I remember my grandmother sewing her age-old sarees together to convert it into carpets or light mattresses. All the different colourful sarees were patched together to make it a brand new one. In the same way, two sisters — Manisha and Ayesha Desai — have joined hands to transform old and used clothes into quilts and bedcovers.

The duo’s company, Cornucopia: A Way of Life, recycles old clothes and works towards a sustainable way of life. The aim is to provide sustainable alternatives to everyday utility items through working on the principles of fair trade, sustainability and environmentally safe alternatives to plastic. 

Talking about how the idea struck them, Ayesha Desai says, “Overflowing suitcases plus an exasperated mother led us to seriously think about doing some spring cleaning. We had saved tons of our clothes that had sentimental value — and couldn’t bring ourselves to part with them. But our mother’s looming threat to just chuck them all spurred us into action! College T-shirts, roomies’ borrowed clothes, a kurta bought with saved up money — the keepsake list was endless! And that’s when we had our ‘Eureka’ moment — we cut up all those clothes and made a bright and colourful patchwork quilt! Eight years later, it’s still going strong. And each time we use it, we get taken back to our happy place.

“We are giving people an opportunity to convert keepsakes into something even more memorable.” 

“This snowballed into something we didn’t quite expect. Friends, relatives gave us their keepsakes and it just didn’t stop. Sarees, kurtas, T-shirts, dupattas — we repurposed them all. What started off as spring cleaning has become something of a mission for us.”

The company reuses recycled old clothes and all the material is sourced locally to ensure a tiny or zero carbon footprint. The clothes are then made with love and care by a band of women in Pune and Gurgaon. Through their company, the two sisters are also promoting eco-friendly options for buyers. “To get people to look at their possessions in a new light and to re-think their consumption patterns; through our products, we encourage people to try and extend the life-cycle of their clothes. Those clothes that they just don’t want to part with, those clothes that just can’t be donated. And Cornucopia is just that — it’s a way of life that we aim to achieve. A way of life that is not just based on consumption, but on balanced consumption. Where you give when you take. Through our products and practices, we aim to provide sustainable alternatives to everyday utility items. No, we are not reinventing the wheel — we are just making sure it keeps moving in the right direction,” says Manisha Desai.

The company generally takes anywhere between 2-5 days to complete an item, depending on the level of complexity and customisation. Everything is thought through — right from where they get the loads of old clothes to the workers who make them new. Ayesha says, “Our customers repurpose their own clothes. Initially, it was purely word of mouth. Where satisfied customers ensured they got more on to the Cornucopia bandwagon. But for the past few months we have been taking orders through the medium of Facebook. Once a person shows interest in a product, the order is either discussed online or via WhatsApp or a phone call. The material is then either picked up from the customer’s home (if they are based in Pune, Mumbai, Delhi or Gurgaon) or it is shipped to us directly.”

Manisha adds, “We work around design templates for each of our products. These templates are shared with clients, who then select the design of their choice. While most clients stick to the templates, there are some who request something apart from the templates, which we also accept. Each order is a learning experience for us — where we get to experiment with different fabrics, different designs as well as personalities! While it is time consuming, this has often given birth to new and interesting products.

“Our plan is to engage women’s organisations to provide livelihoods to women in need, but only for bulk orders. For example, in January 2017 we partnered with Vidya Silai Center in Munirka, New Delhi to create 40 bedcovers for the Wildernest Resort in Goa.”

Manisha and Ayesha Desai.

Cornucopia is now famous for its colourful bedcovers, light blankets, quilts, bags, cushion covers, table cloths — and the list is forever expanding as the two owners like to experiment with new fabrics and products as per their clients’ requirements.

It has just been two months since the sisters have formally began operations. So far, they are breaking even and hoping for it to become a profitable venture soon.

But do they think that people are a bit apprehensive while using old clothes? How do they convince buyers to go for such products? Ayesha says, “Our customers are repurposing their own clothes. We are giving them an opportunity to convert keepsakes into something even more memorable.”