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Creating a better future one cloth bag at a time

A group of women from Paalaguttapalle village in Andhra Pradesh have gained financial independence by making sustainable cloth bags that have travelled the world

Climate change took away the only source of income of 72 families in Paalaguttapalle village in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh about a decade ago and today it is climate action that is reviving their economy. 

A slew of droughts between 2010 and 2015 caused incomes to decline in the largely agrarian village and put families in crisis. The women met often to discuss the way ahead. It was during one such meeting in 2016 that a few women, including Aparna Krishnan, a former software engineer who had moved to the village in 1996 after retirement,  came up with the idea of banking on one of their skills—tailoring. 

“A few of them had sewing machines and some knew how to stitch so they decided to make cloth bags with simple designs. The first order came from a friend of mine who placed one for 100 bags so that set them off,” Krishnan, who handles their social media and is a consultant tells Lounge.

Named after their village and started by nine women, Paalanguttapalle Bags has since grown to become a sustainable bag-making enterprise and the main source of income for their families which were heavily dependent on agriculture. 

They began crafting cloth bags, often seen as an alternative to plastic and a means to reduce consumption and counter climate change, with Kalamkari artwork. As bigger orders came in, some customers wanted custom printing or images and the women realised they needed to learn screen printing but the training was expensive. “Through the venture’s Facebook page, some friends offered to teach them in Chennai so they travelled, learnt and brought the skill back to the village. There have been some helping hands to guide me through this journey,” explains Krishnan.

The grit and learning spirit of the women remain the driving force of the venture. From procurement of fabric to design, quality checking, and walking seven kilometres to the nearest post office to send out the products, the women handle each stage of the process. “They have poured their heart and soul. Making sure quality products reach the customers is the utmost concern and that’s something that made this enterprise into a community,” Krishnan says.

They started with cloth bags, and have moved to making sustainable alternatives for various products such as backpacks, gift pouches, saree bags, fridge bags, coasters, thoranams (hanging decorations), and upcycled products. Their tote bags often come with messages such as ‘Say No to Plastic Bags’. As people who have experienced how climate crisis can severely impact lives, the women are passionate about doing their bit to create awareness. 

During the Covid-19 pandemic as face masks became a necessity, the women started making them using cloth—an eco-friendly option that could save waste from landfills. Now, they have expanded to making saree blouses and selling homemade pickles. 

With this venture, the women became the breadwinners of the family. “We are able to not only sustain ourselves but also send our children to better schools. Often children come to their mothers when they want something, now we can be the person who can get that for them,” says N Anita, one of the co-founders.

It has also led to some changes in the dynamics within the family. Their husbands take over the cooking when there is a lot of work, Krishnan says. “These have important social implications,” she adds.

Along with financial relief and a positive shift in family dynamics, the enterprise has brought recognition for women and the village. The women not only sell bags across India but have also received orders from the US, UK and Canada. “It makes us happy that people worldwide have heard of our village because of our enterprise,” K Roopa says.

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