There is nothing like a refreshing tall glass of fresh juice or coconut water on a hot summer’s day. And more often than not, we savour this delicious thirst-quencher through a plastic straw.
Although alternatives like metal, bamboo and paper straws exist, it is unlikely to find these in your neighborhood juice corner, as they are more expensive and not usually found everywhere.
Since plastic straws take up to 200 years to decompose, it would help if we could find straws that were environment-friendly and easy on the pocket. This is the same thought that Assam-based entrepreneur Sunam Taran had last year when he wanted to come up with a sustainable solution for this common problem.
After doing much research and experimentation, he began manufacturing a unique straw made using wheat stubble.
These unique straws are made using agricultural waste cost only Re. 1 (cheaper when you buy in bulk) and decompose within six months.
The 28-year-old is selling these unique straws under 7 Sister Crafts, a venture he started in August 2018. Under his brand, he also sells goods made from bamboo, like toothbrushes, fruit baskets, bottles, mugs, furniture and even offers services for interior decor design.
The brand has 500 different products in 1,000 designs.
Moreover, the backbone of the venture are the artisan clusters comprising 1,300 individuals spread across villages like Raipur, Bhaluki, among others. The venture, based out of Barpeta, in Assam, has fulfilled orders from Australia and the US.
In conversation with The Better India (TBI), Sunam shares how he came up with this ingenious invention and how sustainability is an important value in his business operations.
Creating Opportunities for Oneself and Others
Sunam has a degree in Bachelor’s of Computer Application (BCA) from Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University, Uttarakhand. After completing his graduation in 2014, Sunam found work as an event manager in far-off Mumbai.
“I worked with several event management companies and managed big events like award shows and music festivals. After freelancing for a bit, I got my dream job at an experiential travel company. Throughout my time in Mumbai, I learnt a lot,” says Sunam.
However, Sunam always wanted to start his own venture with the idea to do something unique. He started brainstorming for a business model and moved back to Assam in 2018. The idea first struck him when he and his father discussed a few things. Sunam’s father, a retired bank employee, had told his son about the scores of bamboo artisans who he would interact with while sanctioning loans.
“This is when the idea first came to me that I could work with the local bamboo artisans. Assam is known all over for its bamboo crafts and although the artisans were really talented, they rarely got an organised platform to sell their products. Most of them sold their wares at the roadside,” he states.
Additionally, Sunam noticed that the artisans made conventional bamboo items that everyone else was making and it lacked novelty. With the will to provide access to market channels and add a versatile range of products, he started 7 Sister Crafts. The products are made by local artisans at their homes and Sunam supervises these artisan clusters when he can.
The Environment’s Needs at the Core
In India, plastic pollution is a menace that is difficult to nip at the bud unless manufacturers understand the situation, take accountability, and find alternatives. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) estimates that India manufactures approximately 707 million metric tons of plastic products in a year.
Upon further analysis, they found that the country generates a minimum of about 25,940 tons of plastic in a day.
As an entrepreneur, Sunam often read about global markets and saw that there was a great demand for bamboo straws.
“Although we manufacture bamboo straws as well, it is a little bit more expensive (Rs 7) and we also found that a lot of users were reluctant to reuse the bamboo straws. So, I began researching on making a straw that can be used once, is cheap, but also sustainable,” he says.
He then began studying plants and crops with hollow stems. Initially, he first experimented with jute stubble but found that there was a particular smell in the straws that one couldn’t get rid of naturally. After much thought and experimentation, he turned to wheat stubble. He made some samples himself and it worked. This way, he could curb the use of plastic while also preventing agricultural waste like wheat stubble served a purpose instead of being burned.
“The waste was readily available in the neighbouring villages. The stubble from harvested wheat has a naturally hollow stem. So, once we collect the stubble, we uniformly cut the stubble in uniform sizes and boil it. After that it is dried and packed, ready to be sold,” he says.
This simple idea has attracted several people, some even from regions far away. Take Cochin-based trader Rahul Baiju for instance. The 33-year-old trader deals in eco-friendly items. He was researching online on eco-friendly solutions for single-use plastic straws when he came across 7 Sister Crafts’ wheat straws.
“These are a wonderful substitute for plastic straws. While bamboo straws cost more, paper straws are not completely sustainable and are also more expensive. In and around Cochin, there are so many coconut vendors and this is a solution which can easily reduce the use of plastic straws,” he says.
Rahul adds that these straws have not only done well locally in Cochin but he has also exported these abroad. Once the pandemic situation eases, he hopes to send it to countries in Latin America where he says tender coconut is grown on a large scale.
Challenges and Looking Ahead
Despite the ingenuity of the idea, the entrepreneur does face a few challenges in the operations and most of it has to do with the lack of sophisticated infrastructure.
“The wheat straws and other raw bamboo that we collect and have in stock are difficult to store especially during the monsoon season. At this time it is susceptible to fungus and molds which becomes challenging as we do not have large warehouses. Also, sometimes, when we get large export orders, it is difficult to fulfil the orders quickly because everything is handmade and none of the processes are mechanised,” he says.
From his own experiences, the entrepreneur has a few words of motivation for other business owners.
“The road to entrepreneurship is hard and unpredictable. If you feel lost and doubt yourself, remember why you started the journey and believe in your idea,” he says.
Now, Sunam is looking to scale his operations and as a bootstrapped company, he is hopeful that with investments, he will be able to grow his business. Inspired by a Kerala Professor who has made straws using coconut leaves, he wants to adopt the idea and use readily-available bamboo leaves to make straws. He is currently experimenting with this idea and hopes to launch this product soon.
“When I started the business, the intention was to help the artisans. As the days go by, I am motivated to help them out while growing my business. I want to help the environment with simple solutions that can tackle serious problems,” he says.
To get in touch with Sunam, contact: 7021957908
*An entrepreneur you admire.
Ans: Varun Mayya (Avalon Labs)
*New tech that can transform the future of small businesses
Ans: Artificial Intelligence
*One value that can help small businesses thrive
Ans: Always lookout for opportunities to collab with other businesses.
* Any app/software that helps you manage your work
Ans: Vyapaar app
*Your favourite book
Ans: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
*In my free time, I ____…
Ans: Watch movies
* Before this interview, I was ____…
Ans: Waiting for this interview
* A message for your past self about small businesses
Ans: Working selflessly is more fulfilling.
*Best advice you ever got is ____…
Ans: If you have the will to do it, you eventually will get it done
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)