Jute bag idea strikes gold a decade later

By Times Of India on 13 Apr 2018 | read
Debjani Banerjee, a former teacher, started an eco-friendly bag production unit in 2007, a decade before a surge in demand for plastic-free storage. Now, thanks to the state government's recent ban on most plastics, Banerjee's investment in the jute and cotton bag production units are paying off handsomely.
"I came to the city in 2002, and I taught at the MIT School for some time. After some time, I thought of doing something that will benefit the poor families, especially the women. I also wanted to get involved with something that was beneficial for the environment. That is when I thought of jute bags," Banerjee says.

She started sewing jute bags - known for their durability and lower costs - on a mechanised sewing machine she managed to buy using her savings. And her general routine consisted of sewing the jute bags and then approaching potential customers across the city on her scooter. She was looking for sales. Later, through an acquaintance, she managed to secure bulk orders from top companies. That generated an instant infusion of capital into Banerjee's business.

"I got to know of someone who dealt in orders for blue-chip companies, especially for things such as bags, notepads and other such materials needed for large conferences. I did not even know what blue-chip companies were, or how such supply chains worked. But I managed to secure one of the first orders for my bags from the Tata group. The company needed the bags for one of its conferences," Banerjee recalls. While these big orders generated income, she needed more capital to expand her production capacity - more sewing machines and marketing channels. Initially, family and friends helped out with some money. Then, the banks recognised the importance of her work and provided her with loans. Today, her enterprise, Srishti - which means creation - has a full-fledged production unit; a workshop in Pashan and several retail outlets. Even the National Jute Board recognises her work and, therefore, the supply of raw materials has been steady for Banerjee.

More importantly, this manufacturing and trade of eco-friendly products have touched lives, especially in some of the poorest neighbourhoods of the city.

While her enterprise, essentially being run as a cooperative, employs workers at the Pashan workshop, it also reaches out into the city's slums.

"We work with a number of women's groups from the city's slums. Based on orders, we ask these groups to make jute bags with our specifications. This gives them gainful employment and dignity," Banerjee says.

Her plans for expansion could not have come at a better time as the state government has banned most plastic products meant for daily use, especially plastic bags.

"Our orders have suddenly increased, for the jute bags as well as for the cotton bags we have started manufacturing. We are also planning to relaunch our website, which people can use to buy our products," she adds.