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Zero-Waste Lifestyle

TechCamp South Asia participant Sahar Mansoor’s start-up, Bare Necessities, offers personal and home care products that are ecofriendly and use biodegradable packaging.


Sahar Mansoor is the founder of Bare Necessities, an ecofriendly product company based in Bengaluru. And this journey started with the simple act of traveling through the streets of India.

“I felt overwhelmed with India’s trash problem,” she says. “I was confronted by it every day, seeing piles of garbage on the streets. I watched local waste pickers sort through the piles with their bare hands.” She started to think of the environmental, health and social justice issues associated with the garbage problem.

“I wanted to stop being part of the problem,” says Mansoor. “I knew I had to address my own trash first. My solution was to adopt a lifestyle that would best reflect the values I cared about.”

Mansoor had worked at the World Health Organization, with a focus on environmental planning, policy and law and, thus, she decided she “needed to live a life fully congruent to [her] environmental and social justice values.” “I needed to walk the talk,” she says, “and I knew I had to start living a zero-waste lifestyle.”

And she has. After about two and a half years, she has produced “only half a kilogram of trash; all of which fits in a 500ml jar,” says Mansoor.

But one element was making it incredibly difficult for her to practice her zero-waste lifestyle: personal and home care products. These tend to contain chemicals and are usually packaged in plastic.

“In response, I wanted to create a company that mirrored the values of zero waste, ethical consumption and sustainability,” says Mansoor. “I wanted to make it easy for other people looking to consume more mindfully and to encourage others to produce less waste. And, Bare Necessities was born.” She says she is an “accidental entrepreneur, though [she comes] from a family of serial entrepreneurs.”

The Bare Necessities line includes a wide range of personal and home care products like soap, laundry detergent and stainless steel straws.

Mansoor participated in TechCamp South Asia, a public diplomacy program hosted by the U.S. Department of State. Her project was to create a crowdsourced cookbook of zero-waste goods and crafts. She asked makers to chat with their grandmothers and learn traditional recipes.

“Everyone has a story to share; learning about the inherent connect people have with native Indian ingredients was a revelation,” says Mansoor. “The power of storytelling is very much part of our Indian culture, and this was unmistakable in my conversations with family and close friends. Going back to basics, like what they did before shampoo was sold in plastic bottles or what toothpaste comprised of opened a plethora of stories.”

The stories have evolved into a book focusing on zero-waste tips and tricks with crowdsourced illustrations. The company is now in talks with a major publisher.

“I think the TechCamp created an amazing platform for women; potentially to collaborate with other women entrepreneurs,” says Mansoor. “Irrespective of our countries, we face similar challenges.” She feels it was immensely helpful to learn about the entrepreneurship journey of other women. “I strongly believe that peer sharing is one of the most powerful tools of learning,” says Mansoor. “I candidly shared my learnings and challenges, so other women entrepreneurs don’t make the same mistakes I did.” She adds that the TechCamp “democratizes conversations, makes it accessible to connect with someone in a non-intimidating way.”

“We think there is a lot to be celebrated about India,” says Mansoor. “India is the land of yoga, the land where the sacred is revered in every river and mountain. The land of sensory overload—aromas, textures, colors all come alive to make India, India!” Bare Necessities, she says, attempts to celebrate the beauty and richness of the country. “It is exciting to incorporate indigenous ingredients,” she adds, “whose benefits we have probably heard of but never really experienced for ourselves.”

All Bare Necessities products marry the old and the new, she says, and have no harmful effects on health or the environment. They use recyclable or biodegradable packaging and are handcrafted by women in Karnataka.

“In the larger sense, Bare Necessities seeks to change the narrative around waste in India,” says Mansoor. This includes becoming an interdisciplinary hub, she says, for product designers, policy analysts, behavior economists, ecologists, researchers and consumers to work together to develop a circular economy and tackle the global garbage crisis.

 

Candice Yacono is a magazine and newspaper writer based in southern California.