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This Incredible Woman Found A Great Business Idea While Digging Through Trash!

By Amishi Shah:

In a classroom in Bath, whilst studying for my Master’s degree, I got introduced to the concept of a social enterprise. The fact that businesses could make money by doing something beneficial for society, fascinated me!

A month later, I happened to walk into a small boutique that sold ‘upcycled’ products. I must confess, I always had a pre-conceived notion about environmentally-conscious products – that they were visually unappealing or inconsistent in quality. But the products in this store, made me go “Wow!” There was a visiting card holder, created using the art of book origami, a sure-shot conversation starter. I also remember this exquisite showpiece made of nuts and bolts, a creative use of random waste objects. My only grouse was the high pricing.

When I returned to India, I realised I didn’t want a desk job at a large corporate. Instead, I chose to work at a travel start-up. On weekends and after work, I would experiment with upcycling. In case you’re wondering, upcycling is greener than recycling.

It uses lesser energy and creates products of equal or higher quality while recycling uses more energy to create products of equal or lesser quality and value. To quote a simple example, taking a glass bottle and melting it to make a new glass bottle is recycling. However, using your creativity to turn it into a stylish vase – that’s upcycling. Initially, I would upcycle anything I could get my hands on! I was hungry to learn and gradually realised that there was huge potential in managing waste using upcycling.


Within six months, I quit my job and began the journey of ‘The Upcycle Project’. I started selling at exhibitions and got a great response. After taking this route for a few months, I began thinking about profitability and scale. I wanted to make products that were affordable and well-designed while creating a brand that urban youth identified with. More than anything, I wanted to change the way people looked at trash.

upcycle project 1
Handmade products are usually expensive due to the labour element. So, I began to mechanise production so I could compete with mainstream quirky brands in terms of cost, consistency in quality and delivery timelines. The company also needed more focus. So, I chose to use only one material – waste vinyl records made from a plastic called Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which cannot be recycled. We make coasters, key-chains, book ends, clocks, serving platters, bookmarks and other unique products, and our pricing starts at Rs. 100.

Learning Curves

Social media has been the most important part of our brand-building and awareness throughout our journey. Initially, it helped me converse with like-minded people, educate consumers and also encourage upcycling DIY projects. This inspired people to share their own projects! In the first year, we also tapped Facebook and Instagram to put up products for sale and WhatsApp to generate orders. It was like an informal shop and the only way we sold products.

Also for any bootstrapped start-up, hiring is tough. Therefore, a lot of your time will be spent trying to master things you have no skill-set for. Specifically, for me, since I do not have a design background, it is difficult explaining concepts in my head. But I have overcome this constraint by learning how to create reference boards and detailed descriptions. I have also been blessed with a fantastic designer and manufacturer, with whom, I am able to communicate very well.

upcycle project 2

Getting Excited About Waste

Today, The Upcycle Project has fulfilled orders from over 15 different cities and towns in India and has upcycled over 900 kg of waste! We have a trusted supply chain for raw materials, great vendors and a reliable team. We sell through our own website and 18 different platforms. We have also custom designed furniture and table accessories from recycled wood and other bits and pieces, for two commercial establishments in Mumbai. But this is just the beginning. The waste management industry has so far just revolved around the multi-million dollar recycling space and very few companies have really been able to use creativity and design to enter the retail space with waste. But that is what we are trying to do – get people excited about products made from waste.

Image Courtesy: The Upcycle Project

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  1. Jasveer Sarainaga

    Very inspired article amishi
    Can I talk you on Facebook for your business

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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