Not many may know the name ‘Sangeetha bags’ but the square-shaped ‘big shopper’ bags made of jute are a familiar item in most households across South India.
This jute shopping bag made its entry early in the 2000s when plastic was widely used and the jute industry had not boomed. But soon, these bags started replacing the plastic bags at textile shops and even the famous ‘Manja Pye’ (a yellow cloth bag) widely used in Tamil Nadu.
Today, the 34 years old company claims to have the largest jute manufacturing unit in South India producing almost 2 lakhs of jute shopping bags every month and as a result replacing several tonnes of plastic in the country.
They have also expanded their products to laptop cases, file folders, yoga mats, travel bags and even tiffin box carriers and have also been exporting their products for the past decade to more than 30 countries and have even launched a showroom in London.
Exploring The Endless Possibilities of Jute
“I didn’t come from an affluent background and I didn’t have a proper education either. I was just a 10th standard pass that had to start an entire business from scratch, which was not an easy task,” says KC Job, the founder of Sangeetha bags.
It all started back in 1986 when I started exploring the numerous possibilities of jute. Even though people had started using plastic at the time, it wasn’t as bad as the situation we’re facing now. In fact, I didn’t start out thinking that jute would be an alternative to plastic bags either. But by the early 2000s, the scenario changed and everyone started becoming more aware of the excessive plastic usage and how it was affecting the environment,” he adds.
KC goes on to explain how the initial days of the business were extremely difficult for him.
“It was hard to convince people to opt for jute because at the time it was uncommon and people were not aware of its benefits. For example, even today people don’t know that jute cultivation can absorb up tonnes of carbon dioxide and release oxygen which is highly beneficial to the environment. Needless to say, the number of people from rural villages that are employed as a result of the jute production are innumerable,” he adds.
“I started my experiments with a few sacks that I got from traders in Mattancherry. Along with two of my other employees, I tried dyeing the raw cloth, cut and tailored them and took my product to wholesale shops. The feedback that I got was pretty bad so I decided to move to Kolkata to improve my skills. For over two months, I stayed there just to learn about processing and dyeing and everything there was to learn about Jute. And well, the rest is history,” he laughs.
Bringing Jute Into Every Indian Household
By 2009, the Indian government and several state governments started banning single-use plastic bags and this was when the business really started gaining momentum. This was a time when Sangeetha bags were one of the only jute manufacturers in the country and textile and other retail shop owners began reaching out and started placing bulk orders.
Today the company provides bags to all major stores in different cities across India including garment shops, jewellery stores and even rice mills.
They have also manufactured bags and file covers for government functions and even provided the jute bags to pack the Electronic Voting machines and the complimentary bags that were distributed at the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK).
Currently, the product development team of the company has developed 38 models for general shopping bags and 52 types of complimentary bags.
Sangeeth, KC’s son has been handling the finances of the company along with his brother Vineeth, who is the marketing head.
“From just a small unit in Thrissur, we now have dedicated jute mills in Kolkata that process the different kinds of jute for the company. These are then shipped to our manufacturing units Kochi and then supplied to stores all over the world from there,” says Sangeeth.
Over the years, Sangeetha bags has gained more than 1 lakh loyal clients including all the major textile shops in South India like Seematti, Kalyan Silks, PSR, Ganapathy Silks, Raamraj, Jayalakshmi and jewellery stores like Bhima, A. Geeri Pai along with food manufacturers like Nirapara and Eastern.
“Awareness among people has grown and going eco-friendly has become the need of the hour. So we decided to combine contemporary designs with jute. This was quite a radical move almost a decade back but now we rarely get to see Jute otherwise,” Sangeeth adds.
Employment Opportunities For Rural Communities
“Over the past 34 years, we have grown into a 300 membered company and besides that, we’ve been able to employ several women from an underprivileged background into our 8 manufacturing units in Kochi. This is one of our biggest achievements because we’ve been able to see the kind of impact the company has created on their lifestyle and it is truly rewarding to see that the children of these women employees are receiving an education as a result of the livelihood we’ve provided them with,” KC explains.
Several of the company’s employees have been working there for more than 10-25 years. Lakshmi who has been working in the Chellanam manufacturing unit says she has received monetary help from the company for her child’s education.
“To me, Sangeetha bags are more than just a company, they have been like family and have helped me in every way possible. And unlike several others, they don’t advertise the goodwill they have done for the society,” she explains.
“Building a business is easy, but to build something that has a purpose and at the same time creates impact is very difficult. With the support of my family and my employees, we’ve been able to create something that is beneficial to both the environment and rural communities,” concludes KC.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)