Episode 13 Going Back To The Roots With Abhishek Pathak

Astha: Hi. Welcome to the KredX Podcast. Today we are in conversation with a textile designer by education, an entrepreneur by passion, and fervent admirer of traditional arts and crafts, Abhishek Pathak. He is the Founder & CEO at Greenwear and has more than ten years of professional experience in designing and exploring e-commerce as a marketplace for marginalised artisans. He aims to empower artisans and rural communities to become self-sustainable and positively impact society. We have Abhishek connected with us, and without much ado, let us begin our session. 

Tell us about your life when you were a child and what were your childhood aspirations, your career beginnings, your education, and what were your hobbies so that we can know more about you. Abhishek, minus the entrepreneur in him.

Pathak: All right. Okay. So I come from a city called Sultanpur in UP. I did my schooling there only from first standard to 12th standard. And I was in 7th when computers were introduced as a subject or as a thing into our school. And I was very excited to learn that. I studied it till 10th. Yes. And in 11th, I also took computer science as a subject. So that was my aspiration, to work in the computer science industry, to design codes and all that. And my stream in ten plus two was physics, chemistry, and mathematics. So like every other student of my district, I was also aspiring to clear engineering entrance examinations. And most of us move out of our city for the first time in order to join any coaching or to another city where there are higher education coaching classes.

So that’s when I came to Lucknow and I joined the coaching class here. So I started preparing for IIT and up to you at that time. Okay. But somehow it didn’t work out for me, I would say. And another factor was that a friend of mine actually challenged me that if you want to do something adventurous in your life, why don’t you give this intense examination called an IIFT?

Yeah, I laughed it out. I was like, there is a College with teachers, fashion. Is this a thing? And I was not good in arts, as I said that I left it at seven standard only. So I thought that this is not going to be my thing, but just to prove that I can actually do it. We got to know where to fill up the forms and all that. And nothing was online at that time. So, yeah, that’s what happened. But when the results started coming in, I was in the hundreds in the entrance examination. I was in thousands in other entrance examinations. So that’s how it happened. I mean if it just happened and that changed my life completely after that.

Astha: Yes. Clearly that was like the best bet you have ever played in your life.

Pathak: But the first two months it was very difficult for me and I thought that’s the worst bet I’d had and what did I do with my life? See, I came from a Hindi medium, all boys kind of background. And when I entered NIFT it was 95% girls all English speaking and I even could not introduce myself in English properly. So the first two months I thought that this is the wrong place I came from and I will not survive. Don’t know what happened. Suddenly it was the environment of NIFT or it was the faculty or it was an encouragement given by my family-side. And I’m blessed to have a very good set of faculties over in NIFT, who actually did not judge me for my poor English or my poor performance initially. But they encouraged me. And I remember that my rank in first semester was in the top five. So I thought, okay, this can work for me and let it be, let it go.

Astha: Yeah. I’m wondering if you have a lot of supporting people, you were surrounded by them. And that’s how you may have come across like struggling and then finally achieved whatever you have achieved now. And there’s a long way to go for you as well. I was going through your portfolio. It was so impressive. I was so encouraged by all the work you have done, which we’ll be talking about further. So I’ll come back to the second question, which is basically your big day, your AHA moment that happened, and you decided to be an entrepreneur, start your own business. How did all that idea and how did the concept of greenware actually come to you?

Pathak: All right. Actually, it had some background of my life at NIFT. Also when I was in College, in second year, we had this development program under which we had to visit for 15 days in a traditional textile cluster. And I visited a place, which is famous for its Maheshwari sarees. And there I realised that there are immense potential and capabilities in rural India and these clusters which otherwise we could not even have dreamt about as students. Also, in the later semester, I got a chance because I was selected for an industry exposure visit by Arvind Mills Limited in Ahmedabad. So, yeah, I saw two different India within one year. One was making handloom fabrics and one, India was making shirting fabrics for the entire world.

And my interest got focused upon these traditional textiles. I started working or thinking about it more, researching about it more. Also, I got two major life changing opportunities, I would say left. One was when I got an opportunity to compile the data for languishing crafts of India, which was going to be a gadget in the Ministry of textiles at that time. So I want to know about lots of crafts which were researched by the other centers which came for the compilation. And the second chance was when I visited Barmer to document its crafts when the Commonwealth Games were going on in Delhi and our colleges were shut. So I thought, why not utilise this time in some projects? And I got this project in hand given by one of my faculties. So there also I saw hundreds of crafts, textiles, non-textiles, both ways coming down from such kind of humble backgrounds, rural parts where people have just skills which are crafted through their hands and technical aspects like nothing related to technology, like computers or IDs, but the kind of work they were doing. After graduating, I was selected through this campus selection drive where I did my graduation project and I started working as a home fashion designer for a US-based company.

But since my calling was always this traditional style thought of leaving that in two and a half years and starting something of my own and with a friend of mine I started a brand with where we were making hand block printed Jiggs so the product was mass fashionable product because we knew that from fashion forecast that printed bottom we are going to be in fashion in India but the traditional technique so hand block printing with organic colours became that fusion. Yeah, this was before being there okay but at that time I had the understanding of business the entire model was very limited. There’s a chance which I took so we could not proceed with it further but yeah, that landed me to an NGO called Risky Foundation. Thought of leaving that in two and a half years and starting something of my own. And with a friend of mine, I started a brand called Astro Treaty where we were making hand block printed judging. So the product was a mass fashionable product because we knew that from the fashion forecast that printed bottom. We are going to be fashionable in India. But the traditional technique of hand block printing with organic colours became that fusion. This was before being worn. But at that time I started to understand business. The entire model was very limited. It was just a chance which I took so we could not proceed with it further. But yeah, that landed me at an NGO called Risky Foundation where I went when I wanted to utilise the cutterance which were left after stitching those Yellings. And I wanted to utilise the women workforce in order to make fabric jewellery. But when I landed in the Street Foundation, I got to know that these NGOs are into e-governance skills and whatnot. And they were starting their tips and craft vertical as well.

So I got on board with Grishy Foundation as its lead tip selling craft and I worked there for around two years where I got to know about the value chain of Khadi. So Khadi fascinated me a lot because the entire process was coming out of rural India and it was all handcrafted hand spinning of yarn, hand weaving of fabric. And it was then I started understanding Khadi in a better manner and I realised that. Okay. In Khadi’s value chain, the raw material for Charkha which is called Robbing the cotton sliver. It’s getting produced by central sliver plants which are completely automated and have 5000 pages per day’s capacity. Also the dying printing and other value addition is not necessarily handcrafted in carriers, value chain only. And while only spinning is manually operated. Also, if you divide these skills into different categories, the skills like spinning and stitching, they are inculcated. You and I also can learn right when it is not a traditional skill, when it is not an inherited skill. Why this drudgery? Woman who is running her hand for 8 hours could barely earn Rs 56 in a day. I was not able to understand why nothing is happening around and why we are still stuck with this.

Astha: Yeah, this has been an amazing alternative for them as well. 

Pathak: Exactly. And why was it not there after so many years? I was wondering why nobody is doing anything. And at the same time I visit this international trade fair happened which happens everywhere in Delhi in Pradati Madan. So I visited that it was in 2016. Yes. So I saw a display of solar charcoal on a podium. The machine was seen, the Chakra was seen, it was getting operated for solar energy. And this machine was being displayed by IIT Delhi guys as some joint project. After seeing that I realised that the solution is there and the problem is there. It’s just that nobody is applying.

And why is it that nobody is applying? I got to know that there is a constitutional definition of Khadi which says that Khadi is handspun handcrafted natural 5%. So because of that definition, the solar charkha was not coming under Khadi. And Khadi had a lot of market development allowances, subsidies. And that is why I think Khadi or nations were not welcoming this at that moment. Or I might be wrong as well, but that’s what I could understand at that point. Exactly. So I even bought ten solar houses from my own money just to try it out how it is going to work. Nothing happened at that time really. But that stuck in my mind that this is a solution which can actually add immense value to the rural economy. You just run that Charkha with a solar set, you don’t have to depend upon electricity and the dressing is good to go. Also the production increases by five times. One charcoal can produce 1 kg of yarn instead of the 50-60 grams of manual chakras, which practically a woman cannot run her hand for 8 hours. Right?

And in solar she just has to look after and she can also cook, she can also take care of her child and baby chores. So this was an amazing product for a rural woman. And that is what actually remained with me when I got the chance to present this entire kind of idea and discuss it with the then MSME Minister of State. And we got to know that there is a pilot project which is getting started from Bihar and an NGO is running it. And I got in touch with their founders and I got to know that they are working on the pilot projection solar. So I told them about a possible parallel market platform for this product because it is not something which is not sarkari. Also the term Greenwear was coined back in 2017 when I presented a concept of Greenwear that is going to be a marketing platform, an online platform of Facebook tailoring which will involve the entire value chain of solar-run sewing machines. That was taken pretty well. And I became the CEO from the front of the pilot project of this mission, which was launched by the President of India in June 2018.

The real challenge came into the picture because the skill, scale, and speed which was involved in solar charkha was something which the industry did not see ever before. And for us the real challenge being that you cannot sell the yarn in the open market, right? You can only sell the fabric or the garment, but with the speed of these yarn, the fabric was not getting broader or the market linkages were not being able to set up. And this was in 2019. After two years of that pilot project, I realised that until nonetheless any such kind of project which has huge numbers involved, until it does not have very stable linkages, very stable forward linkages, it will not sustain. And for me success was sustainability. So it was then I realised that I need to take it from the front and I cannot crib about it that the government is not doing that. These kinds of things should have been there. So it was realising why not, why don’t I in order to provide the market back for the entire solar thing which was pretty much defined by village industries. So that’s what my journey was to start Greenwear and we thought that this is going to be the fusion of tradition with technology in order to generate livelihood and promote sustainable fashion.

Astha: Right. That is so inspiring. We have already discussed the major challenges that you have faced and how it is so inspiring that you have actually come across all of these challenges and then overcome them. So it’s really great. And how did Council On Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) and Villgro Innovations Foundation help you in executing your idea.

Pathak: As you said, they came at exactly the right time in Greenville’s. Entrepreneurial journey. When the first lockdown happened in the country, the complete lockdown happened in the country. We became completely clueless at that moment. That is what will happen because our entire supply chain was decentralised. Charts were being produced at the household level. Fabrics were woven at the household level. But how to provide raw material to them, right? How to keep on going with the current and relevant logistics. And then the entire fashion industry, fabric demand, or the market got down drastically because of the longer period of shutting down their retail experiences, which were their traditional way of doing the business. And then the problem of livelihood came into the picture. They said that, okay, believe in your concept and we will help you out to stay through this difficult time. We’ll provide you monetary support, we’ll provide you technical support, and we’ll provide you membership as well. This entire incubation helped Greenwear a lot. Where we could do our entire process, from fabric manufacturing to garment manufacturing, setting up the testing and coming of the capsule collections, which were focusing upon issues like maternity, bear yoga, and things like that. So, yeah, that’s what Powering Livelihood did with premium, and we are really thankful for that. Yeah. So they happened to you just at the right time.

Astha: Yeah. Okay. So coming to your strategy, planning and everything that you did for Greenwear, would you like to tell us how you were maintaining the balance between your cost, input and output? I mean, does your expense on input influence the production and the finished goods? And how did you manage all of that?


Yeah, the real challenge was to consume because people often were getting confused. Or is it fake? Khadi. And what is solar all about? Right. So that’s our main challenge, because, see, our price point was very competitive as far as price point is concerned, the quality was exactly the same and improved in most of the cases scale, which we achieved because of the solar run machines, we could achieve a larger amount of skill, which traditional khadi institutions not achieved made us think about the very different strategy altogether in this entire value, where we started procuring the yarn from NGOs and partnering with them. And then we started converting into fabric. The monitors we followed were pretty much an asset. We were not owning the machinery that was already there in traditional textiles. We were only providing them with the job work or the work, which we could do with slight training interventions. That’s how we could do a lot, I would say the cost cutting and being price competitive in the market and relevant in the market.

Astha: Right. So now that we know how the pandemic actually impacted your business. So I would like to know, when you talk about society and self-sustainability, how is Greenwear society-friendly? Environment-friendly. Can you just tell us a little more about that? Also, tell us about your brand logo. What’s the idea behind it?

Pathak: Yes, I would love to explain about this here. Along with a night long brainstorming with a few of my friends. My batchments of NIFT. Yeah. So if you look at the logo carefully, you find six different elements. So first being the Peacock, second being the Peacock motives stylised in a very different way which is actually inspired from the motive called as ambiguous in the traditional field. This is a motive actually coming from the initial phase of mango food. Okay. Initiation of something fruitful or alive. You will find this motif on every temple of India, borders of temples of India. And from there it was being taken towards the traditional style. So this diverse information from the design depicts green. Fourth element being the colour gold. Fifth element is the circular sections and the 6th element is Peacock is our national bird. And it is the most beautiful creature of Mother Earth. Of nature, I would say. So it is national, it has beauty and green is natural. The ambitious have a traditional textile background. The gold depicts tiered prosperity. The rural urban difference which we talk about. So the goal is shared prosperity and circular sections depict technology. So Greenware is a fusion of tradition with technology to create beautiful stuff. In order to generate livelihood. We can further produce shared prosperity in the country. So that’s what the logo is all about. And the tagline is taken from our Gita which literally means that I am my creator or I create for myself where it is needed or whenever the need arises. So that’s what Greenwear is all about. And that’s what the logo is about.

Astha: I’m glad I asked so many ideas involved in it.

Pathak: Many people do not even notice it like that.

Astha: Yeah, it was so attractive. I thought maybe I was pretty sure that there has to be some amazing idea behind the brand logo. So I had to ask.

Pathak: Yeah. So our logo is pretty much what we do actually. It is all about us.

Astha: Yeah. I think I should have asked only one question and the logo answer would have actually summed up the entire thing.

Pathak: No, I think you asked it at the right time.

Astha: Yeah, definitely. So lastly, I would actually want to ask how do you plan to commercialise this idea for the future? I mean, what are your future plans? Basically, now that I can’t really say that Covid is kind of getting over, we all assume that it is getting over. But anyway, what are your future strategies that you have set for green?

Pathak: We have been very fortunate to have very good buyers of our products and concepts W and Aurelia. These two leading women’s fashion brands of India, they are our major support. We could come so far in the future. Along with these B2B activities, we all know that in Latin fashion brands have moved more towards a sustainable fashion aspire to be their source partner and provide them the solution of fabric or whatever concept is all about. Along with that, we have also established Greenwear as a standalone fashion brand for and abroad. In order to do that we already launched our e-commerce website www.greenwear.in on 1st January. And also we are planning to have more retail stores. We currently have two left now and we are planning to have ten in the next one and a half years. And the real inspiration or the real planning actually comes from our target of impacting livelihood or how many solar artisans we would like to engage. And our mission is to engage 5000 women in the next five years. And when I am seeing 5000 women then I mean that 5000 women working on solar cars producing 5000 kgs of yarn in a day, which means that we need to be prepared or we will be prepared to create fabrics of those 5000 kg of yarn which will be in between 40,000 and 50,000 metres of fabric. So that’s our target of fabric manufacturing. And in order to utilise that fabric we need to be able to make and sell 25,000 pieces of garments. So that’s what our larger goal is.

Astha: Right. We can clearly see basically you are doing so much to empower the artisan and rural communities as you say. So that’s really inspiring and I would love to congratulate you on that.

Pathak: Yeah. Thank you.

Astha: Yeah. So coming to the end of our conversation, I just want to know what your leadership mantra is. You are like an emerging entrepreneur right now and our listeners would love to have some tips from the expert. I would say, especially when it comes to leadership planning, execution. What is your leadership mantra you’d like to convey to us listeners?

Pathak: I would like to say that success is sustainability. As I might have mentioned earlier, don’t go after the numbers, numbers will follow you, then your idea will be sustainable or your team will be sustainable. So focusing on impacting a lesser number of people, but having a sustainable livelihood for them is more worthful than having a larger number of people and not being able to impact them with sustainable livelihood. So that is what leadership is all about for me.

Astha: Yeah. I’ll also remember sustainable specifically after this conversation and I want to at least take one step forward doing something that will also give me that energy that you have to walk towards, being environment friendly, working towards the artisan, then helping the community in some way or the other.

Pathak: Currently it might be a luxury or it might be a conscious decision, but tomorrow it is going to be mandatory.

Astha: Absolutely. Actually. Yeah. So it was great having a talk with you, Abhishek and I’m glad that this podcast happened and we had so many ideas that we got from you. Our listeners would have had so many ideas on how they can come up with their own structure of their own company and how can they work it out. So I’m really glad that this could happen.

Pathak: Yeah. No. Thank you so much for this opportunity. Am glad that this happened.

Astha: Yeah. So. Yeah. Thank you for giving us your precious time. This is Astha signing off. We’ll see you in our next podcast. Till then, stay healthy and stay safe.