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In a plastic-dominant world, prevails a voice that has taken a baby step towards the plastic-free world. The voice is of an Indian start-up known as “Brown Living”, which is India's first plastic-free store, with a wide choice of everyday products handpicked for sustainable, vegan, chemical-free, and waste-free living. Their products are handcrafted in India and chosen after proper scrutiny of their environmental impact.
While interacting with the founder Ms. Chaisi Ahuja, we came to know that their orders are packaged and dispatched without the use of plastic. To achieve this, they use an exclusive framework for the product selection and curation process called “The Brown Lens”, which is inspired by the Circular Design & Life Cycle Assessment principles. As per their website, the framework ensures that their products adhere to the following:
1. Source - Natural, chemical-free, plastic-free, toxin-free, vegan or plant-based, organically grown, reused/upcycled, locally made, mineral-based, thrift/second-hand.
2. Method - Cruelty-free, handmade, handcrafted, ethically made, fair trade certified, energy and water-conserving, have low carbon impact, use renewable energy.
3. Packaging - 100% plastic-free packaging in an upcycled or 100% post-consumer box, Recycled paper wrapping, and stuffing, Shipping boxes sealed with a paper tape with starch-based adhesive.
4. Life & Beyond (Effects on Earth) - Slow living, biodegradable, decomposable, compostable, recyclable, up-cyclable, reusable, energy-conserving, durable.
5. Aesthetic - Modern Indian, thoughtful, functional, contemporary, timeless, authentic, minimal, earthy.
Brown Lens assists in identifying areas for product enhancement, validating and recognizing really sustainable business processes, selecting a range of products that are true to their ethos and cause, and boosting consumer interactions with a truly conscious shopping experience.
“The seeds to sow this little tree were purely from the intent of not making any more damage, not creating any more waste and not using any more plastic at all. Then, everything that we decided to do after that was answering these three questions,” – said Chaitsi Ahuja.
Having over 7 years of work experience in the field of Digital Marketing and Strategy, Chaitsi was poised to have a high-profile corporate job. She was excelling at her job of curating high-budget marketing campaigns to promote low-price FMCG goods for mass consumption, which would cause non-biodegradable waste disposal in water bodies. However, she was also involved in beach-clean-up drives, but this was difficult to conciliate with a full-time contradictory job. She realized that it didn’t make sense for her to spend as much time cleaning the waste as she spent in creating the same. So, she quit her job as she developed a vision to create a business model with the theme of a sustainable and waste-free lifestyle for consumers. She understood that it required a consistent supply of the products, that would not cause further environmental damage. Chaitsi started exploring more and more about ingredients, methods, and packaging material to ease the process of finding suitable products for customers and eventually, she developed Brown Living’s own framework called ‘Brown Lens’ for product selection and curation.
Brown Living is not just a marketplace for brands and companies to sell organic and environment-friendly products, it is a system of impacting a larger change in our lives.
“Changing customer behavior to encourage them to choose an environmentally friendly product that also decreases their waste, carbon footprint, and plastic impact is a problem for us. However, over time, via numerous in-person and online experiences with individuals from all walks of life, we've identified our own cohorts of consumers: those with a desire to make a difference. Our audience is diverse in terms of age and gender. The concept of a better future, though, is the common thread that connects them all” - says Chaitsi Ahuja.
The team identified a few profiles that are more likely to switch based on market insights gained from community chats. They focused their advertising with messaging that was tailored to each cohort:
• Embracing New: People who are undergoing a lifestyle change – such as moving to a new house or welcoming a new kid into the family – and are seeking natural/organic/chemical-free options that can last longer, are more efficient, and help them save money.
• Save the Planet: People who are conscious of the broader issue of climate change and global warming and wish to make tiny lifestyle adjustments to help save the planet. They are familiar with zero-waste methods, household composting, and the use of reusable items.
• Social Currency: People who have heard of conscious living and believe it is hip to make the transition. These users are frequently wealthy enough to spend on high-ticket things in exchange for social currency.
All of the products listed are 100% plastic-free and chemical-free. They Don’t even use any plastic in their delivery. They have managed to eliminate the use of any foam or bubble wrap in packaging including the use of plastic tape from the shipping process which is replaced in favor of a plant-based glue paper tape.
The team aspires to build a self-sustaining economy employing indigenous technology and craft for low-impact consumption, therefore all items are manufactured in India and for India, by artisans and marginalized people.
Brown living focuses on 4 out of the 17 SDGs which are: ‘Responsible Consumption and Production’, ‘Climate Action’, ‘Life Below Water, and ‘Life on Land. Out of these “Responsible Consumption and Production” is considered most important by the organization as by following this responsibility effectively in all their Business processes, the other 3 SDG gets fulfilled itself and it acts as a core Principle for the overall organization.
The e-commerce industry has been growing at a CAGR of 24% over the period 2019-2024. It is expected to become a 99-billion-dollar industry by the year 2024. In the last quarter of 2020, it saw a growth of 36% with the biggest contributors being personal care and beauty & wellness.
Brown living has made a curated place in the growing industry making sustainable products easily accessible to the mass. The business has products of over 300 brands on its platform. Currently, Brown Living is promoting around 1000 offerings in Personal care, Fashion, and Home Essentials each. They also have products in various other categories like eatables, travel accessories, and gift items. Many more categories are in the works for the next few months. As per other sources, Brown living had an active user base of 4000+ customers, with a return rate of 10 percent per month by August 2020.
The business is getting a lot of recognition from the corporate world in terms of bulk orders received for sustainable gift hampers for employees. The founder also emphasized over positive impact of Covid on their business in terms of orders received and business growth.
When asked about their long-term plans, Chaitsi said that they aim to concentrate solely on the Indian market and expand gradually while monitoring their own carbon footprint.
Chaitsi Ahuja has won accolades for her venture. She got listed in the Top 100 Emerging Women Leaders and was declared Winner of Digital Women Awards.
With a "holistic view on product curation and incorporating permaculture" into the processes, the passionate founder abides by sustainability principles.
Chaitsi has tried to include more products that are made in small batch production to reduce carbon footprint. She faced challenges in informing consumers on "true sustainability" in a world filled with greenwashing. The organization has been shifting the mindset by insisting on fair trade practices, diversity in the workplace's goals, and researching brands thoroughly before they are included in the marketplace. All their profits go towards climate-positive solutions.
They take us back to simpler times when the way of life itself led us to a zero-waste lifestyle. She advocates consumers who are conscious of their choices and impact on themselves and the planet.
"Sustainable brands may not be very profitable in the beginning but if you continue to invest in good people, good materials, and great designs. It will start reaping benefits over time. So, Going Plastic-Free is a journey, it will not happen overnight."
Ms Chaitsi Ahuja, Founder
Brown Living is India's First Plastic-free e-commerce platform for a variety of everyday-use products, especially focused on a sustainable, vegan, chemical-free and zero-waste lifestyle. Every product is manufactured in India, assessed for its overall environmental impact and then marketed on the website. In fact, all orders are packaged plastic-free. They even plant trees from their profits to make the impact of their orders carbon neutral.