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'Pitara' Turns Waste Scraps Into Economically Sustainable Products

Not rarely in India, clothes are worn and passed on to a younger sibling or someone in need. Sometimes it becomes a mop or duster. This re-use, giving a new avatar and a whole new life to a retired piece of clothing is called upcycling by the fashion industry. Several brands in the fashion industry are upcycling and it is a growing market with discards going up and an increase in demand. Siblings Rini Mehta and Rohan Mehta set up Pitara, meaning treasure box in Hindi, to upcycle old sarees into aesthetically pleasing products like bags that suit the modern lifestyle.

Recalling the idea behind starting Pitara, Rini Mehta, Co-Founder, Pitara-Unbox Creativity said, 

I have had a passion for creativity since childhood. I used to draw on blackboards. When I grew up, I started putting up exhibitions of handmade cards. My parents insisted on a professional degree and asked me to pursue an MBA. However, I could not complete it. Finally, I thought it's best to start working in some creative field. I started working as a textile designer. After a few stints here and there as a designer in textile manufacturing, I thought of doing something of my own. That's when I started Pitara, which means a treasure box.

Rohan was a lawyer but got so inspired and motivated by his sister's (Rini) passion for art and creativity, that he quit his practice and joined his sister. Rohan said,

From my homework to projects she has always done things for me. So this pushed me to help her with her idea of creating Pitara-Unbox Creativity. Developing this brand for her was truly inspiring for me.

But like every new business, Pitara faced hiccups too. Managing the huge volume of waste scraps, and turning them into economically valuable products was a challenge. Rini started segregating cloth scraps and worked systematically on how to put the scraps to good use. Explaining the process, Rini said,

We worked a little on that. Did research and development - created some surfaces and developed some new products using them. First, we used sarees from our home. We tore them up. Then used the torn sarees along with shreds or leftovers from making bags, as material to make the surface.

Further elaborating on the process of upcycling, Rohan, Co-Founder, Pitara-Unbox Creativity said,

We take lining in different portions. Leather, jute, and other materials are separated so that in the future we can use them in different ways. We get a few more ideas when we go out in the market or ask our customers for feedback. Then we conceptualise our products based on that.

But resources from a home are obviously limited. So, Rini and Rohan started a rather unique campaign in their locality and on social media. The idea was to incentivise, said Rini and added,

We started a campaign on Instagram through which old clothes could be redeemed as a coupon for shopping at our store.

Pitara's work reflects the art and culture of Rajasthan. All the products at Pitara are handmade. One can see the use of Bagru print and Zardozi in their products. Talking about how Pitara takes inspiration from traditional products, Rohan said,

The idea behind Pitara is to promote Indian culture and artisans and things related to them. Today, everything is made by machines. We need to bring back our culture, our heritage, fabrcis and products. If you see our products, they are inspired by old and traditional products. For example, one of our products batua is inspired by our grandmother's old wallet. It has been modified to make it more modern but it also has the essence of our culture to make it more adaptive to the current times. We also use fabrics like block printed fabric and ikkat fabric. These prints and fabrics come from our age-old culture. We now plan on working on the designs and techniques required in making these traditional products.

Upcycled sarees are not all that Pitara works with. With research and development and experimenting, they came up with wallets and bags made from and woven using newspapers, magazines and old tyre tubes. Explaining how Pitara uses different kinds of waste to produce daily-use items, Rini said,

There are usually so many scraps lying around at home. These days everyone is working on sustainability and has become quite conscious. Since I have been working in this field, I felt like new products can be made. I collected newspapers, got them weaved, and got their strength checked in order to ensure safety. With newspapers, there is this scare that it might tear. After a few rounds of weaving and processing it, its surface finally felt strong enough. And that's when we developed some products. After this, we worked on plastic. Plastic packaging is beautiful but it gets thrown away as waste and ends up in landfills. So, we started weaving plastic as well. We are also experimenting with wool and feather. We are trying to mix and match with tyre tubes. We cut and wove a tyre tube just for experiment purposes and it came out well. It gives a rich feel.

Recycling for value-addition has taken on a whole new meaning at Pitara that is not only upcycling sarees but is also recycling plastic waste and old tyres to make luxury products. Pitara as a brand has converted sustainability into a business proposition. While signing off, Roha urged people to reuse and said,

We live in an environment that is so old. We should not hamper the environment. Whatever we buy on a day-to-day basis, shouldn't be just used and thrown. We should think about how to use them multiple times and not just once. This will extend the life of the product and our life on the planet. That's the idea behind Pitara.

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