During the time of independence, while promoting everything Indian, Gandhiji started the Khadi revolution. Foreign cloth was burnt and indigenous, hand-spun Khadi was promoted. Today, at a time where chemicals are being vetoed in every industry by a seemingly environment-friendly world, organic cotton has emerged as the Khadi of the independence era. Natural dyeing is a long and tedious process that is done by hand, which makes it expensive. The main reason why a chemically processed cloth is cheaper is because of the readymade infrastructure in the form of machines. But, what is astonishing is that 8,000 chemicals are used to make such one shirt.
Ahmedabad-based Aura Herbal Textiles (Aura) is trying to get rid of these chemicals and make textiles environment and user friendly. Arun Baid experimented with organic hand woven cloth and dyeing in his own house. Once he was confident of the outcome, he decided to showcase his work to the world through an exhibition. “We received tremendous response and decided to set up our first shop in Ahmedabad,” recalls Baid. And this he did through Aura, a natural dyeing, weaving and printing unit. “I was into recycling textile waste and built my business for 15 years. Seeing the effect of chemical dyeing inspired me to get into something that was environmentally safe,” recalls Baid.
Baid explains that the challenges they faced while starting the business is the same they face to this day. “The process is the challenge in our case.” While organic cotton is prevalent in the industry, the process isn’t. It is a standardized process, which was originally developed and has its own challenges, including up-scaling and requiring regular research and development.
Lack of awareness about organic clothing was another hurdle they had to overcome. To begin with, Aura had to educate the Indian market about the benefits of such clothing. This was possible for Baid and his company only in Ahmedabad as they had the home base advantage. “There’s already awareness in our overseas market so we didn’t have to make that much of an effort to sell our products there,” says Baid. Organic cotton was already in foreign markets and is the easiest thing to export at the moment.
Organic clothing is a niche market. Not many people experiment with it because of the cost issues. Entering a market that has limited patronage sounds like hard business. But Aura had no such trouble. They turned to foreign shores to market their products. With exports to the U.S., Canada, France, Denmark, Italy, Poland, Maldives, Mauritius, and Sri Lanka, they built a thriving business.
Funding wasn’t much of a hurdle either. With four rounds of funding by Gujrat Venture Finance, and the most recent one fetching INR 24 million, they seem secure. “The current funding is going to be used for expanding and coordinating the plant in India. It is to get the whole process organized for bulk production. Funding was not a huge task since this is a niche market and there was lot of demand. So once you go through the exercise of surveys, it’s easy,” quips Baid. Another interesting aspect is the fact that Aura is an incubate of IIM Ahmedabad’s Centre for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE). Speaking about the experience, Baid explains, “In the beginning they gave us recommendations and everything which we required. They even helped us commercially by establishing some contacts, which was helpful at the early stage.”
Aura has not only built a name as an exporter of organic textiles, they are considered Taj Spa Hotel’s brand identity. “Spa is a market, which sells purity and medicinal properties. This whole concept went with our products. Taj is the only spa, which uses linen and other textiles that have herbs, which are also used in their therapies,” says Baid.
Domestic market not far behind
Although they are based out of India, Aura makes its money primarily through exports. With a 25-75 per cent break up of Indian and foreign revenues, Baid explains that a lot of countries abroad are experimenting with organic clothing. But India is not far behind. “There is a tremendous change that has happened in the five years. Awareness has already started building in India. The only problem is that we don’t have the product in the market yet. The pricing is also quite high since there is no availability,” opines Baid. He feels this will also change with commercial companies launching organic clothing in a huge manner.
With the positive impact they have created, Aura hopes to launch another textile unit in India, in addition to the one in Ahmedabad. “The difference is that we use herbs. If we count on carbon points, we’ll be eligible for carbon credits,” says Baid. Moreover, the waste that comes out of their dyeing process is manure, whereas the chemical dyeing process yields textile pollutants, which are non-recyclable. Their fabric also possesses anti-microbial properties because of the herbs used in its making. Something that is eco-friendly and skin-friendly, Aura sure has the right recipe for a happy earth.