Designing new supply chains and programs that are people and planet positive requires a “systems” based approach that aligns all stakeholder’s (the entrepreneur, the investor, the brand, employees etc.) goals with the dual objectives of profit and sustainability.

Tanushri Shukla, our next pathbreaker,  works with Intellecap’s Circular Apparel Innovation Factory (CAIF), advising corporates and entrepreneurs in the textile & apparel sector on becoming sustainable by following the principles of the circular economy.

Tanushri talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about her first brush with social entrepreneurship through her social enterprise, Chindi, which uses textile waste from manufacturers and sewing units to make home decor products and accessories.

For students, running your own business teaches you everything you need to know about production, sales, product design, marketing and sustainability that will be your guiding factor later on in life !

Tanushri, Your background?

I grew up a real bookworm who also had a real interest in fashion. So I spent most of my time reading or writing stories, making up characters, and then dressing up as them using my mum’s old clothes. 

At school, I got interested in debate, elocution, and other such public speaking opportunities that helped me figure out my stance on various social issues. My mother was a social worker who exposed me to social inequity at a very early age, so as I grew older I began to incorporate social impact in my professional and personal goals.

I also picked up crochet and knitting as hobbies along the way, which later came to play a big role in my career.

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

I did my Bachelor’s in Mass Media with a specialization in Journalism. After working for about 7 years, I went to Oxford to do a Master’s in Digital Publishing. 

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?

While I have described my journey below, some key turning points were:

  • Being able to join the dots between my hobbies/interests and turn it into a business and viable career path
  • Being curious and interested in things beyond my work, which helped me take my career in new and unexpected directions 
  • I spoke to a lot of other entrepreneurs and sustainability professionals, asked a lot of “dumb” questions, and they all helped me so much. I learnt not to be afraid to ask for help because most people are open to sharing and helping. So many of them went out of their way to help me and this really reinforced my faith in humanity. 
  • Quitting my job and running Chindi full time was the scariest decision I ever made in my life — losing financial security was especially hard. But I don’t regret it one bit. 

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path

I currently work as a sustainability consultant for the textile industry, though the journey here has been circuitous and prompted by chance.  

My interest in writing and social impact seemed to quite naturally lead to journalism and, later, publishing. I think what helped me in this journey the most was writing and publishing from an early age — I always wanted to finish studying and start working as soon as possible so I kept freelancing as much as I could throughout my education. This helped me better navigate work after graduating and know my own interests and inclinations. 

I moved back to India after finishing my Master’s, intending to continue working in digital publishing, but a trip to a family member’s business changed my path. I happened to visit a garment manufacturing unit where I saw a large amount of textile waste being discarded in the landfill behind the unit. At the same time, I was struggling to find yarn and crochet/knitting raw material in India (it was very easily available in London and became a hobby). So I started crocheting and weaving with this waste fabric, and that’s when the idea for my social enterprise Chindi was born. 

Chindi came to employ about 40 women from a slum in Mumbai where we used textile waste from manufacturers and sewing units to make home decor products and accessories. We were also incubated by Unltd India, an early stage impact incubator, that helped us grow. At first, it was a side hobby alongside my full time job as a digital product manager with RebelMouse, but soon I quit my job to focus on it full time. 

After about 6 years of running Chindi, I realized I had to make a choice between solving the problem of textile waste and selling products under my own brand — the two became mutually exclusive. I decided I wanted to solve the problem, and that’s when I closed Chindi and joined Intellecap’s Circular Apparel Innovation Factory (CAIF) as a consultant after hearing about it through Chindi.

How did you get your first break? 

As I said, I had been writing and publishing since I was in college, mostly in local newspapers and websites, so that was probably my first break. I found my first full time job online after a lot of hunting, so it was just hard work everyday. I was not seen as a total “fresher” because I had been proactively working for a few years already, which really helped me prove my ability to take on a bigger challenge.  

What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

In my first job? None really, apart from learning how to take ownership and responsibility after a cushioned life in school/college. 

Overall I have always challenged myself to move into new and unfamiliar roles without necessarily having all the training/ expertise/ knowledge/ education. Learning on the job is scary, but also the best way to learn and grow. 

Where do you work now? What problems do you solve?

Circular Apparel Innovation Factory (CAIF), is an initiative of Intellecap, a development consultancy that is part of the Aavishkaar Group.

I work at a consultancy that advises corporates and entrepreneurs in the textile & apparel sector on becoming sustainable by following the principles of the circular economy. The overall problem I solve is piece by piece redesigning an industry that has been built to be polluting and entirely profit oriented without any care for people or the environment. 

What skills are needed for your role? How did you acquire the skills?

A thorough understanding of the textile value chain — all the different processes and hands a piece of fabric goes through before it becomes the garment you and I buy in store, as well as what happens to that garment after we discard it. This I learnt by simply reading and visiting companies and seeing how they work, to get first-hand knowledge.

Thinking in systems and ecosystems is imperative in this industry that has largely been built in silos. Each person in the ecosystem — the entrepreneur, the investor, the brand, etc. — all have their own and often conflicting agendas and interests. We need to think of how to keep everyone’s goals in mind while designing new supply chains and programs that are people- and planet-positive. Running my own enterprise where, for the longest time, I was the only person doing everything from production and sales to product design and marketing really helped me here as I got to first hand understand the entire system. 

Written and spoken communication skills are a must — I write a lot of proposals for funders, concept notes for different stakeholders, a lot of reports, marketing material, and research pieces. Simply knowing something isn’t enough, you have to know how to communicate it to an audience. Today it’s also important to know how to pair words with design, video, and other media to make your message impactful. My early interest in writing and later work in digital publishing has really helped me here. 

What’s a typical day like?

No two days are alike! I am a program manager, and depending on the stage of the program, I am doing some or all of the below:

  • Researching an issue through primary and secondary research
  • Writing a concept note or proposal to share with funders, investors, entrepreneurs, and other stakeholders
  • Laying clear hypotheses, goals, a theory of change, and KPIs for each program activity 
  • Building partnerships with various organizations and entities
  • Implementing programs on ground with partners 
  • Managing program budgets and spends 
  • Course correcting and problem solving if we are moving away from our pre-planned KPIs and goals 
  • Creating knowledge products like reports and white papers to document our learnings 
  • Sharing our learnings on public platforms through speaking engagements at conferences and industry events 

What is it you love about this job? 

That it is a near-perfect convergence of both my skills and my interests and also constantly challenges me to move outside my comfort zone. I will never stop learning!

How does your work benefit society? 

You’ve all heard about climate change, and while there is a lot that each individual can do about it, the biggest impact can be made by companies and organizations. The greatest reason to work as a sustainability consultant is having the ability to change how companies have traditionally done business and therefore make a dent in one of the greatest crises facing our world today. 

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

Founding and running my social enterprise Chindi remains one of the highlights of my life. It was the toughest thing I ever did but also the most rewarding. Balancing profit and purpose is difficult and really tests your ethics, which really shows you who you are. I also had the chance to bring actual change both in terms of waste reduction and livelihoods for women who had never had the chance to work and earn a living before. Chindi taught me everything I needed to do the work I do today. 

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Try everything! Experiment a lot. Fail a lot. Ask for help. Be curious and question everything. Read a lot and supplement your opinions with research. Know that no experience goes to waste, everything teaches you something that you will use somewhere down the line. 

Future Plans?

My north star is making more and more impact in my sector of choice — so I’m always ambitious about doing more and more work, and running ever more ambitious and large scale programs.