• PLASTIC:Unwrapped

Rimagined: Insight into an Indian Upcycling Enterprise

Over the past week, we had the privilege of virtually meeting another of our partners. We are pleased to introduce to you, Shailaja founder of Rimagined, which is an upcycling enterprise based in India.

Shailaja’s sustainability journey started over 7 years ago and has taken the then business consultant and shopaholic across the spectrum to now being a minimalist, working in sustainability. What started with only one person, has now grown to be a team of 35 individuals working together.

Check out this video to hear about how the team is divided up across India.

It is rather inspirational, as Rimagined once again came down to the passion and vision of one individual, namely Shailaja. Rimagined started out as a marketplace, with 7 to 10 local vendors who started making all sorts of products from upcycled materials in their homes. Acting almost like a pilot project, this marketplace helped give Shailaja a better idea of what was going to work and what wasn’t, as it is always tricky and highly context-dependent seeing how people will react to purchasing upcycled products. Will people find it appealing to buy these products? What alternatives need to be produced? In an ideal world, it is simple to encourage people to just buy sustainably-sourced products, but some people who are not yet as environmentally conscientious may not find that appealing, or don’t see the value in using waste to create new products. It is important to first understand where your audience is at and then use that to establish how best to introduce them to seeing the value in upcycled products.

Testing the waters with this idea, also taught her the challenges of quality, design and costs. We currently find ourselves in a world where there is a lot of high-end upcycling, but instead of solely focusing on a rather niche market, why not focus on producing larger quantities of everyday products? This is exactly what Rimagined set up to focus on:

“Mass consumption is where I wanted to make a dent.”

Unfortunately, there is still a global misconception and hesitation when people buy upcycled products. There is often a lingering doubt that because it is created from waste, it may not be as durable and high-quality. This is also true in India, as Shailaja has experienced. Her take on it has been “See it to believe it.” She is very aware that many people question the longevity of recycled products and so she appreciates the initial reluctancy that people may have towards buying upcycled products.

Nonetheless, after uncovering the true ‘ingredients’ for her products, namely waste scraps, plastic-off cuts and other trimmings, she asks the buyers ‘so why can’t this be seen as alternative?’. This is a key question in getting the dialogue on using upcycled products going. Excitingly, Shailaja has witnessed a slow and steady behavioural change. Although they may not be all there yet, it does take time for these things to evolve and catch on, but change is definitely on its way.

Rimagined’s main target audience is aged between 30-65. This is the age-group that typically hits peak consumption and has the most disposable income. More women have been engaging with Rimagined merchandise. Shailaja presumes that this is because men typically tend towards known brands, do not take as much time for their shopping and are a little more reluctant to try out new products. This of course, is a generalisation, but evident within Rimagined’s experiences. They have noticed that women are more engaged consumers and make more informed purchases, making it easier to focus on this group. Aside from the gender differences, Shailaja also makes note of the cultural challenges that they are faced with, as well as the best ways to move forwards.

Understanding how local culture influences consumer habits is such an important part of knowing how to introduce upcycled waste into people’s purchases- not only seeing what waste is readily available for upcycling, but also understanding what people are likely to buy. Seeing as handcraftsmanship has always been part of the Indian psyche and is prominent across the country, this skill often gets taken for granted. Reinforcing the value of craft skills within the local Indian population, alongside encouraging them to see the value of waste, has taken the Rimagined team on an explorational learning adventure.

Of course there is also a cost aspect. Often different markets have caught onto the fact that people are increasingly interested in using recyclable materials, causing them to increase their prices. Rimagined values the importance of keeping prices as low as possible, within responsible and ethical limits. If you are only at the beginning stages of introducing sustainable products into people’s consumption habits, what is the incentive of having products that are double or even triple the price of conventional products? Therefore, Rimagined has focussed on knocking off the margins and is focussing on higher product quantities, which is enabling them to produce products at the same price as conventional options. Unfortunately, the sustainability and recycling industry as a whole does not have that luxury to make their products a lot more profitable, as the demand for these products is still too low.

How can we move forward?

Joining our view, Shailaja emphasises the importance of networking and collaborating. There are so many people out there doing so much good and so the key lies in exploring collaborative options and adding global value to recycling and upcycling waste. It is not only collaborating but also sharing successes as well as failures. Learning from each other’s mistakes is so crucial in exacerbating the positive cascading effect. No one of us is perfect, and that is why we can make the most out of mistakes that others have made, use that knowledge and apply it, so that we can each build on making the sustainability sector bolder, bigger and better.

It is not about getting everything right. Listen to what Shailaja has to say about what she calls ‘imperfect sustainability’.

“I may not have a magic wand to solve the problems overnight, but over my lifetime I would have made some positive impact.”

This is a simple and very motivating message- reinforcing personal agency and the power that personal choices and consumer habits can have.

Finishing with a simple message:

Be perfect in your imperfect self. Do the best you can, because even the little things do add up.