Do you ask Stories behind what you buy?
I grew up in the 1990s when consumerism was growing fast, with the advent of television, media and advertising. I remember our buying choices had also started changing and new brands were entering our home. Like the best advertisement of shampoo and soap by Diana Hayden or Juhi Chawla were our favorites! So was true with upcoming food brands, which were replacing our breakfast 'sattu-jaggery porridge' with what the advertisements said was tastier and 'healthier'! My sister and I always asked for the latest products looking at these advertisements and our generous parents got us what we wanted! Shopping malls had started popping up and as we grew up, we started visiting them, instead of the local retail clothing store in the neighborhood.
As I grew older, and had started earning for myself as a proud IT engineer, times were super exciting! Usually, the first week of every month was a planned shopping spree with friends to the nearest city mall, where global brands started catching our attention. This grew even better when I landed up with a job in the consumer's paradise ie the United States of America, and even better, my job was right in Downtown Chicago, with the sprawling State Street and Michigan Avenue (or Magnificent Mile!!) just a hop away! That got all the best brands in my wardrobe! Who cared about what materials were used, where were the products made, who made them, how were they made, what dyes were used, whether it helped any artisan or not ... What mattered the most was the "SALE" signboard outside the shop! Then, started online deals and shopping!! Consumerism has never grown so exponentially before!!!
DOES MY STORY SOUND LIKE MOST OF YOURS' AS WELL?
However, while in the US itself, I had started attending many 'Green', 'Sustainable' and 'Conscious' events.. I heard Blake Mycoskie (of Tom's shoes), Jim Gibbons (the blind CEO of Goodwill), Vandana Shiva (of Navdanya), Ray Anderson (of Interface carpets) and many other renowned people who were trying to bring about a change in how consumers could think, how products could be made and not gobble up the entire planet with our 'greed'... I started reading books.. and yes, my work consulting on sustainability with some of the biggest brands of the world including Starbucks, Mattel, Staples and so on, made me start to realize the change in my own thought process!
That's when the concept of 'Greed vs Need' sank inside me!!
Thats about the same time, when I had decided to move back to India and for the first few months, I was to stay in the Financial and Consumer capital of Mumbai (a city of 20 million people!!!!).. The market was no different than what I had experienced in the US..
The real 'conscious' change started when I stepped out of the city and into rural India.. and started to understand the lifestyle, the mindset, the impact of the urban consumerism on their natural ecosystems and so on.. Thats how REAL India was! I was lucky to spend time with many change leaders, who had consciously changed their own lifestyle. My business partner Nandan, and I started traveling all over India to experience the real India. We went to non-touristic places of Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Himachal, UP, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Goa, Dadra Nagar Haveli, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu...everywhere! . We were fortunate to get some very good projects to work on as consultants, in the early years of Aarohana EcoSocial Developments. So, that kept our families satisfied of our explorations :)
After watching the other side of just being a consumer, I started realizing some very important questions which I had ignored earlier:
what materials were being used, where were the products made, who made them, how were they made, whether it helped any artisan or not?? WHAT WAS THE STORY BEHIND EACH PRODUCT THAT I HAD USED till now?
I had started becoming more conscious? I literally asked all the sellers/resellers in the city 'Whats the story of this product?'. If not all, I made sure that I bought the product which ticked atleast a few of the questions above! My wardrobe now had more of cotton (even organic cotton) silk, wool, handspun/handwoven, naturally dyed fabric, block prints, hand painted, or things made by non-profits working for the underprivileged. Even food and consumer choices changed to more organic, hand-treshed, handmade, natural, sustainable (even sustainably packaged) and on! I was a regular at farmers markets and handicraft fairs (as a shopper and later as a participant ;))
The shopping had a MEANING..and though I had to seldom spend an extra buck, I knew that the extra price was for the extra effort taken to CONSERVE THE ENVIRONMENT or HELP THE SOCIETY. I was happy to trade that rupee for the many unnecessary expenditures I anyways incured!
Being a conscious shopper now enabled us to launch and implement all these practices in our own conscious brand 'AAROHANA'S UPCYCLED-HANDWOVEN' fashion accessories, daily utility and home decor products! With this thought process, we could develop each and every aspect of our brand consciously... Right from what material we use, to where we source the material from, to where it is made, who makes it, how its made, whom do we hire, where do we exhibit, whom do we partner with, how do we plan to expand....everything is ECOSOCIAL!
And I am very proud of this venture that Nandan and I have setup with our lovely team... And it gives even more pleasure when we get accolades for our work from of you all around the world, our lovely supporters and conscious consumers! We weave a story EVERY SINGLE DAY! Be it with our artisans, be it with our staff, or our selfless interns and mentors, or be it with our wonderful customers! We thank you all for believing in our STORY and helping us create more stories together!
I didn't know that the Journey to being a CONSCIOUS SHOPPER would be so interesting.. .and I am enjoying every moment of it!