Sahar Mansoor, Bare Necessities & Zero-Waste | The Positive Change

This week we had the opportunity to learn from Sahar Mansoor, founder of Bare Necessities. Sahar has established herself through various initiatives including:

We found this interview inspiring because of Sahar’s ‘go-getter’ personality which we all need to have, whether it’s in life or when striving to make a change in the world – Sahar cemented the thought in her, ‘I need to be part of the solution, not the problem,’ and acted on it.

For someone who has worked this hard and recognized for their hard work through various meaningful recognitions, obviously we need to understand how Sahar thinks and there is definitely a lot of knowledge to be shared and applied in our own lives!

  • TEDx BITSathy Speaker 2018
  • Elle Magazine – Top 8 India Trailblazers 2018
  • Google India’s Inspiring Indian of the Year 2017
  • Harper’s Bazaar Magazine India – Bare Necessities recognized as one of the top 5 Handcrafted in India Brands.
  • Femina India – 6 Millennial Women who are the Keepers of Hope
  • NDTV’s Swachh Warrior – “Yes, It Is Possible To Lead A Zero Waste Lifestyle. Take A Cue From This 26-Year Old Bengaluru Woman”
  • Better Homes and Gardens Magazine India – The Innovators, Trailblazers and Pathbreakers of India. (The 10 names you ought to know)
  • NASSCOM Business Incubator Program in Association with Government of Karnataka and Catalyst for Women Entrepreneurship
  • Sonder Connect Powering Female Founders Fellow
  • Women Entrepreneurs Awards by Seaside Startup Summit in association with Confederation Of Women Entrepreneurs (COWE) awarded by smt. Mridula Sinha (Governor of Goa)
  • MTV and Jockey Women Portrait – featured as one of six women re-defining career paths of the 21st century
  • Live Mint – Urban Minimalist : The 4 green warriors who inspire you to live more mindfully, intentionally and ethically.
  • Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) – FLO Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2019
Meet Sahar Mansoor, Founder of Bare Necessities

Tell us about yourself

I think I have subconsciously been an environmentalist since I was a little girl, my love for nature was fostered spending weekends in Cubbon park with my dad and two big sisters, climbing trees and mostly falling off of them. My dad absolutely loved nature, he never missed his morning walk in cubbon park and holidays for our family meant, road trips, stopping on the way to jump into waterfalls, swimming in the beach, early mornings walks, soaking in sunsets and sunrises. Having lost my Dad when I was very little, being in nature continued to be one way of remembering him.

My 3rd year of college in 2012, I watched a video of Bea Johnson in Professor Chris Chapples’s World Religions and Ecology class. I remember being blown away by the Bea and her families lifestyle; but I also remember thinking to myself, she can afford to shop at “Whole Foods” or she must a lot of free time to make her own products. I also remember conclusively dismissing I couldn’t live a zero waste lifestyle while working 3 jobs, maintaining my grades for my scholarship, having a fun social life and exploring my new city I came to call home.  

Nevertheless, this course was turning point in my environmental journey. It left me wanting to learn more!

I remember walking into my Dean’s office and telling Dean Zaleeza, “You don’t have the major I want” and he smiled and said, okay grab a chair, let’s create one! I added “environmental planning” as my second major and took some amazing classes in environmental engineering, environmental ethics and policy!

What made you strive for a zero-waste lifestyle?

When I first faced the facts, I couldn’t believe how something as innocuous as our garbage could be negatively connected to so many of my personal and political concerns. I wanted to stop being part of the problem. I had to address my own trash problem first. My solution – life a lifestyle that best reflects the values I cared about.  I had called myself an environmentalist for about six years at the time. I studied environmental planning, environmental policy and environmental economics in college and graduate school, but I thought I needed to live a life more congruent to my environmental and social justice values. I needed to walk the talk.

What are your thoughts on Bangalore’s and our world’s garbage problem?

I started to think more about our trash problem. The thing about trash is that, we are soo caught up in this web of convenience that we don’t think about our personal trash and often attribute to a larger global problem that we have no control over. The only time we think about trash is when we see or smell it stinking up our neighborhood. The truth is that our trash problem is much worse than that—for our environment and our health.  

Amy Korst rightly said, “Trash is intimately connected to every environmental problem we face today, from climate change and habitat destruction to water pollution and chemical exposure. It’s also intensely personal and impacts every decision in our daily lives, including everything from how much money we spend to how much weight we gain”.

Of course in the process leaching harmful chemicals into our soil and water, the same soil you are consuming your fresh veggies from! But really where is the plastic you threw out actually going? What tiny piece of plastic is actually in the sushi you are eating for dinner tonight?

One community I was working with was this community from West Bengal, who where waste pickers. I spent time shadowing them and what I was most confronted by was the social justice issues of our waste problem! Every day thousands of waster pickers segregate broken glass, sanitary napkins and needles all with their bare hands.

I wanted to stop being part of the problem.

Why should people get involved in tackling plastic and garbage pollution?

Every toothbrush, shampoo bottle and personal care product plastic bottle you have used in your lifetime, currently exists on the planet somewhere; these plastic water bottles take anywhere from 200 – 700 years to start break down and never fully do, they just break down into very small fragments known as microplastics and land up in your gut.

Because we are in the largest global garbage crisis of our lifetime.

What kind of resources and help did you have during your ongoing zero waste journey?

My obvious resources when I started off was Bea and Lauren’s blog but importantly were conversations with my grandma asking her what she did before shampoo started being sold in a plastic bottle? A lot of our Indian traditions are actually rooted in ecological practices or what we now can call “zero waste practices”. Our stainless steel indian “tiffin” is another example of an Indian tradition that is celebrated by the zero waste movement. This to me is an exemplary example of zero waste creating 5,000+ jobs, and supporting community health by delivering home cooked meals to over 2 lakh people – all without producing any trash! None of food delivery apps of this start-up India era can even compare! I started taking my first few steps April 2015…..My first few steps are summarized below and my friend made this awesome illustration to go with it  – (illustration by Noorain Ahmed). The transition was incremental, for instance when I ran out of soap instead of buying store bought ones, I would experiment and eventually learned how to make my own.

However, I am not still not completely zero waste – and I doubt I ever will be. It is good to know your boundaries.

In my zero-waste journey, I realized we lived in a world with LANDFILL destined products.

Toothbrushes for instance, 4.7 billion of them land in the landfill every year, and take 200-700 years to start decomposing. So every toothbrush you and I have ever produced is sitting on our planet somewhere!

In response to this problem, I wanted to create a company that mirrored the values of zero waste, ethical consumption and sustainability. I wanted to make it easy and accessible for other people looking to consume more mindfully and to encourage others to produce less waste. And thus, Bare Necessities was born.  

What is Bare Necessities?

Using a people-centered and earth-centered approach, BN addresses serious flaws in manufacturing, distribution, and consumption, by innovating and providing sustainable solutions to waste, and proposing problems that more companies need to address if they want to be innovative and socially-conscious. Bare Necessities produces everyday essential products that do not contribute to the waste epidemic. All of our products are packaged in recyclable, reusable and biodegradable packaging; relying on ethical sourcing from local farmers and vendors and by emphasizing the employment of women, BN solves the often-ignored yet growing problem of waste, and provides an ethical and innovative solutions that benefits consumers and society. BN positively impacts waste management streams, consumer and community health, and the consumer’s wallet. By producing zero-waste products goods, hosting educational workshops and conducting sustainability consulting services;

BN seeks to change the narrative on waste in India and demonstrated that any individual can positively impact their community, through inspiring others to reduce waste and think consciously about their impact on the world.

BN also seeks to capture the essence of India – constantly in a state of transformation yet timeless. At BN we try and marry the old and the new! We take a cradle-to-cradle approach to every product, from the design to manufacturing to distribution. All our products are powered by natural, bare Indian ingredients; which have no harmful impacts on our health or environment. Our raw materials are ethically sourced. All of our packaging is recyclable or biodegradable, which means nothing ends up in a landfill. All products are handcrafted by women in Karnataka.

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Much like the hidden treasures buried away, turmeric – coined the magic herb, works wonders with its powerful anti-inflammatory and antibacterial benefits. These properties make for remarkably effective personal care products.

What do you aim to achieve through Bare Necessities?

Through talks and workshops we addressed over 10,000 people in the past 3 years; so that’s 10,000 people who are thinking about reducing their waste than before. We have sold over thousands reusable straws and bamboo toothbrushes and that’s much less plastic straws and brushes in the landfill. Being raised by a single mum, I wanted to create an enterprise that empowers women –

I am very proud to say, we are a completely women run enterprise! We employ local women to make zero-waste products, we also truly believe in up-skilling, our women are learning basic inventory management and English. This is only a drop in the ocean, lots more to accomplish.

Are there platforms for people to contribute to tackling the problem that Bare Necessities provides?

Currently the brand runs several initiatives that are social impact driven, from working with local coconut vendors to giving the customers the ability to recycle and refill their containers, to creating a platform for people to share and build a community around zero wasting.

  1. The Last Straw Campaign
  2. Recycle and Refill
  3. Crowdsourcing zero waste recipes for personal and home care
  4. Crowdsourcing zero waste vendor or plastic free stores database

What is the vision/roadmap for Bare Necessities moving forward?

In the future, Bare Necessities seeks to becomes an interdisciplinary hub, a home for product designers to design products with a cradle to cradle philosophy, a place for policy analysts to work with local government on policy recommendations to manage our waste better, to reduce our waste.

A place for behavior economics, ecologists, researchers and consumers alike to build the ecosystem towards a circular economy.

What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?

I am an accidental entrepreneur, through I come from a family of serial entrepreneurs. Bare Necessities (BN) started in the pursuit of zero waste living and living a lifestyle congruent to my own values.

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

I wanted to stop being part of the problem. My solution was to live a lifestyle that best reflects the values I cared about. I studied environmental policy at the University of Cambridge and I had worked at the World Health Organization, but I decided I needed to live a life fully congruent to my environmental and social justice values. I needed to walk the talk and I knew I had to start living a zero waste lifestyle.

I have been living a zero waste lifestyle for two and a half years now.

In that time, I have produced only half a kilogram of trash, all of which fits in a 500ml jar.

In my zero waste journey, I realized that it was impossible to find personal care and home care products that didn’t contain harmful chemicals and weren’t packaged in plastic. In response to this problem, I wanted to create a company that mirrored the values of zero waste, ethical consumption and sustainability. I wanted to make it easy for other people looking to consume more mindfully and to encourage others to produce less waste.

Be mindful and appreciate nature

Thank you, Sahar!

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