In Conversation with Meghna Kishore & Barkha Bhatnagar from Greendigo on Starting a A Carbon Neutral brand for Kids in India
Greendigo is an organic clothing brand for kids and has always strived to create high-quality kids’ clothing with extended shelf lives. The brand aims to design capsule wardrobe-friendly clothes for kids to make fun permutation combinations possible which then reduces the inherent need to purchase more and more. The clothes that they produce are made from GOTS certified organic cotton and their packaging is absolutely plastic-free, both of which are practises that help to significantly lower their carbon footprint. We spoke to the founders of Greendigo and talked about the nitty gritty’s of starting a brand that is carbon neutral and sustainable while making the safest, most comfortable and affordable clothing for children.
1. Tell us about your brand. What was the idea/ inspiration to venture into kids wear?
Greendigo is a homegrown, carbon-neutral brand of organic cotton children’s clothing. We cater to age groups of 0-12 years. The brand offers clothing which is bright, fun, affordable and machine washable thereby debunking the myth that organic clothing is mostly dull, expensive and difficult to maintain.
When Meghna moved back to India after a long stint abroad, she was shocked by the lack of awareness regarding the harmful effects of synthetic clothing widely available in India. Having relied on friends and family travelling overseas to bring back bags of organic clothing for her little one for many years, she took it upon herself to start a home-grown organic kidswear brand which offers international designs that are practical and perfect for the active lifestyle of kids today. On the other hand, I am very mindful of living consciously and I believe that living sustainably has to start early. Since children are one of the largest consumers of apparel, to make a significant positive impact on the environment, it is not just the occasional wear which needs to be sustainable, but daily casual wear which has to be responsibly produced. With this, we embarked upon the journey to create clothing rich in meaning and quality.
2. How are organic fabrics better for the health of babies and toddlers as compared to regular cotton clothes?
The production of regular cotton often involves the use of GMO seeds, chemical pesticides and artificial fertilisers at the farms. When the harvested cotton from these farms is further processed, it gets treated with more chemicals. Finally, to make garments, the colours and dyes often contain heavy metals. All these chemicals are hazardous for health and the environment. Children’s skin is significantly thinner and hence more absorbent of substances present in their clothes. Kids are thereby, prone to absorb the harmful chemicals and toxins leading to skin rashes, allergies, respiratory disorders, auto-immune diseases etc.
On the other hand, organic cotton is grown using non-GMO seeds, natural materials and traditional processes to manage soil fertility and reduce pest damage. Organic cotton farmers don’t use toxic hazardous pesticides and artificial fertilizers. Furthermore, the fabrics are not treated with toxic colours and dyes either. Devoid of any exposure to dangerous chemicals, organic cotton is softer and less likely to trigger any allergies in children. It is also more durable and long-lasting.
3. What does being sustainable mean to you and how do you constantly incorporate sustainability in your brand?
We are a new brand, just over a year old and we wanted to start off with clean and sustainable practices right from the word go. We believe that it’s important to have good processes in place right from the beginning because of damage caused by a brand over a significant period of time can’t be changed overnight. Greendigo’s entire supply chain, from farms to factories, and from fabrics to dyes and colours are 100% certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). This affirms the organic status of raw materials and also guarantees that the manufacturing processes are environmentally and socially responsible. The cotton farmers get a fair price for their produce which helps them break away from a vicious cycle of debt, the factories are free of child labour and offer fair and safe working conditions to all workers. Furthermore, since their processes eliminate the use of artificial fertilizers, chemical pesticides and toxic dyes and colours, the health of farmers, factory workers and consumers is safeguarded. This also prevents harmful chemicals to make their way up to food chains and contaminate water bodies.
At Greendigo, we are committed to the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with the aim to achieve better health and more sustainable economic growth for everyone. From employing underprivileged women to eliminating gender inequality and supporting local organic cotton farmers for economic growth, we also advocate the use of clean, cleverly designed and long-lasting products to drive responsible consumption and reduce wasteful production. Organic farming has lower emissions of greenhouse gases with additional benefits of bio-diversity. Since we use organic cotton, it helps minimise the effects of climate change too.
We are also a carbon neutral brand. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from burning fossil fuels and clear-cutting forests are resulting in climate change. At Greendigo, we already use organic fabrics and employ sustainable manufacturing practices to significantly reduce our CO2 emissions. But there are still emissions which are unavoidable. We are tackling these unavoidable emissions by investing in offset projects such as renewable energy, forest conservation and energy efficiency. We buy carbon offset credits from these projects that are equal to our unavoidable emissions. This provides crucial funding for these projects to continue to thrive while making all our products carbon neutral from ‘seed to shelf’. All our projects are rigorously verified and certified through The Gold Standard and UN Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).
To ensure that our supply chain was tuned for reducing the carbon emissions in the first place, we chose to work with a sustainable fibre like organic cotton. Our production is carried out locally within India and we offer good quality garments which are long-lasting. By having a GOTS certified supply chain and 100% plastic-free packaging, we attempt to work with a cleaner and greener approach to production and servicing customers.
4. Tell us about your manufacturing process? How do you make sure that you get the best quality of sustainable and organic fabrics?
The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is a globally recognised leading textile processing standard for organic fibres, including ecological and social criteria, backed up by independent certification of the entire textile supply chain. Greendigo’s entire supply chain is certified by GOTS. Their stringent checks and balances along the entire supply chain, from farms to consumers serves as a validation of our endeavour to offer our customers only the best quality sustainable and organic garments. The authenticity of our organic cotton garments can be ascertained by locating the certificate from GOTS on its label or packaging.
Greendigo’s clothes are soft, pure, comfortable and devoid of harmful chemicals, making them safe for the delicate skin of children. This differentiates our offering from the blended/synthetic clothing largely available in the market today.
5. After working in the financial sector for years, what roadblocks did you face when you started Greendigo?
The first and the biggest challenge that we encountered was to set up a clean, sustainable, tight loop and reliable supply chain. Manufacturers often do not entertain start-ups since they fail to meet the MOQ (Minimum Order Quantity). Also, given that organic clothing for kids is still a relatively nascent category in India, there are only a handful of manufacturers whose supply chain is end-to-end compliant with the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). Our first big setback actually was encountering a manufacturer who believed in greenwashing and tried coaxing us to follow suit. Since his ideology was not in line with our belief of building an authentic, sustainable and organic brand, we took a business call to delay our go to market date rather than do what was not in line with our ethics and principles.
As we progressed, we also learnt that the majority of ‘organic’ brands are misleading consumers by indulging in greenwashing, thereby paying lip service to their standards on product quality and sustainability. This turned out to be a big challenge for us. We had to quickly pivot and focus on educating the audience on what organic clothing truly means and how Greendigo is different from the rest. Devoid of artificial fertilizers, synthetic pesticides and toxic colours, Greendigo’s garments are soft, pure, comfortable and gentle on the delicate skin of children while being environment-friendly. Moreover, to test the genuineness of authentic organic garments, such as Greendigo’s, customers can check for the certification from GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) which comes attached to every garment. Furthermore, there is a cloud of misconceptions that organic clothing is dull and not stylish, is unavailable in bright colours, is difficult to maintain and is only for occasional wear. By constantly having to reinforce that organic clothes can be fun, affordable, low maintenance and for everyday wear, we feel that we are in the space of category creation rather than vying for a share in an existing category.
6. What is your advice for brands who want to take the sustainability route?
We believe that as individuals and as businesses, whether large or small, it is our responsibility to clean up after us. It is morally irresponsible to leave the planet in a mess for future generations and hence, it is critical now more than ever to be conscious of the impact that our activities have on the planet. However, in India, the awareness for organic cotton and sustainable apparel is still fairly low and the responsibility of educating the customer lies collectively with brands. This would be possible when more players enter this segment. Brands should however be mindful of the fact that sustainability is a marathon, not a sprint and therefore requires a long-term investment.