I believe when people get out of their comfort zone, they end up writing their own story!
When Richa Malik decided to quit her cushy corporate life to pursue her dream of becoming a scuba diving instructor, little did she know that she will end up venturing into something that would change not only her life — but several other human and marine lives — entirely!
The former scuba diver was taught to carry her own bags and water bottles anywhere since childhood. A part of her knew what zero waste was and how minimalism can be followed.
While working as a diving instructor in Indonesia, Richa also started volunteering for beach clean-ups and dive clean-ups and saw the impact of plastic and what we consider as throwing ‘away’!
“The hard realisation that clean-ups alone are not enough drove me to focus towards consumption. On one particular dive, I had to chase a turtle away from a plastic bag. Plastic bags look like jellyfish underwater (turtles enjoy eating jellyfish). And this particular turtle was swimming towards what it thought was its lunch. I realised I could help that turtle on that day, but there’s no help for countless others. Over the next few months, I found a lot more plastic underwater, including packaging of the brands that I used to sell in my corporate life. Seeing the damage first-hand, I came back to India with the aim of reducing plastic consumption and The Happy Turtle was born,” the Delhi entrepreneur shares.
The Happy Turtle was started in October 2017 with the idea to reduce plastic consumption — however, the popular belief at that time was that an eco-friendly lifestyle meant spending more money and that it was only the responsibility of the governments and manufacturers to stop making plastic in order to get consumers to stop buying it.
This led Malik’s startup to create its own Plastic Footprint Calculator — a solution-focused tool that helps assess how much plastic an individual (or a business) uses each year and how they can reduce their plastic footprints. “We launched our online store in June 2018 on World Environment Day with a small assortment of reusable, sustainable alternatives to plastic which were made in India with the help of rural artisans. Over the past three years since our product launch, we have expanded to over 90 SKUs and work with rural artisans and women from SHGs across four states. As a result, we have helped avoid over 8 million plastic products from being used to date. In addition, our Plastic Footprint Calculator has been used by over 20,000 people to reduce their plastic footprints,” she continues.
The 36YO herself reduced her plastic footprint to less than 3 kilos per year — an average urban Indian uses 24 kilos of plastic per year. “While carrying a cloth bag and water bottle were things I grew up doing, some of the habits that changed along the way were either necessity-based or a personal choice. While diving, I switched to a menstrual cup as that was an economical, reusable solution that I could easily dive with. Soon after that, I switched to cold-pressed coconut oil for most of my moisturising needs. Now, I have a plastic-free bathroom, make my own toothpowder, use apple cider vinegar as a conditioner along with my shampoo bars,” she shares further. “I also rarely order takeaway food and prefer ordering from a place that will pack plastic-free or dishes that don’t need plastic packaging. I have stopped using an AC at home; even during peak summer and pre-covid, I would take the metro as much as possible instead of driving. I don’t buy clothes or shoes often and only buy what is needed and make it last. Switching to a sustainable lifestyle is a journey that is probably not so easy to start with as it seems daunting; however, once you take a small step, the rest of the journey seems easy.”
Establishing a plastic-free supply chain in a country where even the artisans are used to using a lot of plastic packaging was one of the initial challenges that The Happy Turtle was able to overcome successfully — becoming one of the first companies to have a plastic-free supply chain in India.
But that wasn’t the only hurdle in the way!
“When I started out to find suppliers and establish my company’s supply chain, I faced a lot of stereotypes and challenges with people asking me to transfer the call to the boss (usually indicating a man) or assuming that I am opening up a boutique or fashion outlet so would not understand supply chains and “should take their word for it”. I had to repeat my CV countless times to get taken seriously by some people. However, I chose not to work with them as I was sure that if they cannot respect a woman founder, there would be no win-win partnership with them in the future. This helped me establish a supply chain with supply partners who were helpful and respectful towards women founders, and also helped me develop a thick skin towards stereotypes that would initially get me down,” Richa recalls.
Yes, being a woman, leading a startup, handling a team and making the world a better place — the society finds it hard to handle altogether, isn’t it!!
But nothing could stop Richa from becoming what she is today! Apart from teaching humans the ways to a plastic-free life, Richa’s venture also supports a women’s SHG in UP to help them contribute to their family incomes and earn a living along with running their households. “We have also partnered with Alharh (a menstrual hygiene awareness campaign in Bihar) and created the campaign Sammaan. Through Sammaan, our customers can donate our reusable sanitary napkin kits called Unmukt, and Alharh helps distribute the kits in Bihar to help women gain access to safe, reusable menstrual hygiene products. Unmukt Sanitary Napkins are also made by the SHG women and thereby help rural women in two ways: generating a source of livelihood for the women who make them and improving access for safe menstrual hygiene products for women who receive the donated kits,” she says.
One of the most valuable lessons which Richa believes she has learned as an entrepreneur is to accept that the journey would be two steps forward, one step back. “It took a lot of effort for me to internalise this, but it has helped me look at challenges differently and expect more problems as we move further instead of assuming the journey ahead will be smooth post a certain milestone,” she continues.
In the coming years, the ecopreneur plans to grow the company both on the products and the consulting vertical — aiming to provide reusable, sustainable alternatives to most plastic products found in the house/ office and helping businesses reduce their plastic footprints by at least 30% by 2025 respectively.
As a woman entrepreneur and the sole woman founder of the company, Malik has faced multiple stereotypes both in her personal and professional life. Being a solo traveller, a scuba diver and becoming a technical diver (one of the very few Indian women to do so), Richa has realised that one can either choose to get bogged down or offended by these stereotypes or take pride in breaking them.
“I chose the latter and, over time, have developed a thick skin and the ability to laugh at such stereotypes. I believe that while the world is changing for the better, and gender equality may be a reality someday. However, we need to stop waiting for that day to come and start now by not letting the stereotypes affect us and taking pride in being the one who breaks them. To every woman out there, keep doing what you are passionate about — irrespective of the stereotypes. Don’t let naysayers get you down. There will be plenty of both along the journey, and if your objective is clear to you and you are convinced about it, then their opinion should not matter. Challenges and setbacks are bound to happen in entrepreneurship, but if your motivation for your startup is truly intrinsic and is something you believe in, then the setbacks will not and should not get you down,” Richa ends on this note!
Stay tuned to this space and our series #PassionToProfession to read about more such women, their inspiring journeys and stories.
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