Now that is a term you might have seen bandied about quite a lot these days. But surprisingly, sustainable living is not a new mantra at all! This used to be the way of life before the advent of the industrial revolution. No, let me rephrase that - before the advent of corporate greed and the need for profitability at any cost. For, to blame the industrial revolution for the ill-effects of our excesses that we have become accustomed to in our society today would be a great disservice.
So, what do we mean by sustainable living?
Well, in very simple terms, it is all about consuming the resources available to us responsibly so that we can make it last without disturbing the balance of nature. To borrow from another old cliché, we really do have just one of this planet with its limited resources which need to be used by all 7.2 billion of us.
To put it into context, lets pick (just) one of the most glaring problems of our times - that of plastic waste. Do you know how much plastic waste we produce annually in the UK alone? 275,000 tonnes! Most families throw away about 40kg of plastic a year! And why exactly is plastic waste a problem? Because not only does it takes nearly 500 years to decompose but also requires a lot of energy to produce.
But all of us recycle. That should be enough, right?
It would be enough if we recycled what we used in exactly the same quantities. That would not put any more pressure on our resources. But if we take up the case of plastic again, the use of plastics is going up by 4% annually.
On a recent trip to Bruges, I was met with this sculpture of a whale rising up from the canal. Made from 5 tonnes of plastic waste recovered from the ocean, it is meant to make an impact on the public & the millions of visitors to this city. But does the city address this problem? No. Water is still sold in millions of single use plastic bottles. Tourists devour frites and waffles using plastic plates and forks. Nowhere can you see any innovative solution to overcome the plastic waste problem that the whale sculpture so beautifully highlights.
And therein lies our basic quandary - we would readily create monuments to our issues but shirk away when it comes to implementing a solution.
Is there anything that can be done?
Yes, sustainable living to the rescue! I mentioned at the beginning that this is not a newfangled idea but something that the human race has known all along. However, with the temptation of an easy life driven by corporate profits, we have lost track of those ideas and techniques.
Sustainability, by its very definition, goes hand in hand with being eco-friendly. Sustainable production not only uses earth friendly techniques but also provides sustainable livelihoods to those who have preserved these techniques and are ready to pass them on to future generations.
That is why, we have partnered with initiatives that bring out the best in skills and products and also help our environment along the way. Be it handmade wooden toys coloured with non-toxic natural dyes, handmade greeting cards made from recycled paper, board games that instil environmental awareness, handwoven fabric homeware and accessories or eco-friendly heating - each of our product lines has been carefully chosen with the principle of sustainable living in mind.
Here's to a sustainable future for all of us!
A new identityWe changed our name from Ethicological to Ethiqana earlier this year. We'd arrived at the original name after a lot of deliberations and combinations but it turns out it wasn't very easy on the tongue nor was it easy to remember. Cue, another back to the drawing board exercise. Lots of head scratching, hours of research into memorability and many many searches for available domain names later, we decided on Ethiqana. It's short and sweet and we think it conveys our sense of ethics and ethical business.
A new platformSpeaking of ethical business, we'd always been a bit uneasy selling only on Amazon. But as a startup with limited funds, we had no other choice but to bite the bullet and gain access to a market place of millions of customers. It did work to a certain extent and we'd like to thank each and every customer whom we could serve on Amazon. However, we made a decision early on in the year that rather than finding another platform, we're going to bring e-commerce to our very own website. The time frame? Summer of 2018! I love deadlines, don't you? Needless to say, it didn't happen and we finally launched our new website with our e-shop last week - 23rd November 2018. Nothing to do with the cult of Black Friday, before you ask. It was a date which we'd picked and decided to stick to it.
New product linesWell this was the most interesting and also perhaps the most challenging part. Finding suppliers whom you can trust is a big thing! But we have been very fortunate in finding people and organisations who are on the same wavelength as us, care about reviving old art forms and are passionate about sustainability and empowering artisans. Creating new designs and selecting from existing ones was a very satisfying process and we're sure that our friends and fans would love them too. Have a look and see if something takes your fancy.
What's next?Well, in the most immediate sense, we're off to our Christmas Market stall in Milton Keynes from tomorrow where we're hoping to wow more people with our collections. But yes, there are plans hatching already about our next steps in the new year - all along the lines of how to bring to our friends and fans all that is ethical, real and sustainable, all that is Ethiqana!
I'm sitting in a coffee shop, done with my meetings for the day, waiting for my car to have enough charge to drive back home, and inevitably, watching the world go by its business which, this time of the year, is nothing but Christmas - that beautiful time of the year when your spirits are lifted even though the days are short and dark and nearly all of us have taken to wearing some sort of woollies. This is also a time of rampant consumerism, all in the name of "celebrating" that one day. And then of course, there's that American import called Black Friday!
Don't get me wrong, we're all here to make money. Yes, even ethical businesses! We'd love to get more customers and goods flying off the shelves so we can continue empowering the communities of artists and artisans. Wouldn't mind one bit to get a bit from that cake! We'd love for more consumers to shop ethically this Christmas.That's why we decided to partner with a brilliant project called Cards from Africa. The cards are handmade. The paper they're made from is handmade - made from recycled office waste. To top it all, and most importantly too, it's the people who make these cards so magical. They are young adults from Rwanda, orphaned by war or famine. They didn't give up hope. They could've easily fallen into a life of crime or begging but they decided to make a living respectably. It's their creativity that shines through these cards and their hard work. Who knows what wonders they might bring to the world once they've been given a good start? Ethiqana is proud to be a vehicle to bring this to them. With our customers' help of course! And it's not just Christmas cards they make; We have cards for all occasions - birthdays, anniversaries, new babies, new homes, graduations! So, we hope to continue making a difference in these brilliant artists' lives long after the turkeys have been eaten, the wrapping paper is put in the recycle bin and the decorations have been taken down.
With this intent, we applied for the membership of Social Enterprise UK and we are extremely grateful and immensely proud to have been accepted as a member. Quite literally, made our day!For the uninitiated, Social Enterprise UK is the largest network of businesses with a social and/or environmental purpose. They have been at the forefront of driving the social enterprise movement in the UK which aims to make doing business in this way the "usual way". Social Enterprise UK has also been instrumental in ensuring that the Social Value Act became law which requires public bodies to take into account the social value when selecting providers rather than just cost. So, suffice to say, we're chuffed to bits to get this certification and will proudly be displaying the badge of honour!
A business is, by definition, an endeavour to make money. Traditionally, businesses have focused on profit which meant amassing wealth for the business owners, caring little or not at all for the machinery (read people) that keeps the business running.However, with more awareness of the geopolitical situations in the world made possible, in no small measure, by 24x7 TV channels and the growth of the internet, the idea of ethical businesses has taken hold and rightly so. For it is not implausible to think that a commercial activity can be mutually beneficial to the owner of the business and the wider society and environment that it is dependent on. Sounds quite fair and logical, doesn't it? The idea for Ethiqana was borne out of such thinking. There is plenty of art and innovation out there - some that has existed for centuries and more that are constantly evolving to suit the needs of the modern world. There is a massive need for economic empowerment of the communities of artisans who have been left to fend for themselves simply because their art forms do not fit the modern narrative. Either that or massive factories churn out cheap alternatives, often at the expense of the environment and at such a rate that these talented workers don't stand a chance against this greedy industrial juggernaut. And while it is important for us to focus on the needs of the artisans, we must not take our eyes off the ecological innovation ball. For it is the lifeline for our planet if we are to keep it habitable for our future generations.
That is why, at Ethiqana, we take great care in our selection of the range of items we bring to you - ethically sourced, eco-friendly products, providing sustainable livelihoods which make total sense. And as we grow, we will continue to invest and re-invest in our valuable sources and hope to make a small positive contribution in our own way. Like a true ethical business.
No wonder then, that these toys enjoyed a double celebration just a couple of years ago. As is traditional, the annual Indian Republic Day parade shows off the country's cultural heritage along with its military capability. The state of Karnataka, where Channapatna is located, had the honour of leading the cultural side with a tableau depicting the Channapatna toy makers.
Not only this, Barack Obama, who was the chief guest at the celebrations. was gifted a bag full of Channapatna toys and other handicraft! And even though the Obamas are no longer in the White House, and as far as official gifts go, they wouldn't have been able to keep them, a piece of Channapatna tradition lies in the National Archives of the USA. The gesture was highly symbolic of the importance of this art.Here's the story of Rahim Khan, the artist who made the toys for the Obamas
So, has all this hype resulted in the economic upliftment for the community? Yes and no. The news certainly generated interest but then economic pressures and the lure of battery operated speaking, jumping, flying toys always sort of takes over.
But as always, eternally hopeful, we feel that with more awareness we should be able to turn the fortunes for these artisans and preserve this tradition.
So what is Channapatna? More importantly, where is it? And what is it about this place that makes it special?To be perfectly honest, when I started this venture, I did not know much about it either but I had heard of it. And then I dug for some more information. Channapatna is a town, not too far from Bengaluru, in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. The toy making tradition of this town can be traced back to the 18th century when Tipu Sultan, the valiant warrior and visionary, ruled this part of India. He definitely had an eye for innovation. It was then that he invited artists from Persia to train the local artisans in the making of wooden toys.
The toy making industry flourished over time and today the skills of these artisans are globally recognised and protected as a Geographical Indication (GI) by the World Trade Organisation. This ensures that these toys retain their unique character and cannot be copied elsewhere.However, this has not translated to economic growth in the community. The toymakers' population is dwindling at an alarming rate simply because they are unable to compete with mass produced cheap plastic toys. And of course, following the economic principle, drop in demand has led to drop in opportunities and wages and ultimately the living conditions for these talented craft workers.
But there are some rays of hope as there are some organisations - like the non-profit we partner with - are helping these artisans develop and adapt their craft to the needs of the modern world and we, at Ethiqana, are proud to be part of this great tradition and helping to bring it to the wider world.