Empowering artisans, the heart of sustainable design

Through her startup Ecoloop, Chandni Khandelwal has been urging people to switch to eco-friendly packaging solutions, all while also helping women artisans of Odisha achieve financial independence

Back in July, Dior showcased a jaw-dropping 3,600-square-foot tapestry backdropduring the debut of its Spring/Summer 2022 collection at Paris Fashion Week. Fun fact? The textile was based on the work of Indian artists Madhvi and Manu Parekh, and entirely embroidered at Chanakya School of Craft in Mumbai.

Closer home, 26-year-old Chandni Khandelwal has also been doing her bit to highlight Indian crafts and the artisans behind them through her venture Ecoloop, which sells sustainable packaging solutions made of materials such as sabai grass, bamboo, jute and more.

Chandni’s work with the artisans of Odisha is featured in a short film for 101 India x MG Changemakers, an initiative that brings stories of inspiring women who are torchbearers of change in their communities. The latest season focuses on stories advocating for the sustainable development of communities, which in Chandni’s case, involves providing gainful employment to over 1,000 women artisans.

The seed that grew into a tree


Chandni’s first encounter with the craft clusters of Odisha took place when she was pursuing her graduation at the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) in Bhubaneswar. Her coursework took her into several villages, where she and other students would work with the locals to create products out of natural materials.

“When I used to visit the villages in Baripada, I saw that the villagers were involved in a lot of activities, like crafting bamboo products, collecting raw honey and selling it in the village market. They were all so talented, but they didn’t have a platform on which to showcase their products. That got me wondering whether I could create an ecosystem to benefit these artisans,” says Chandni.

“An abundance of natural materials, artisan families struggling to make ends meet, and a need to replace plastics with eco-friendly packaging options — I knew that there was an opportunity here,” says Chandni.

She adds, “I started by looking for artisans who could craft the products for me. I started approaching artisans in the villages and tribal areas. But it was difficult to convince these women to work with us. Eventually, some women came forward, because they realised that doing this would give them a chance to be financially independent.”

Risk leads to reward

In 2020, the world as we knew it came to a halt. The Covid-19 pandemic started ravaging the world, and it did so in more than one way. Among the most brutally impacted was the crafts sector in India, which is mostly made up of daily-wage workers. After months of going in and out of lockdowns, when workshops were finally back to functioning, the sector was hit with a slew of cancelled domestic and international orders. This was the final nail in the coffin of an industry that was already struggling to survive, thanks to a loss of skills and failure to market to a new generation of customers.

But Chandni took the risky decision of launching Ecoloop right in the middle of the pandemic, in May 2020. She started retailing products through social media and has, over time, even established a website. Today, the platform earns her a revenue of Rs 1-2 lakh a month, which she distributes amongst the women who helped bring her vision to life.

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She says, “My dream is that one day, thanks to Ecoloop, each village that we work with will become self-sufficient. More importantly, we want the artisans’ children, who until now have said that they don’t want to carry on the family tradition because it didn’t bring in enough money, to see how lucrative it can be and come back to the profession.”

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101india.com.

Written By: Shraddha Uchil