Colors of the Earth: Harnessing Himalayan Foliage to Create Sustainable Natural Dyes

Kumaon Earthcraft Cooperative employs rural populations to create vibrant dyes using ingredients sourced from the Himalayan landscape.

Photo of Rashmi Bharti
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I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria, and based on its description, I am eligible to apply to the CSV Prize 2017.

  • Yes, I'm eligible

Preferred language

  • English

Organization name

Kumaon Earthcraft Cooperative

Year founded

2005

Initiative stage

  • Established (the solution has passed the previous stages and demonstrated success)

Annual budget in 2017 (USD)

  • $10k - $50k

Number of beneficiaries impacted so far

  • 1,000 - 5,000

Organization type

  • Social enterprise

Headquarters location: Country

  • India

Headquarters location: City

Berinag, Uttarakhand

Location(s) of impact

India: Entire Kumaon region (rural), Uttarakhand India

Website

www.avani-kumaon.org

Facebook URL

https://www.facebook.com/avanikumaon1/

Problem: What problem is this initiative trying to address?

The Kumaon region of India is characterized by immense natural beauty and geographic remoteness. Subsistence farming is not sufficient to sustain families, and the lack of commercial activity means that people have few alternative livelihood opportunities. More broadly, the textile industry worldwide presents significant environmental and ethical concerns. With the rise in consumer demand for naturally-sourced products, there is an opportunity to revive the craft of natural dyeing and promote economic growth.

Solution Summary: What is the proposed solution? What do you see as its most promising aspects for creating shared value?

Weaving together ancient traditions, modern technologies, and a shared passion for the earth, Kumaon Earthcraft Cooperative creates sustainable livelihood opportunities in the Himalayas through harnessing the region's abundant natural foliage for natural dye and pigment production. Earthcraft’s model is unique in that it works with the entire cycle of production, from farming and harvesting dye materials, including indigo and eupatorium, to dye and pigment production, to textile spinning and weaving. In this way, Earthcraft’s model is a “closed-loop” in which farmers and artisans are directly employed and benefitted in each step of the production process. From seed to scarf, Earthcraft employs environmentally friendly technology and fair trade best practices to create a holistic mode of production that respects the dignity of every community member it employs while protecting and enriching the natural environment.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Specify both the social and the environmental impact of your work

Earthcraft’s natural dyes program has experienced steady growth in both beneficiaries and income since its inception. Starting with just 49 participants in 2005, Earthcraft has since increased its workforce to 1,500 participants (including farmers, material collectors, and natural dyers), 78% of whom are women. In the last 5 years, these local communities have earned a total of Rs 2,17,00,000. Anecdotally, Earthcraft’s activities have had a powerful impact on individual villagers’ lives. Women employed through Earthcraft’s dye production have been able to pay for their children’s educations, fund their own weddings, and make home improvements. Environmentally, Earthcraft's indigo cultivation has reclaimed over 60 acres of wasteland, enriching the soil and increasing farm productivity. In addition, Earthcraft has planted over 5,500 trees, and harvested over 1 ton of eupatorium, a highly invasive species used to create green dyes.

Financial sustainability plan: How is this initiative financially supported? How will you ensure its financial sustainability long-term?

Earthcraft receives the entirety of its funding from revenues of its ethically produced textiles and other products. In 2016, Earthcraft received 87% of its revenues from textile sales, 6% from lifestyle products (including naturally produced KumKum powder and Soapnut), and 7% from Art Supplies and Natural Dye pigments. With this success, Earthcraft has demonstrated itself as a viable, award-winning business that has successfully revived local weaving skills and fostered economic growth in the region. In the long-term, Earthcraft will maintain its financial sustainability through increasing raw material supply, upscaling production capacity through R&D and technical partnerships, expanding its revenue streams, and expanding its sales and marketing capabilities.

Unique value proposition: What makes your initiative innovative? How does your project differ from other organizations working in the same field?

Earthcraft’s work is centered in highly remote villages, most of which are inaccessible via road, where livelihood opportunities are scarce. Six of Earthcraft’s products have received the UNESCO Seal of Excellence for these qualities. Earthcraft distinguishes itself through its holistic, “closed-loop” approach. . Rather than simply focusing on producing natural indigo dye, or weaving natural textiles, Earthcraft involves community members in each step of production, from seed to scarf.

Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that sparked the beginning of this initiative.

Rashmi wanted to contribute to improving the quality of life of communities who inhabited the Kumaon region. The access to electricity in most village was very poor and solar technology seemed a viable solution receiving consistent, clean electricity. However, she soon realized that although villagers were interested in the solar panels, they had no income with which to purchase them. Troubled by this lack of economic activity, as well as a persistent loss of the ancient traditions of weaving, natural dyeing, and hand-spinning, Rashmi had the idea to create a sustainable enterprise that employed local people, particularly women, fostering economic activity and giving people viable, dignified livelihood opportunities that were environmentally friendly and rooted in ancient crafts and traditions.

Where did you hear about the Nestlé Creating Shared Value Prize?

  • Nestlé page or contact

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Photo of BP AGRAWAL

Rashmi, I have toyed with the idea of using natural dyes, instead of synthetic colors, to paint water reservoirs in the villages where we work. Would you recommend a natural dye that can be used for painting the reservoirs? I recall that artisans used to extract color from "palas" plant to color the head sarves in Rajasthan.