People Like Us: Bindu Kasinadhuni and the story of warp and weft

Bindu Kasinadhuni talks to TA about sustainability in her personal life, as well as her business, the Chakra Design Studio.

What started out as a quest for seeking eco-friendly aesthetic clothing for her kid, soon developed into a full scale sustainable clothing venture, The Chakra Design Studio, that celebrates the ancient Kalamkari art form, in its engaging and responsibly manufactured fabric line for kids and women. Founder Bindu Kasinadhuni says, “I was looking for a fabric that had an eco-conscious feel to it, natural dyed and printed. And Kalamkari was the answer.”

With a post graduate diploma in textile design from National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, India, and a master’s degree in textile design from Philadelphia University, Bindu’s journey in sustainable living turned into an entrepreneurial venture with friend Sara Hignite.

We catch up with Bindu Kasinadhuni to learn more:

The trigger: Sustainable yarn

Kasinadhuni was born in a village close to the community of Kalamkari weavers. One summer after graduation she went to visit these local artists. “I have always revered this ancient craft and a close up with these artisans helped me realize how sustainable their process was. The fabric is woven on handlooms. The artisans sourced all materials locally for the dyeing process; the bark, leaves, flowers all being close at hand. The cotton they use to spin yarn from, is grown around these areas supporting the local farmers to grow more cotton. The block maker carves patterns on a wood piece and the printer person prints all these patterns on the fabric in natural dyed colours. There is an interdependency at play here and therefore a balance.”

Bindu Kasinadhuni 1

The journey into sustainable living

Bindu started creating a collection of modern eco-friendly clothing and accessories printed using the ancient Kalamkari art. “I needed better clothes for my kid and I knew the soft vegetable dyed cotton would be perfect. Initially I designed the clothing for children, friends etc and it got bigger and we went in for a design studio. We got featured in magazines and then got featured in a newsletter called Goop, started by Gwyneth Paltrow, who had asked us for samples and was impressed.” The phone hasn’t stopped ringing since at Chakra.

Chakra Design Studio

At Chakra, all the dyes are derived from vegetable matter available locally, the mineral dyes they use do not contain harmful chemicals. The printing methods are non-toxic and safe for the artists and for children wearing these garments. The production process generates minimum waste; most of the pieces are sewn by underprivileged women trained via an NGO, Ideas for Women.

Accessories required for the garment like cloth button fasteners, coconut shell buttons etc are sourced locally, employing local craftsmen whenever possible. Bindu tries to reuse pieces of left over fabric too. “I bring in children to my studio,  toss in pieces of fabric playfully and they come up with great ideas for crafts. We have reused the waste fabric and come up with innovative quilts and have also used them as pompom; cut pieces of fabric for little decorations or for borders,” says Bindu smilingly. She plans to use natural indigo as prints for her next summer collection. “Printing with Indigo has never been done before and we are experimenting with the process and printing various garments with this colour,” says Bindu.

From yarn to yam: Gardening in the backyard

Kasinadhuni was a passionate kitchen gardener and composter while back in the US. “I had absolutely no struggle to feed my daughter vegetables like Okra, broccoli, etc., that grew in my garden,” she says smilingly. “Now back in Chennai it is difficult to raise a terrace garden because of heat. Yet I grow green leafy vegetables in a small area in our ground floor and compost at my home.”

Regarding her recycling efforts she says, “Earlier I used to segregate paper, plastic, glass etc. and hand them over to kuppathotti. But they are not very regular and so now I have to hand them over to a waste collector who comes every morning and collects them.”

Being a conscious consumer

She also sources organic fruits, vegetables, coffee, milk, oils, etc. from few stores close by and has opted for Kyra products like dishwashing, face wash etc. “Convincing the maids and changing their mind set is the challenge here. They need to be taught the importance of segregation of waste and the use of natural safe products,” she says ruefully.

She also has a circle of friends who are interested in sustainable practises and are aware of a lot of issues pertaining to organic gardening, farming, sourcing of food etc. “This has helped me a lot as I know where to go if I am stuck,” says Bindu thankfully. She and her friends have adopted healthy practises like buying things from local artisans or small business like local bakeries where the ingredients are sourced locally.

Bindu Kasinadhuni 2

“Laws impede the path to sustainable living”

One of the biggest challenges Bindu feels to go organic is the lack of regulatory laws to identify the product as organic. “A lack of official certification in India means that any purveyors can tout their produce as organic. So without proper organic credentials it is really difficult to take produce labelled as organic at face value,” says Bindu.

In her eco-sensitive venture, Bindu has faced a lot of issues. “The weaving community were locked up in doing Kalamkari work on bed sheets and lungis, the typical conventional market. This ancient art needed some serious design intervention and there was a need to tweak this traditional art to contemporary market,” she says and adds, “I sat with the block makers, tried out new patterns and blocks suitable for modern wear.” Sourcing organic cotton, investigating new markets to sell the products, convincing the weavers to work on the organic cotton and spin yarn, encouraging the artisans to stick to the laborious Kalamkari art was a herculean task in itself. But for Kasinadhuni there was no other way.

Keeping the enthusiasm high

Better for the earth, better for the child is her simple philosophy. She says with her initiatives she is creating a better future for the children and this is motivation enough. Her daughter says, “Let us just walk mom,” whenever they need to step out of the house and this by itself gives her hope. And if she feels her motivation waning, her group of supportive friends push her to take action and do stuff the right way. And what makes the journey easier for her is the fact that she has been organic for many years while staying abroad. Her family is also supportive of her efforts.

Bindu’s easy peasy guide to sustainable living

“Forget fast foods and cook at home. Spend time with kids and involve them in your chores. Try to spend some time listening to them, telling them stories, etc.” implores Bindu.

“Try to regulate your way of life and follow certain sustainable practises, involving your child in the process. This is the key.  When the children see you recycling water and conserving it, not wasting food and recycling stuff, sustainability comes naturally to them!” says this green lover.

Inculcate the reading habit in kids is another tip that she gives. “There is a big library at home and even if we want we cannot escape from books,” she says impishly and adds, “I limit the gadget usage at home and see my child gets to play with iPad or video games albeit for an hour or so.”

Usha Hariprasad is a freelance writer. She is fond of travelling, discovering new places and writes about travel related destinations around Bangalore at Citizen Matters. more


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Usha Hariprasad is a freelance writer. She is fond of travelling, discovering new places and writes about travel related destinations around Bangalore at Citizen Matters. more

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