Sustainability is a topic that weighs heavily on the minds of all. If one gathers a group of students from various countries and begins a discussion on pollution, global warming, and other environmental problems, all will chime in with their own experiences. These experiences will certainly be different, yet they will all carry a note of moving towards the future. With every mention of a problem should come the mention of a potential solution.

While many talk of potential solutions, few talk of true action. Earth5R is an exception to this majority rule. Working with various sustainable materials, Earth5R has managed to initiate a series of booming entrepreneurial activities for women and children living in impoverished and less-than-ideal conditions.

These projects vary in their content depending on what materials that are available as well as projected consumer demand. By teaching people how to start and maintain a particular craft business, Earth5R is giving them a way to live strongly and independently. While charity is great, it has a few drawbacks – one of which being a dependency on the giver by the receiver.

By helping start individual businesses, Earth5R gives those it helps a future, rather than a continuous present. With a strong team of dedicated leaders, Earth5R is improving the world in a sustainable way.

One such project that is currently in the works involves the creation of dolls using recycled materials. As a choice of project, dolls are perfect. When walking through the slums of Dharavi, one notices instantly the large number of children. While many of these children go to schools and have other activities, many do not go to school, or they have dropped out. Regardless of the status of the child, they are kids. So, they love to play.

Dolls are one of the oldest, simplest, and most beloved toys. Therefore, by choosing to make dolls, Earth5R has engaged with a product will have a continual demand. As with any new product, development is crucial. A great deal of care and thought must be placed into every element of a product in order to demonstrate that it can survive and thrive in a given market while giving fair return to its producer.

In this particular case, even greater care was devoted to the development of this product; every detail was examined. Because Earth5R focuses on sustainability, there were even more aspects to take into account. For example: how can every element of the doll be made sustainable? How can materials be employed in the most efficient way? How can we use recycled materials? Where to get these materials? How can we make the dolls complex enough that it sells well, but simple enough that it can be easily taught to and made by women in the slums? 

One of the most important points mentioned above is the importance of materials. The cloth to be used for the face of the doll, as well as the doll’s clothes is all fabric that would have gone to waste otherwise. For example, when a pair of jeans is made in a factory, there are many oddly-shaped scraps of denim from where the fabric has been cut. Typically, this extra fabric is thrown away, yet this is a waste. With the dolls, Earth5R has upcycled this fabric, presenting it in a new light. The greater potential of the fabric is visible.

Care for the materials even went to the depths of the thread used. 100% cotton thread is used on all the dolls. This is beneficial because it is better for the environment given that it is not synthetic. Because the thread contains no plastic, it can naturally decompose. While the amount of space that this thread would take in a landfill if it were synthetic seems negligible, it can truly add up.

A few weeks ago, a group of international volunteers part of AIESEC Navi Mumbai met up for this doll-making workshop. They met Shivangi, Creative Head of Earth5R and designer, who taught them how to create these dolls. She began by demonstrating how she stitched the dolls head, dress, scarf and subsequently its hairstyle and face. She encouraged the volunteers to be creative with their dolls. As a result, the dolls the interns created differed in various ways. Some dolls had shiny dresses while others sported unembellished ones.

The dolls also had different hairstyles; Shivangi’s doll had two ponytails in a single colour, but the volunteer’s had dolls adorned with braids in pigtails. One doll even had hair of multiple coloured threads! The volunteers had a great time creating these dolls although some of them struggled with the stitching, having never done it before, they were eager to learn.

The most significant learning aspect of the doll-making workshop was the knowledge of how to turn waste materials into something as beautiful as a doll. As mentioned previously, the materials that were used were all extra scraps from stitched cloth pieces, but looking at these dolls, no one would imagine that they are made of upcycled materials.

The dolls are a relatively new concept that Earth5R is experimenting with and they are still at its primary stage, however the idea is extremely innovative and carries a lot of potential. One of the best things about it is that it can be taught to less-privileged women and children who reside in slums and learning such a skill set can benefit them in multiple ways

Not only can it be a source of artistic expression for children and women, it can also become a source of income if they choose to sell their creations. Enabling people to earn from their creations provides them with ownership whilst simultaneously empowers them. As Saurabh Gupta says, “these people have had their power taken away from them and we are simply giving it back to them.” Ownership is something that is generally overlooked but giving someone recognition for what they make can go a long way.

For women coming from living conditions like slums, they may consider a skill like sewing as trivial and may not see the beauty in the things they make. But, seeing other people purchase it and giving it value and appreciation may help boost their self esteem and confidence.

In the long run, Earth5R aims to help these women gain financial independence so they stop relying on their children to work in order to help manage expenses. This project can go a long way in affecting the lives of these people and hopefully in increasing the number of children going to school. The volunteers truly enjoyed this experience and look forward to the full launch of this idea.

Report by Safiya Tyebally, Edited by Anushka Mehta, Photos by Sharad Vegda