Converting Waste From The Slums Of India To Merchandise In Global Fashion

On an otherwise reasonable evening, more than 1,000 people packed an auditorium in Boulder, Colorado, for the culmination of the 2012 Unreasonable Institute. They came to see 23 ventures present their solutions to some of the world’s greatest challenges.


Shalabh Ahuja, Founder of  Conserve, shares how his venture uses waste as a resource to create fashion products for the developed markets and jobs and livelihood options for the urban poor.

We have trained over 600 people in Urban slums around Delhi to process plastic (and other) waste material into a “renewed” material that competes with Leather but is more environmentallly and socially friendly. These people then convert this material into Handbags, purses, computer bags etc. which are then exported to the US, Europe and Australia. These products havve been featured at the London Fashion Week as well as the ethical fashion show, Paris. Our buyers include Monsoon, Crate n Barrel, Ragbag, Oxfam to name a few. We have delivered consistent profits and average growth of 35% for the last 5 years. We now intend to expand and replicate the success of our Delhi project to other locations in the developing world where ever the problems of waste plastic and urban poverty proliferate.

What is the urgent social or environmental need you’re addressing?

The Global problem of plastics in the environment and of Urban poverty and waste brought about by rapid urbanisation of cities with incommisserate augmentaion of jobs or waste handling capacities.

What is your solution to this need? Describe your business strategy.

Our model attacks both these problems. We train the poorest of the poor to pick, sort, clean and convert plastic into a very different material-HRP(Handmade Recycled Plastic)using our patented process involving very low cost technology. This material HRP competes with leather but is more energy and environmental and animal friendly. Thus, it can be used to create a variety of products for sale in the market, both domestic or exports. Proceeds from market based sales create sustainable income for the entire “Fair trade” production chain. They key to success lies in adding value through innovative and creative use of design and material -“upcycling” rather than recycling! And of course, meeting market standards of design quality and durability.

About the author

Unreasonable Institute

Unreasonable Institute

The Unreasonable Institute arms entrepreneurs creating solutions to the world’s biggest social and environmental problems with the mentorship, capital, and networks they need to do so.