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The late British fashion doyen Alexander McQueen once said, “I think there is beauty in everything. What ‘normal’ people would perceive as ugly, I can usually see something of beauty in it.” Kavitha Chandran, founder of fashion accessories label Urmi, is clearly a subscriber of McQueen’s sentiment. The fashion entrepreneur has found beauty in nondegradable plastic waste. In January, she founded a handbag label that makes bags out of recyclable plastic.

“Urmi in Hindi means wave. When I was looking [for] a name for the Fall/Winter ’16 collection, I involuntarily thought of our beautiful coasts to name the collections,” she says, explaining the label’s moniker. Chandran started working on the concept more than a year prior to launching the label. Her vision was to create an accessories label that would not only contribute significantly towards the global movement around sustainable fashion, but also help women in the villages of Tamil Nadu earn a living and become financially independent. And thus, Urmi was born.For Chandran, the single-most challenging aspect in setting up Urmi was convincing stay-at-home women to revive the craft of weaving.

“This is a dying skill and requires patience and precision in working, which people have now forgotten and are reluctant to go back to,” says the fashion entrepreneur. Chandran’s fascination for handwoven handbags in South India led her to do extensive research and development on the various weaving techniques, and train rural women in them.The next step was to set up manufacturing units in Coimbatore and Udumalpet in Tamil Nadu. Plastic, her only raw material, is sourced from a factory in South India where the recycled pellets are melted and made into plastic wire strips. Chandran is aided by her development team that gives her inputs on the trending silhouettes and styles in handbags, designs the bags drawing inspiration from her surroundings.

“Raw material, along with specifications, is delivered to the homes of women who work for us. When they are ready with the bags, our quality inspectors go to their homes, inspect the bags and collect them,” says Chandran. Each handbag is a result of eight to 22 hours of painstaking handwork.

Some of the weaves used by the label to make their range of bags have intriguing names: Shiva eye, flower bud, star, biscuit and gooseberry. The flower bud and the gooseberry are Chandran’s favourites. “The former, while being uneven in appearance, also has a conical spike like appearance. When you weave two colours into these bags, it looks magical.

The gooseberry weave, while resembling a gooseberry, when woven with multiple colours, looks stunning,” says Chandran.The bags named after coastal towns and regions such as Malabar, Coramandel, Konkan and Gold Coast, are priced at Rs. 5,000 and upwards. Ask Chandran why women would buy a plastic bag for the price of a leather bag and she says, “When people pay Rs 5,000 for an Urmi clutch, they are not just buying a plastic handbag.

The lady who buys Urmi wants to support the environment and sees ethical and sustainable fashion as the way forward in modern life. So, she is buying a bag that empowers a rural woman to earn her own living, supports recycled material and is helping revive an ancient craft. So the key buyers would be people in the 22 to 45 who believe and support this philosophy.”The sustainable model that Urmi is built on has proved to be a boon to dozens of rural women in Tamil Nadu.

Chandran proudly narrates two success stories. “Lakshmi is a widow and stay-at-home lady in her 60s who is able to sustain herself and not rely on her son, who has four children himself. Today, she buys her own medicines and saves money for her grandchildren’s future. [The otherstory features] Muthulakshmi, a handicapped lady who cannot use her right hand and finds it challenging to seek employment in the outside world.

Today she is empowered enough to stay at home, earn a decent living and has even invested in a small piece of land in her name.”While the response to Urmi at the London Design Fair in September this year was very encouraging, Chandran is looking forward to 2017, a year in which the label aims to expand operations to ten additional boutiques that include outlets in Jaipur, Goa, Hyderabad and New York. “Only sustainable models will flourish over time,” are Chandran’s pertinent parting words.Read more at:long formal dresses

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