Hailing from the small town of Sultanpur in Uttar Pradesh, Abhishek Pathak, a trained textile designer, earned the distinction of becoming India’s first solar vastra (garment) entrepreneur.
Lucknow-based Abishek’s Greenwear Fashion offers garments made from yarn spun from solar charkhas, fabrics made from solar looms and garments sewn on solar sewing machines. The entire garment manufacturing process is powered by solar energy, hence the name vastra solar.
|Abhishek Pathak started Greenwear Fashion to provide livelihoods for rural craftswomen working with solar charkhas (Photo: special arrangement)|
How a man born into a middle-class family as the youngest of four small-town siblings, attending middle-schools in Hindi, went on to study textile design at one of India’s leading fashion institutes in Delhi and established his company with seed funding of Rs 50 lakh from IIM Calcutta Innovation Park (IIMCIP) proves that the power of purpose is what decides your destiny and not other factors.
Incorporated in 2019, Greenwear Fashion Private Limited has achieved revenue of Rs 2.5 crore for two consecutive years.
“We expect revenue to increase in the coming years as we reach more customers,” says Abhishek, 32.
He points out that their performance over the past two years must be seen in light of the pandemic when clothing sales were hit hard due to the long periods of lockdown triggered by Covid.
Greenwear products are sold at two company-owned outlets at Indira Nagar and Tilak Nagar in Lucknow. They offer kurtas, palazzos and khadi sarees at prices ranging from Rs 500 to Rs 5000.
They also make maternity clothes for expectant and nursing mothers and “adaptive clothes” for people with disabilities.
|Abhishek has provided livelihood for around 500 women living in rural areas of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh|
However, around 85% of their sales come from B2B. They work for bigger brands and make products for well-known mainstream fashion brands like “W for Women” and “Aurelia”.
Abhishek has provided livelihoods for around 500 women in rural areas of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
“Before, these women did nothing and struggled to get money to run the house. Now they earn between Rs 5,000 and Rs 8,000 per month,” says Abhishek.
The garments are sewn in their manufacturing unit in Safedabad near Lucknow using solar-powered sewing machines. About 152 employees are involved in sewing work and another 18 have other responsibilities in Lucknow.
Abhishek’s connection with Lucknow goes way back. He had come to this town from his small town after his class 12 to prepare for his engineering entrance exam.
He had stayed at an inn in town for about a year. However, he never attained engineering but eventually passed the NIFT entrance exam and landed at NIFT, Delhi.
Abhishek comes from a modest to middle income family. Her father is a lawyer and her mother is a housewife. Her older brother runs a school and her two sisters are employed as teachers in public schools.
|Greenwear’s sewing unit in Uttar Pradesh|
“My father practices in the district court and only earns to meet necessary expenses. Lawyers don’t make much money here in Sultanpur,” he says.
“Growing up, there was nothing like vacation or dining out. We only went to our grandparents on vacation.
He completed Class 12 from Saraswati Vidya Mandir Senior Secondary School, Sultanpur, in Hindi and joined NIFT, Delhi in 2007.
He felt out of place at NIFT due to his Hindi background and small town roots. He had no idea about fashion, even though he was a very creative person.
However, Abhishek learned quickly and adapted very quickly to the new environment.
He had enrolled in the four-year bachelor’s degree in textile design and had learned all about textile design, textile technology and had also been exposed to rural artisans and weavers through NIFT’s Craft Cluster Initiative program.
He had the opportunity to visit many rural clusters in different states to document their culture and art. It was then that he realized the potential of rural India. “I started thinking about doing something with artisans and rural women to empower them, while using women’s skills in the textile industry,” says Abhishek.
|Abhishek’s first venture was short-lived, after which he decided to gain work experience|
He was in the final year of his degree when he got the opportunity to work with a US-based furniture brand called Croscill Living in Delhi. There he worked on product design and development.
He quit the company in 2013 and then launched his clothing brand called Prakriti with a friend. They created hand-printed jeggings in collaboration with artisans from the village of Pipar in Jodhpur.
“Although we started with a lot of passion and vision, it stopped after we realized we lacked experience in running a business,” says Abhishek. They decided to take jobs and gain work experience.
“I had the opportunity to relocate to the United States while working with this US based company. However, I did not accept since my father was diagnosed with throat cancer and I wanted to be with my family,” says Abhishek.
In 2013, he joined a non-profit organization called Drishtee Foundation in Noida and headed their textile and handicrafts department until 2016. “My job was to work with women artisans in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and India. ‘Assam,’ he said.
It was while working with the non-profit that he saw the solar charkha designed by IIT-Delhi and the Mahatma Gandhi Institute for Rural Industrialization (MGIRI), Wardha, at an international trade fair at Pragati Maidan, Delhi, in 2016.
“I met with the solar charkha innovation team and shared my idea of starting a business with khadi fabrics involving rural women after training them in the use of solar charkha,” says Pathak.
This is how the concept of Greenwear Fashion was born in 2016. He worked on the idea in collaboration with Bhartiya Harit Khadi Gramodaya Sansthan (BHKGS), a khadi development organization based in Lucknow.
|A Greenwear outlet in Lucknow|
He joined BHKGS and executed a pilot project for Mission Solar Charkha initiated by the Union Ministry of MSMEs and trained 4,000 rural women in the use of solar charkha for spinning work.
“Although we trained so many rural women, they did not have regular work to earn a living. Greenwear was started with the support of IIM Calcutta Innovation Park to provide work for them,” he says.
Abhishek says that although the business is currently at a small level, he aims to provide livelihoods to around 5,000 rural women through his textile brand over the next five years.
“Even if 5% of villages in India become clusters of solar charkhas, they can meet the demand of 50% of India’s cotton consumption with a very low carbon footprint. Most importantly, it will improve the economy of rural India,” says Abhishek.