On the 24th of December – which is the most important Christmas day (at least where I come from –Germany) – was started off by a visit to Upasana and ended with a nice Christmas Eve dinner in Pondicherry.
Upasana is an organization that is mainly concerned with sustainable and ethical fashion, art and design. When we arrived at their office in Auroville, two women that manage Upasana greeted us and gave us a presentation on the whole company, including its sub-brands. Uma, the one in charge for fashion and design, presented the latest addition to Upasana: the Tsunamika dolls. As the name already suggests, those dolls were made to help Tsunami victims. The history of the dolls, she said, goes back to a little child that wanted to put a smile on her mother’s face after the Tsunami had taken most of what she had owned and loved. The child crafted a doll out of waste material and succeeded in making her mother happy with such a simple little gift. Upasana’s role in this is that they hired women that needed help and liked the idea of the doll that was crafted out of waste material. The women working at Upasana still continue to make the unique dolls as a gift to others. They are never sold. Rather, they are gifted to those who make a donation for Tsunami victims.
Uma further explained to us that she and the manager of the company just came back from a business trip to Paris, where they presented their handmade fashion lines. One of them is Paruthi, the luxury organic cotton fashion line. She highlighted that all materials they use are 100% organic cotton or silk and are never chemically processed at any stage. Also, no artificially produced materials are used, such as Rayon or Polyester. The main reason for this is not only to save the environment and improve working conditions within Upasana, but also to improve health and economic situations of the tailors and the suppliers, such as the cotton farmers. The company keeps their own profit to a minimum so that farmers and tailors can benefit from sales. This is especially important to Upsana, as in India there is a high suicidal rate among cotton farmers. Mainly this results from health issues due to chemical processing during the production, but also due to not being able to make a living from their work. Uma told us, that it is common in India to commit suicide if you fail to make a living.
However, this is also a global issue. I worked for the corporation Monsanto, who produces only one single type of cotton GMO crop. This ruins local businesses as GMO crops are highly efficient and cheap due to economies of scale. Nevertheless, these crops do not only harm the environment, but also the health of workers on the field and customers wearing the final products. Therefore, Upasana’s work in providing help to farmers and tailors and solely using organic cotton is an invaluable step towards a more sustainable environment, society and economy.
I found it especially interesting that Uma told us about how the Indian environment and also economy could benefit from this approach. Upasana does not only use organic material to create a sustainable environment and clothes production, but also as a unique selling point. Uma mentioned that many companies and wholesalers turn to China, as cotton and especially silks are much cheaper there. Therefore, she sees China as a main threat or as a “blocker” of changing society as most things we buy originate from there. “If this huge nation will not make an effort to improve environmental and health impacts during clothes production then change will be very difficult”, she said. Upasana is therefore trying to be a role model and to raise global awareness by producing sustainable and ethical fashion, art and design. I share Uma’s opinion, that people should be conscious buyers. I also believe that Upasana’s business model can inspire others and make impacts especially in sustainability-conscious nations, such as Germany and Sweden.
At last, Uma presented us other brands and projects such as “Small Steps”, an alternative to a plastic bag, which is reusable, and Navarasa, organic food and drinks. Afterwards, we went to the Janaki (House of Conscious Living), where most of Upasana’s brands can be bought.
In conclusion, the visit was very interesting as we learnt about how Upasana helps employees, suppliers and the outside environment with its work. I also found it impressive, that in contrast to the other organizations we’ve visited, Upasana does not rely on funding and aims to operate without it also in the future.
Later that day, we went to the closest city, Pondicherry, to have our Christmas dinner there. The place we ate at (Villa Shanti) was very nicely decorated and I felt a tiny bit like Christmas in the rather summery India.
The day after (25th of December), we were given a day off. Some Swedish girls, Kallie, Melissa and I took that opportunity to spend a day at the Mango Hill Resort, a little hotel in Auroville with a nice swimming pool area.
Happy holidays to you from India!