“Sustainability goes across everything I do….For example, there’s no leather; it’s free from PVC. There are lots of woven materials, which means a lot less waste” (Stella McCartney, fashion designer).
The global market for leather goods is worth an estimated $100 billion. It is a long-established industry that dates back 400,000 years, though the modern commercial production of leather probably originated in France in the late 19th century. Today, it is a global industry with China, Brazil, Russia, and India being the leading national producers. However, the production of leather is damaging not just to the environment but to the people who produce it. Indeed, according to PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), “the only ones who benefit are people who profit from the misery and suffering of others”. Accordingly, alternatives to leather are being sought that do not cause cruelty to animals, endanger human life, or devastate the environment. To date, the most common alternatives have involved the use of plastics which, themselves, damage the environment and endanger both animals and humans. However, recent developments have included the creation of vegan leather from plants and fungus. One such development is Fleather made by Phool, a start-up based in Kanpur the capital of India’s leather industry. It is made from discarded temple flowers.
In 2015, during the Makara Sankranti Festival, Ankit Agarwal saw pilgrims drinking water from the sacred Ganges river, the second most polluted river in the world. Much of the pollution stemmed from the pesticides that coated the flowers traditionally dumped into the river by the local temples. This gave him the idea to collect the floral waste and turn it into incense sticks. So in 2015 he gave up his job as an automation engineer with Symantec, launched Phool, and went into production. Then, one day in 2017, he noticed a thick whitish mat-like substance growing on the flowers dumped on the floor of the factory. Phool’s researchers started to experiment with it and initially produced Florafoam, a compostable thick styrofoam type of material that can be used for packaging. Eventually, however, they then created Fleather which they began producing in 2021. This is a soft, supple material that feels and looks like leather.
Today they are exploring how to make the leather stronger and tougher but, at the same time, are producing 90 square ft of Fleather a day and preventing some 7600 kgs of waste flowers and 97kgs of toxic chemicals from polluting the river each day. In the process, they have created much-needed employment for 163 female flower cyclers who collect and sort the petals. They now earn about 4 times what they would have earned if they had been employed as sanitation workers/refuse collectors. Eventually, they plan to employ some 5000.
“At first nobody was willing to take the idea of recycling the temple waste seriously or giving up the floral waste” says Agarwal. However, although they are not yet in full commercial production, they have won various national and international awards and have raised $9.4 million from 6 investors. This will be used to scale the venture and fund further R &D In December 2022 Phool and Fleather was a finalist in the prestigious Earthshot Prize.
Further product collection can be found at: https://phool.co/
Clearly, Phool is a harmonious enterprise in which profit, planet, and people are in Harmony. It is addressing SDGs 13 (Climate Action), 14 (Life Below Water), and 15 (Life on Land), as well as 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), 9 (Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure) together with 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) and 10 (Reduced Inequalities).
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What a brilliant example of entrepreneurship for the greater good. I wish this fledgeling company every success.