America’s first flag was made from hemp. The world’s first car was run on hemp fuel. Levi’s used hemp to make denim jeans. These are some facts Chirag Tekchandaney narrates as we sit down to chat about his sustainable clothing label, B Label. He reflects on the seven-year-long journey that the label has undergone right from opening up the scientific and research door for industrial hemp in the country to changing the conversation around it. BOHECO’s seven co-founders were quick to discover the potential of this zero waste crop. Hemp fabric has the look of linen but a softer feel to it. Today, the label’s clothing is available at select retail shops and online on their website and various other e-commerce websites like Eco trunk and green-conscious, Nykaa, and Better India. The label is now looking to expand to other avenues.
What’s the most common misconception consumers have about industrial hemp?
Hemp has always been a stigmatised crop in our country. Most people are unaware that Cannabis falls under two species — Cannabis indica, also known as ganja, and Cannabis sativa, which is known as industrial hemp. The typical notion of hemp clothing would mean Bob Marley t-shirt with a joint on it. We completely wanted to get away from that. We wanted people to identify wearing hemp clothing as a way of sustainability. The whole motive of Bombay Hemp Company (BOHECO) is to cultivate and educate. We are literally saying, here’s a crop from the field, grown and processed, which has no pesticides and fertilizers used. It’s the strongest fibre known.
What’s your reason for working with industrial hemp?
The only thing we took from college was that 60% of the country’s workforce is into agriculture. That’s 13% of our GDP. And just as business students we understood that something had to be done about it. So for us, the whole point of being here is to serve the farmers in the country. But the tools we have picked up are a little uncommon. Hemp has some properties which are unmatchable as compared to natural fibres like cotton, jute, etc. There is no other crop on the planet that a farmer can grow twice a year. It grows up to 12ft tall in 100 days. It also requires 40 times less water to grow than cotton. One can utilise literally everything about the plant. And for the consumer, the more you wash it the softer it gets. It is like wine, it ages much better.
Can you elaborate on the pros of wearing hemp as against cotton or linen?
Hemp keeps you cool in the summer, is breathable and is porous in nature. You can spend the entire day wearing it. Apart from that, it’s UV resistant, which means it cuts down the effect of sunrays and protects your skin. It is one of the strongest natural fibres so it’s not going to really tear. We only use vegetable or natural dyes. And moreover, it’s the bragging rights that one has after buying something which is purely from the soil.
What measures have you taken as a label to change the mindset of the consumer?
I think communication is a large part of how we do it. Even our packaging, for example, it’s a briefcase-size hemp box that states all the properties of the hemp fabric. Even our bags that are used for maintenance of inventory where all each garment is put is actually a biodegradable bag. So compared to the industry which operates at 25 paisa bag, we pay two and a half rupees. But I think the biggest breakthrough has been about the way we educate people when we are physically present at pop-ups and exhibitions. There we have massive paintings, infographics in the form of proper pictures or presentations talking about the BOHECO story.
What plans do you have for the upcoming season?
February 2020 is when we launch a spring/summer collection. But until then we’re launching our next collection called Dawn of Green It’s going to have four different drops. And the idea is to really get people onto the journey of sustainability by seeing the story in a world full of white, black and grey. The collection will be available on Amazon, Flipkart, and Snapdeal.
How has your journey as a brand been so far?
We started off in a small office just behind the very lane of our new office here. It was a 110 sq ft office. It was seven of us, computers, inventories, whiteboards, everything in one place. We were always watchful of the next step we take. So while we thought it would be a tough one we realized a lot of people had read about us. Most of our revenues now are starting to come from online as well. Many cosmetic brands, food brands, and fabric brands buy from us. We currently run a brand called Hemp Fabric Lab. We have established projects with top institutes of the Central Government in Jammu, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand. We also export our clothing to Europe, the US. and Australia. Though we have our own fashion accessories brand, we want others to get into the race too.