Krishnan Subramanian and Gowri Gopinath quit their jobs to return to Madurai and start an eco-friendly venture. YellowBag clocked a turn over of Rs. 3 crore before the pandemic.
Gowri Gopinath and Krishnan Subramanian had always wished to return to their homeland of Madurai and live a modest lifestyle while working in corporate professions in Bengaluru and Chennai.
With their drive to promote eco-friendly cloth bags as an alternative to single-use plastics in 2014, their ambition of returning to their roots began to take shape.
We thought about it and realised that we needed to move away from plastics and toward something more environmentally friendly and long-lasting “Krishnan remarked.
The pair began by raising awareness among their friends and family about the importance of switching to cloth bags.
YellowBag was founded in 2014 due to the needed of boosting production, after the couple started receiving more order requests.
After eight years, the project has evolved into a full-fledged social enterprise centred in Madurai.
The company makes cotton bags while also benefiting hundreds of marginalised women through long-term employment.
After leaving their professions for good in 2015, the pair returned to their hometown to build their business and, eventually, to establish an NGO — YellowBag Foundation — in 2019.
YellowBag was inspired by Manjappai (a yellow-colored cloth bag), which has always been an important component of Tamil culture.
It is very important in every Tamil Nadu household “explains the 39-year-old.
YellowBag offers a variety of eco-friendly and sustainable bags that serve various purposes in an effort to resuscitate this tradition.”
While the cause was admirable, it was not easy to get started, as people did not want to stop using use-and-throw plastic bags and start using cloth bags.
It was also tough to persuade the tailors, who were used to manufacturing non-woven bags out of synthetic materials since they were easier to stitch,” Gowri recalls, adding that it took them two to four years to establish a market niche and expand the organisation to what it is now.
YellowBag now sells package bags, garment protection bags, totes, and drawstring bags and receives a lot of orders for cloth bags designed for festivals, exhibits, and weddings.
Krishnan notes that his products are exported to a number of nations, including the United States, Austria, and Britain.
Prior to COVID, the couple’s self-funded organisation had a turnover of roughly Rs 3 crore.
They had a small staff of tailors when they first started the firm and didn’t have their own centre, which resulted in challenges with quality and timely delivery.
According to Krishnan, “As a result, we made the decision to provide possibilities for women, particularly those who live in slum areas such as Mathichiyam and Meenambalpuram.
“Thus, in 2016, they established its maiden hub in the Mathichiyam slum where the women there had no economic options and were highly dependent on their husband’s unreliable income,” he continues.
Krishnan says that the women didn’t want to venture too far from where they were staying, “so we established the hub in the heart of the slum. We provide them with free skill training and capacity building, as well as a regular income.”
Panchavarnam, who has been with YellowBag for five years, believes the organisation has provided her with a steady income.”
I’ve been working as an all-arounder here.
I never imagined I’d find such a comfy work, let alone one so close to my house.
I am now able to provide food for my family as well as education for my children “says the 36-year-old, who also has some physical limitations.
Krishnan writes that the organisation had around 250 women working for them just before the outbreak.
“”Because there were no events or exhibitions, it was difficult to find enough orders.”
So, during the pandemic outbreak, we eked out a living by producing fabric masks.
As things begin to improve, the number of women has climbed to 40, and we hope to get back to 250 shortly “Krishnan says.
Aside from offering employment options for the women, the pair launched an effort to assist the children of these mothers, who would visit the centre after school.
Krishnan adds, “We noticed that they needed some attention, particularly in establishing certain basic life skills.”
In 2019, they launched the Project Green Slate programme, which is a children’s tuition centre.”
Later, we began a 40-week long-term skills training programme that focuses on developing the abilities and confidence of children in grades 6 through 8.
In the same year, they established The YellowBag Foundation as a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in order to secure funds and grants for the education programme.
“Over a hundred children from the neighbourhood now participate in our programme.
Two persons assist in the education of the youngsters. Because the number of children has grown, the sessions are now held in partnership with other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that have already established centres in other places,” he continues.