how they impact everything else around us. Once you are mindful, you will yourself start looking for solutions and alternatives. You’ll want to make a positive rather than a negative impact. You’ll not find excuses, you will keep trying till something that isn’t working, starts working. And it’s not just about consumption and waste, but also how you treat everyone, how you communicate, how compassionate you are towards everyone and everything around you.
- What is one prevalent myth around low waste living?
There are many! But I think overall people think it's very difficult and time consuming. The lifestyle is not difficult, neither does it take any extra time on a daily basis. It’s a shift in mindset. That's difficult and takes a lot of time. And so, it's best not to jump onto everything at once. Start small, start with easy things. E.g reduce the amount you shop for non-essentials, reduce usage of too many disposable products. Try switching from commercial to sustainable products for your personal care. Try replacing your household cleaners. Segregate your waste. None of these will disrupt your daily life.
- It is rather unrealistic for one to be 100% sustainable. What is a complete non-negotiator, absolutely must in your life?
Absolutely! I think unless you live in a forest, grow your own food and don’t consume any electricity, you can’t be 100% sustainable. So, we follow a few guidelines, to make this easy for us:
- Reduce our waste at source by
- Reduce consumption and not buy mindlessly
- Reduce our consumption of disposable products (single use plastic, cotton balls, diapers, sanitary pads, kitchen wipes and even paper napkins etc). Instead, use reusable options for all these
- When we buy, we try to buy as much packaging free as possible and buy sustainable products from Indian brands, as much as possible
- How do you choose the right brands? What are those specific areas that one must keep in mind before purchasing from a brand?
I take some time before buying anything from a new brand. I usually look them up on social media and their website. I look at ingredients or composition of a product and how it's packaged. If I like something, and have any doubts, I usually message them and ask. Most small brands reply. If they don’t reply, I don’t buy! As a rule, I don’t buy anything from a large commercial brand, unless that category of product isn’t available is a sustainable option (there are very few such categories!)
I also rely on recommendations from the community and share my recommendations on my Instagram account. Another way to choose a sustainable brand is to buy from marketplaces that sell only sustainable products, so your work is already done by them!
- One book or documentary that you go back to, for comfort or centering yourself.
Sorry, I don’t read non-fiction and don’t watch too many documentaries! They give me too much anxiety!
- Lastly, one quote that you live by? Or your message for others in your own words.
My message to everyone is:
We’ve been hearing a lot about how the planet needs us. But I think it’s the other way round, the planet doesn’t need us, we need the planet! It will probably flourish without us. So lets just think about whatever we can do to make it better and not worse. Every small step, every small change counts. Because I believe that once you make one step, you won’t stop at it!
Kriti Wadhwa is an environment enthusiast and a design graduate from the National Institute of Fashion Technology, New Delhi. As a designer, she is well aware of the practices in the fashion and creative industry and how it is continuously exploiting our planet.
- You advocate a mindful low-waste lifestyle in more ways than one. What does conscious living mean to you?
My personal implementation of a low-waste lifestyle is an intersection of what I am able to incorporate and what ideally should be done. I identify activities in my daily life that are wasteful and find alternatives to them. Of course, it is humanly impossible to rectify everything at once for various reasons, but I try to take one small step in the right direction and the rest follows.
For instance, I do sometimes find myself stepping into fast fashion stores, but when I eventually decide on making a purchase, it is only something that I can use for years, sturdy, versatile and will not wear off after a few washes. This is an initial step into making mindful fashion choices while on the other hand, I feel I’ve made more progress when it comes to wellness, beauty where I can say everything I ever buy is 100% animal cruelty-free, and brands preferably accepting empties after use.
- What made you start Cica India? (Preferably in a vertical video format)
A little backstory, I am a graduate in Leather design and we were mandatorily required to do a project at an export house. Every day, I witnessed heaps of paper, leather, fabric waste leave the factory while the karigars worked on making bags with perfection for renowned fast fashion brands. My first thought in response to what I saw was to work on a conscious fashion brand as soon as I could.
This is when the lockdown was announced and work at the export houses came to a halt. On further introspection during the lockdown, I realized creating another brand only adds to the many existing brands doing great work. After spending months digging out meaningful Indian brands and emerging designers, I noticed a gap between emerging brands working on great concepts and their consumers. This translated into the platform we've built since then and I hope the products and the curation are a bridge between that gap.
What measures do you take to ensure the brand's sourcing process stays ethical? How do you shortlist brands?
The founders and head designers are often the best storytellers of the brand. To get a better insight into their sourcing practices, I connect with founders personally to get a detailed insight into the brand’s philosophy, ethos, goals, etc. Each of them, unlike bigger retail brands, are themselves connected with sourcing vendors and have closely monitored the process. Each brand is able to track down its sources for procuring various materials and list them transparently.
The platform is built on 3 core principles: Made in India, Ethical, Single-Use Plastic Free, and every brand necessarily withstands these pillars before getting listed. Thereafter, to ensure product quality, we’ve set different quality check norms for various categories as a part of the selection process so the consumers can be ensured that each product is tried and tested for quality by a third party before it is available on the platform.
- Any tips to help others choose better without falling for greenwashing?
Funny enough, one thing I’ve always noticed is- any brand that tries too hard to slap the fact that the product is ‘sustainable’ into our faces is usually not.
A common tip you hear to not fall for greenwashing is to do your research, while many may not understand what research is necessary, one tip that may help is - Before you make a purchase, pull out the tags and read, just like you read a food label before consuming. If it is made in synthetic fabrics, it is likely that the brand is greenwashing.
- What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a socially conscious business? (Preferably in a vertical video format)
I feel the concept of mindful consumerism is relatively new to the audiences. While many are making the shift, there is a majority of the audience that is yet to be introduced to the concept and the biggest challenge lies in convincing them to make a mindful shift without having to compromise on their needs.
- One book that you go back to, for comfort or centering. And why?
One book that I love thoroughly is “The little book of comfort” by Ruskin Bond. I was not much of a reader until recently. The book is fewer words, and more impact, not too overwhelming- perfect for days when you really need comfort and centering.
- One superpower you wish you had. What change would it bring?
I’d vaccinate the world with kindness and acceptance. If only every human was treated the exact way they treat other humans or animals, the world would be a lot kinder. It breaks my heart to see people mistreat animals.
Kathy Walkling is the co-founder of Eco-Femme. She is an environmentalist, activist and speaker who works to spread awareness on menstrual hygiene and such topics considered as stigma in society.
- What made you start Eco Femme?
Initially it was a personal quest. After moving to India from Australia back in 1995, I struggled with how to dispose on my own sanitary waste given that garbage disposal was such an obvious problem. Digging holes each month to bury my sanitary waste was difficult and motivated me to find another way! In 1999 I stumbled on cloth pads during a holiday back home and I was really impacted by the multiple benefits, even beyond the pollution problem I was trying to prevent. As time went by, I became more aware of the nature and scale of this problem - of how much plastic is in a pad and the problem of how to effectively deal with sanitary waste in urban areas in a country with such a vast population like India and this was a further motivation.
In 2009 I was working for a local NGO on social enterprise creation – we were looking for income generating options for women and the idea for them to stitch cloth pads seems like a natural fit so all of these factors converged to give birth to Eco Femme.
- What is the one personality trait which also reflects in the brand?
I love nature and am fascinated by the subtle power of the feminine. I think these passions help me bring a particular orientation to how we do business and run Eco Femme that is rooted in care for the whole of life.
- What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a socially conscious business?
Increasingly it seems to boil down to economics. As a social enterprise, our products are not as cheap as other cloth pad manufacturers who do not have a social mission or give back programs. We are finding it increasingly difficult to sustain sales amidst growing competition with lower priced products.
- Who inspires you the most? Any mentors that you look up to?
I am inspired by anyone who attempts something big on behalf of life and the planet. This takes a kind of fearless courage and focused dedication and I have been inspired by many great women who have modeled these qualities: Vandana Shiva, Jane Goodall, Claire Dubois (Founder of treesisters), Nina Simmons (founder of Bioneers) all come immediately to mind.
- Do you think an individual's actions matter?
I think it matters tremendously. I believe that an immense potential lies like a seed in us all and when we find access to it and start trusting and acting from that source, we can literally change the world.
- One quote or a particular perspective that keeps you going in life?
I guess an evolutionary perspective guides my life – that we are created by Life itself and our lives are not only not random but have a deeper purpose and meaning. This orientation inspires me to keep striving to stretch into life and and engage fully from the conviction that my attitude and actions – an indeed everyone’s – matter in an intelligent and unfolding universe. In other words, that we can all make a difference and indeed are meant to as creative agents in a bigger story that we are all participating in and writing as we go along.
- If given the chance, what would be the one message for people to help them adopt?
Be gentle with yourself! If you understand the problem we have with disposables – the plastics, the chemicals, the lack of disposal options - and want to find a more healthy and sustainable way, then give reusable cloth pads (or menstrual cups) a go. Start small – experiment and get used to how the product performs. You can also watch video’s read other stories of people who have made the switch. Inform yourself and take the step that feel right for YOU!