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How A CA-Turned-Entrepreneur Created A Line Of ‘Animal Friendly’ Shoes

By Devika Srimal Bapna:

As an animal lover and a PETA volunteer, I decided to give up leather a few years back. How leather is made, simply aches my heart. Even though it’s illegal to kill healthy young cattle in India, they are beaten, deprived of food and water, dehorned, transported in appalling conditions and tortured with iron rods. As statistics go, India produces around one billion pairs of leather shoes every year for consumption and export, and the hide from one cow produces 18 pairs of shoes. Which means 50 million cows are slaughtered for shoes!

With this knowledge, I pledged to never wear leather again but consequently, had a tough time finding good non-leather shoes that were stylish, of good quality and affordable. You could say that it was almost a light-bulb moment when I thought, “What the heck, I should start my own brand!” And that’s how ‘KANABIS‘ was born – a brand for fashionable, affordable, high quality and PETA-approved vegan footwear. The name is a play on the word cannabis (a.k.a. marijuana) since we use a lot of canvas instead of leather in our shoes, and canvas was historically made from hemp, which came from cannabis.

Shoes! Shoes! And more shoes! Image Courtesy: KANABIS

All our shoes are made of high-quality canvas, fabric and other leather substitutes keeping compassion for animals as a core value of the business but style is as important to us, which is why our shoes are tastefully crafted, with a careful mix of fabrics for the right look and comfort, thanks to our creative head, Anshul Tyagi, who does a fantastic job with the product design!

Crunching Numbers To Selling Shoes

The challenges, you ask? Phew, plenty and counting! We started off from the drawing room of my house and have only recently shifted to a new office in our warehouse. I didn’t ever imagine that I would have to worry about which air conditioner, fridge or printer to install but setting up something from scratch especially when expenses are on a shoestring (in our case quite literally, ha!) teaches you all this and more. Also, I don’t come from a fashion or footwear background. I am a chartered accountant and started my career at a Big Four accounting firm in London, and quit that to sell shoes! So, that was a big learning curve in itself.

Keeping It Fun

One of the things that has really worked for us, is that every shoe we sell has a quirky name with a story. Our white lacy wedges got its name from a picture we posted on Instagram, of when I first tried the sample shoe and captioned it, “having a Cinderella moment!” Instantly, we got hundreds of likes and inquiries for that ‘Cinderella shoe’. And aloha, Cinderellas came to be! Occasionally we also do giveaway contests and recently partnered with PETA to run one that asked for people’s views on animal-friendly fashion. In a sense, the role of social media has been instrumental. Starting out, our crowdfunding campaign raised over $4000, and was solely promoted via social media. In a brief span, we have crossed 17,000 followers on Facebook, and have a fast-growing Instagram following that keeps us actively engaged with our target audience. Bloggers, fans and friends have also willingly helped spread the word about us.

kanabis shoes
Image Courtesy: KANABIS

When The Size Fits

In April this year, we turned one. We have done 35 exhibitions and trunk shows, till date and have received a phenomenal response at these events. Perhaps, because we are (almost always) the only brand in the ‘cool western casual’ and vegan shoe category. Once ladies try the shoe, and the size and fit works, they are more likely to visit us online and shop. Our shoes also retail offline at multi-brand stores across the country, as well other e-marketplaces, and though currently we’re only focusing on the domestic market, we plan to start global deliveries at some point.

On a more personal note, we foresee a rising consciousness against animal cruelty and as more brands and celebrities start promoting animal-friendly fashion, awareness and demand are bound to go up. We are excited to ride that high wave!

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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.

Read more about his campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

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.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

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
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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