#1 Ethiqana

Ethiqana is a social enterprise focused on addressing socio-economic issues in local communities through its ethical gift shop. With a wide range of innovative products for home, garden, celebrations, and play, every purchase supports positive change.

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We sat down with Arshad Khalid, founder of Ethiqana to talk about his journey into sustainability and his thoughts on the industry,

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    What inspired you to start your business and have sustainability take such a central role?

    To tell Ethiqana's story properly, I must go back to my childhood growing up in India in the 1980s. We used to have a lot of handmade things in our household from clay pots to earthen pitchers and hand-woven baskets. Our streets used to have a variety of artisans who used to sell their wares. 

    However, with the introduction of plastics into the Indian market, people started to gravitate towards them as a convenient and cheap option. I could see the decline of artisans first-hand. Around that time I had just learned how co-operatives had helped the farmers in post-independent India. This made me think that something similar could be done for artisans. But, as they say, life happens and I went into the field of IT. However sustainability and fairtrade remained an integral part of my life along with my love for all things handmade. So in 2016 when I read about the toymakers of Channapatna and their art I decided to go back to my younger self. I loved the whole process of how these toys are made with a strong emphasis on eco-friendliness. 

    That's when I decided that sustainable practices and sustainable livelihoods will form the central tenet for Ethiqana.

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    What practices have you implemented and how has it positively impacted your business?

    Building an ethical brand means doing things right from the start. As I was already very much into sustainable solutions, it made sense to implement these into the business as well. For example, our energy comes from renewable sources, our transportation is electric charged using renewables, and our website is hosted by Reforest The Web which offset the CO2 generated by planting trees. 

    We do not use plastics in our products or our packaging. Where we do have to use protective packaging we prefer to use cellophane. We work with our suppliers very closely and so if any unsustainable practices have crept into their working environment we try to address them as best possible. The biggest example is removing polystyrene when shipping and using straw or waste paper for padding. When working with fabrics, we are working with our suppliers so we can use more sustainable natural fibres like banana fabric or milk fibre. 

    Our customers love that the products we sell are free from toxic materials, that they are handmade and they love the ethos of the company i.e. ploughing back our profits into social and environmental causes.

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    What hurdles have you encountered and how have you managed to overcome them?

    Pricing has always been the sticking point. Sourcing items that are handmade using eco-friendly practices at fairtrade prices means we pay higher (but fair) prices to our producers. However, we cannot add too much profit, like the big brands do when they import cheap and sell high. 

    We want to keep things affordable for our customers. So our profit margins are very low, sometimes even zero. Our hope is that as and when people get to know us and become more aware of sustainable solutions and products like ours, the price would not be an issue since volume would come into play.

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    What do you see as the main sustainability challenges facing FMCG companies in the near future?

    I think affordability and convenience are the two main challenges that we all need to tackle. Until we can provide a real alternative to everyone, sustainable solutions and products will only be within reach of those who can afford it. With the cost of living crisis that we are all going through, this is even more important to make things accessible and affordable for everyone.

    The other big challenge is greenwashing by the big players. We recently had a major high street fashion retailer claiming to be a sustainable brand because one of their lines was produced ethically.

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    What advice would you give entrepreneurs aspiring to greater sustainability ambitions for their FMCG business?

    It is not easy to start and maintain a sustainable brand. Sustainability also goes hand in hand with ethical sourcing and fair trade. So if you are thinking of starting a brand, do things right from the start. As they say, you need to take care of the little things and the bigger things take care of themselves.

    For those who are thinking of adding more sustainable practices, there are so many new and cool technologies that you can avail of these days from plastics from fish scales to edible cutlery. It is often a matter of affordability because as a small business, it is not always easy to invest in new and emerging technologies.

    However, consumer sentiment is changing. People across the generational divide are waking up to climate change facts and are looking for more sustainable options. Upcycling has become pretty cool and handmade things are starting to come back into fashion. So I would say the future is not looking so bad.

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    *BONUS* Do you have any sustainable brands that you’re a big fan of and would like to shout out to the readers?

    Definitely. There are so many out there but here are just a few:

    Where Does It Come From? work with natural fibre producers and tell their stories through QR codes on their labels.

    Good Karma Media whose impact includes finding solutions to deprivation and educating about regenerative solutions.

    Reforest The Web are a small web consulting firm focused on finding green solutions and using tech for good.

    Cafe Direct works closely with its farmers for inclusive governance.

    Tea People work with tea producers in Darjeeling on multiple social aspects to improve their lives.

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