29 May 2019 19:17 IST

Bluemadegreen: where sustainability is in the jeans

Prabha Rajkumar upcycles denim and other material to create bags, accessories and decorative items

Ratna Prabha Rajkumar’s eyes light up when she gets her hands on a faded or end-of-life pair of jeans. Her work begins now, as the old denim is upcycled into a range of bags (travel bags, backpacks, handbags, and purses), tablecloths, placemats, and covers for diwans and cushions.

Bluemadegreen, a self-funded venture started by Prabha in Bengaluru in 2014, is about lengthening the lifespan of fabrics, to reuse resources to the maximum and reduce, or delay, waste. The name Bluemadegreen came about as Prabha started with upcycling denim. Now she upcycles almost any article of used clothing that comes to her.

“It started from my love of making different things out of cloth,” says Prabha, “At home, whenever we disposed of old clothes or gave them to someone who could use them, I wondered where they ended up when their product cycle was complete. As I had a talent for creating various items from cloth, I felt I should put those skills to a good cause. That’s how I started this venture.”

Ecological concerns

It’s easy to see how she has a steady supply of raw material. However hardy they may be, one’s favourite pair of jeans too will one day be thrown away, as they don’t fit any more. Soon enough they’re replaced by a new pair, and so the cycle continues. But what’s the cost? It takes 7,600 litres of water, 3 kg of chemicals, and one-and-a-half pounds of cotton to make a pair of jeans. And it leaves water bodies choking on 34 kg of carbon dioxide and chemical waste from the remnants of synthetic indigo dye.

 

It is to address, in a small way, such detrimental effects on the environment that Prabha was motivated to start upcycling used garments. Now, in her new base in Kannur, Kerala, she and two other staff transform old denim and other material into a variety of products. They also make accessories such as earrings, hairbands, hairclips, belts and bracelets. All the items are customised.

The material used is usually old fabric customers send her or tailoring leftovers that Prabha collects. However, new cotton fabric is used as lining for bags. “Most of the accessories we use on our bags, such as zippers, magnets, and buckles, are sourced from Bengaluru. We use good quality fasteners so that the products last long. For embellishments, we prefer to use fabric piping, hand embroidery and patchwork rather than lace and glitter,” she says.

Product range

Prabha says her customers are the inspiration behind the variety of items she makes, as many products were first made to meet the requirements of a customer. The price for a backpack starts at ₹1,200 while a denim pouch is priced in the ₹250-320 range. Cushion covers cost upwards of ₹350. However, a product’s price depends on the amount of time and effort it takes. Many factors are considered, including the number of denim jeans cut open, the amount of patchwork involved, the different features, and the number of days spent on an item. Often, products that look similar are priced slightly differently due to variations in features inside.

Upcycling and downcycling come under the umbrella term of recycling. Downcycling is when waste material is recycled into something of lower value while upcycling refers to reusing discarded material to create something of higher value. “At Bluemadegreen, we make sure the products have utility and are not just showpieces. They are washable and user-friendly,” says Prabha.

Bluemadegreen also recently started creating trash-free decorations, using pieces of fabric left over from boutiques and tailoring units. Prabha hopes these will soon replace disposable decorations. She and her friend Malini have been experimenting with birthday banners, tassels and other accessories, and have found a whole new world of possibilities in such events.

Endless options

What is one of the most creative pieces she has made? “Whenever we make a completely new item, we feel that was the most creative thing we have created. It keeps changing,” she says. “I once made a camera bag for a photographer, according to the camera size. It had lots of removable and adjustable partitions for the different lenses. That was the most challenging product I have made so far. Otherwise, all our products are creative in one way or other.”

Though word of mouth brings Prabha many clients, social media, especially Facebook, helps her reach out to more people. She also conducts exhibitions and workshops.

Prabha’s advice to aspiring sustainable entrepreneurs is: “Your vision should be clear if you want to stick to upcycling. There may be a lot of pressure from outside to start a business with brand new products. But there are endless options in upcycling and, with imagination and creativity, the sky is the limit.”

Recommended for you