India's premier luxury lifestyle women's magazine
October 07, 2019

Nimboo Is Ushering In A New Age Of Online Sustainable Shopping

Text by: Rushmika Banerjee

Designer Saurabh Mahajan talks about his efforts to offer transparency to the consumer through his interior and accessories label

As much as the woke consumer today wants to become an ethical one, there is a serious dearth of adequate information on brands that walk the path of sustainability. As I scroll through my Instagram every day, I come across a lot of “ethical labels” that are creating “sustainable products”, which are “good for the environment”. So far, so good, however, how does one determine how these labels promote sustainability rather than just using the word as a marketing tool? This was one of the key insights from WGSN’s Sustainability and the Consumer 2019 report, “While awareness has increased, action still lags behind consumer sentiment”. This is, in turn, corroborated by a study published by PricewaterhouseCoopers or PwC (a multinational auditing company based out of London), which states that even though 72% of companies in their study mentioned the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in their annual corporate and sustainability report, only 23% of companies disclosed meaningful Key Performance Indicators and targets related to the SDGs. The consumer is not only seeking sustainable products, but is also increasingly demanding labels that are pushing a successful brand narrative by making noticeable strides.

Today, there are two assets that push a label forward – one is the tangible product and the other is the intangible brand narrative. 34-year-old Saurabh Mahajan has a great product in hand – the label Nimboo started in 2018 that produces artisanal soft furnishings, tableware and accessories with mindful consumption at its core. Mahajan believes in creating wonders out of trash – a feat he has accomplished by incorporating temple flowers for natural dyeing, redeveloping traditional fibres and reusing sari fabrics. Now when it comes to brand story, Mahajan walks the talk by listing down ‘responsible attributes’ as filters on the website such as recycled, fair wage for artisan, low energy consumption, low water consumption and low carbon foot print, which in turn urges the consumer to not make a purchasing decision that is solely based on hyper consumerism. Online shopping shouldn’t just mean that you can filter products according to colour, price or size. This website takes it a step further by also providing the place of origin for a product. Once you land on the website, you will spot placemats made from upcycled saris from West Bengal, asymmetrical platter sets crafted from recycled steel from Haryana and hand-dyed chanderi scarves from Madhya Pradesh. Nimboo’s products speak to a discerning audience and are created for homes with a character – a space where every corner tells a story. The label also encourages the consumers to treat Nimboo products as hand-me-downs and not discard them without second thought. Excerpts from an interview where Mahajan talks about how his label has culled out the best from India and France, the relevance of Nimboo and how difficult it is to sustain a circular production chain in today’s world.

Design thinking is a process by which designers approach problem solving. What is the purpose of your label in today’s world?
Nimboo is a brand of innovative Indian handwoven textiles with a contemporary and sustainable design ethos. The manufacturing process combines organic fabrics with traditional dyeing know-how to create viable products with multiplicity of textures, patterns and colors, which were never commercially viable before for any wholesale interior or fashion space.

On the basis of your time spent in India and France, what parallels can you draw between the two places?
For Nimboo design oscillates between classic Indian exuberance and new-age French minimalism. We embolden sustainable design through unique textures and colours, making them branch out from the usual sustainable world of solid beiges and blacks, but at the same time, keeping the language clean and elegant. Curiosity for all cultures, appreciation of craftsmanship and appetite for epicureanism binds these two very different countries.

How do you track the carbon footprint of your products?
We haven’t mastered a one solution plan yet for all our products. Right now, it’s a non-complicated mix through a combination of paid web apps that monitor our water + carbon footprint and tries to minimize the environmental impact of all our business activities. Keeping that in mind, we are currently designing for homes and fashion of the future by mapping our products against 10 responsible attributes that we have identified as our top priorities. These attributes showcase not just the products’ design story but also its ecological story.

What do you plan to do with the surplus?
We have 30 SKUs with limited or no stock in our product line planned for a year. Fresh production will happen as and when there is demand. We do not intend to do seasons of collections, hence less surplus at the end.

Technology driven or handmade fashion – according to you what should the future of fashion look like?
Handmade design with technological innovations in value chain system. When you buy a Nimboo product you’ve not only made the right choice for the environment, you’ve actually contributed to the livelihood of our maker community. We aim at creating responsible values for the future with positive social and environmental impact.

What challenges did you face while maintaining the ethos of UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?
Let’s be honest about it, working on SDGs is not easy and we don’t pretend like other brands that we are absolutely sustainable or carbon neutral or that all women in our value chain receive exact same wages. There’s nothing like a perfect product in that matter and if others claim it, chances are there’s a bit of greenwashing there. We at Nimboo are passionate about sustainability and social justice, and we try to learn and act. We are increasingly aware of our own impact and the impact that our products generate through their full life-cycle, and we try to minimize these impacts as much as possible with the best informed decisions. As we learn on this difficult but highly satisfactory path, we hope our customers can increasingly be aware and do their bit as well. And remember one thing – if something is cheap, it’s likely that someone else is paying the price for you.

How successful do you feel your efforts have been in closing the loop?
The SDGs, which at their core, strategize to improve health, education, inequality, promote economic growth, while tackling climate change and preserving our environment, form the backbone of Nimboo’s mission. We’re committed to providing better wages and living standards to our maker communities, using raw materials that are essentially ‘waste’ thereby creating a circular supply chain, sustainable product packaging, and creating an open dialogue to fight for a future we want – all this through the medium of art inspired pieces for your home and lifestyle.

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