Blog

Creating magic carpets, baskets and home decor with textile waste from the fashion industry.

Creating magic carpets, baskets and home decor with textile waste from the fashion industry.

Here are Aquamarine Home we just love it when we discover more like minded business people who share our view that there really should only be ethical and sustainable products on this planet! So we were absolutely thrilled to have a chat with Sally Murali of Sugarcane Trading Co, who along with her brother Tim, is proving that it is absolutely possible to build a successful business entirely based on using materials that would otherwise have been thrown away! 

In the few short years since they began trading, Sugarcane Trading Co has really proven themselves a force to be reckoned with, and they are continuing to add new styles and products to their collections all the time.  

Shortlisted for an award in the eco category of the Life In Style and Reed Gala Awards last year, this is a magical carpet company that is really going places.

Watch the video interview:

 

 Listen to the Audio

 

Read the full transcript (click here)

Alison Rentoul:
This is Alison Rentoul from Aquamarine Home, and I am interviewing today the lovely Sally Murali from Sugarcane Trading Co. Hi, Sally!

Sally Murali:
Hi, Allison. Thanks for having me.

Alison Rentoul:
Thank you so much for joining us. So I'm really excited to do this interview today with Sally because she's got so much wonderful stuff to tell us about her amazing company. I'm really curious myself to know more about how you started and what created the wonderful inspiration behind us. So before we start talking about that, can you just tell everybody quickly a little bit about what you actually do at Sugarcane Trading Co?

Sally Murali:
Well, Sugarcane Trading Co is just a little over a year old now, so it's still a baby business. It's owned and run by myself and my brother. I look after the marketing and creative side, and my brother looks after more operations and sales, and he does some of the creative stuff as well. We've got pretty good separate skill sets, which is nice.

Alison Rentoul:
I was going to say, sounds like a good division of labor there. A good balance.

Sally Murali:
Yeah, the stuff he does I couldn't bear to do. And he doesn't know his way around Instagram, so it's a good mix.

Alison Rentoul:
And so you sell rugs, and what else do you have?

Sally Murali:
We started with rugs. That was our first product and really the rugs are what got us into starting the business in the first place. And we always when we started the business only wanted to deal with handmade products, so we now have a range of handmade hand-etched metal lights as well. Within the rug, we've expanded within from our same weaver. We also do floor cushions, couch cushions, storage baskets, and we're just in the process of launching some doormats and table runners as well. [crosstalk 00:02:05] And there will be some more, maybe even potentially some wall hangings from the textile waste. And we're also starting to get into some kitchen and tableware.

We've just recently connected with an artisan group in Panama, and this lady works with a traditional Panamanian rock carver. He goes into the rivers in the bottom of the volcanoes in Panama and gets the volcanic rock and carves them into mortar and pestles. And he only collects the rocks as per the order, because the lava kind of keeps erupting every so often. It's a sustainable and renewable piece. That's a new one for us that we're just starting to work with them and figure out the logistics of getting these heavy pieces of volcanic rock over from Panama. That could be challenging.

Alison Rentoul:
Oh, that's exciting. I look forward to seeing those when they come out. Cool! So tell us a little bit then about what you were doing and how this all came about, this idea of the Sugarcane Trading Co.

Sally Murali:
My background's in marketing, and I was actually ... prior to starting a business with my brother ... I was in retail consulting and business development for a coffee franchise, and before that for a franchising consultancy in India, and licensing and franchising. Quick thirty second background, if I can keep it to thirty seconds ...

2008, I moved to Chennai in the south of India for a six month work consulting project for an IT company to help them launch their product internationally. Just before that consultancy project wrapped up, I met a boy, well he's a man ... And he got a job offer in the north of India in Delhi, and we kind of had a spark, and he was leaving, and my consultancy was up. So I went back to Sydney for a few months and furiously looked online for a job in Delhi. Didn't find one, but found a flatmate in Delhi, an Australian girl. So, flew over, figured I could fund myself for a few months while I found a job. Found this retail consulting position which lead me to getting a job with an Australian company there. The boy became my boyfriend, became my fiance, my husband, two babies and seven years later. So I [inaudible 00:04:39] seven years in India after that six month initial project.

And the whole time I was there, I was just in love with Indian handicrafts and handmade goods and the level of skill and beauty in some of these products, and I always dabbled in the idea of selling some of these stuff back in Australia. And Tim, my brother, had come over to look for some products for an outdoor gardening business that he had at the time, and we were literally going down the road and made a wrong turn and saw these rug displays, and literally stopped the car and said, "We've got to have a look at these." Then we found out from the weavers that they were made from textile waste, and we just -

Alison Rentoul:
Wow, I've got goosebumps.

Sally Murali:
Yeah, I still get goosebumps when I tell the story. And we just fell in love with them, and we were like, "Why don't we start a rug business?" And we went down to visit the artisan community where they weave them to see how it was all made and how it worked. And obviously it took a while to get it from the first visit of the rugs to a business. We'd always kind of toyed with the idea of starting a brother sister business, so that was way longer than thirty seconds, but ... [crosstalk 00:05:49]

Alison Rentoul:
That's so cool. That all of the wonderful sort of seemingly disconnected things that were all magically connected. I love it.

Sally Murali:
And just as a personal note too, I had always wanted to have my own business for when I had kids. I knew that I would have loved to still have employment and have a job, but have it on my own terms. So running a business that I could decide when I pick them up and drop them off at school and stuff was kind of something I'd always desired as well. So that was another piece of the puzzle.

Alison Rentoul:
Yeah. Fantastic. Oh wow, that's so exciting. So how long ago was that?

Sally Murali:
So we initially saw the rugs in ... must have been 2014. Because my little girl then was under one. And so I think it took us a year to kind of figure out how to import them and set everything up. And then my husband, and my youngest baby was seven weeks old. We moved over to Sydney, so my husband immigrated essentially, and then we ... The first year for me was a bit of a blur with the two babies, so we really officially launched the business at Life and Style in Sydney, February 2017. That's when we really got our act together, and you know started running it like a real business.

Alison Rentoul:
And what was the reception like when you launched?

Sally Murali:
Amazing. Actually I think people love the rugs, but when they look at them and you tell them that they're made from the off cuts of textile production, it just adds that extra element. And to us, that was the most important thing. Especially living in India and seeing how much less people have in their lives, it really makes you think that just that we have the luxury of buying home wares is amazing. And we have so much abundance of things in the world to create a beautiful item from something that was just going to end up buried in the land is that extra special, so ...

Alison Rentoul:
Yeah, that's so true. I really just love that whole thing, you know it's similar with what we're trying to do at Aquamarine. And obviously these gorgeous rugs, it's wonderful because we love them. But it is that beautiful thing of seeing the way people's eyes light up when they see a beautiful object, but then you also tell them about it's beautiful story. And how much more they can love the thing because it actually Is meaningful and it's doing good in the world as well as looking good.

Sally Murali:
Yes. And a purely aesthetical point, it's the only way in those blue and white rugs you get those different hues in the blue from all the different shades of denim. And you just can't replicate that with fresh materials. So it's something that is quite special.

Alison Rentoul:
Yeah. And why would you want to? Wow, that's just such a cool story, and I love hearing about how you actually came up with the idea and everything. I'm sure it's been a challenging journey this far to resolve all the logistics of everything and all that kind of thing. Did you find it difficult to sort of actually set up with the workshop, you know with the guys that are making the rugs. Guys and women, I don't know. Is it mostly women? Is it mostly men?

Sally Murali:
It's funny. What we've learned now from working with these artisans ... Throughout India there's different kind of weaving and rug hubs, and where our rugs are manufactured it's only male weavers. The women do all the finishing and the threading. But there are other communities that the women do the weaving as well. And our looms are on vertical looms, and it seems that a lot of the horizontal looms are more female weavers.

But I think any business in any industry ever is challenging. And if it's not one challenge, then it's something else. So we've definitely had our challenges. And it's always a challenge to balance out wanting to support our weaving communities and help them prosper, as well as get a product that's up to standard in the Australian market that's got the quality and the consistency and the color matching and the things like that. So we're constantly working together to work that out. And we'd never say anything's a problem; it's just a challenge. Now luckily my husband does speak a couple of the local languages, so if things really get tough I can put him on the phone, and it's normally just a miscommunication.

Alison Rentoul:
Yeah, well that must be very helpful as well. And so you guys actually were shortlisted for an award this year as well, weren't you?

Sally Murali:
We were. We were finalists in the Life and Style and Reed Gala awards in the eco category. So that was amazing. We're really excited for that. We didn't take out the grand prize, but we were just ... to be nominated was amazing our first year of business. And a really cool product, one that does little seedling packages for home growing plants and pots and stuff. So an awesome brand, but all the finalists were great. But to be finalists in recognizing eco background was awesome.

Alison Rentoul:
That is such a great achievement in one year of trading. That's just brilliant. And so have you always been interested in sustainability and stuff like that, or was it just that you saw these rugs and you thought they were beautiful…

Sally Murali:
Yeah, I think I've always been aware of the environment and making sure that I'm always leaving the lightest footprint. I think living in India for seven years heightened that, when you see how people live, and India in general as a culture do not waste. Everything's either recycled, reused, and the innovativeness in how they just repurpose everything was quite inspiring to me. It made me realize how much we do waste in the West. And I think moving back to Australia, and as I get older and more set in my ways, just so aware of just how much we waste and how much we overconsume.

And I'm quite passionate about it now. My husband and I have a very personal philosophy in our daily lives to just try and consume as least as possible. I mean, in India they turn the shower off ... when you put your soap on, you turn your shower off, you lather up, you turn the water back on ... where we just have the tap running the whole time. Little things like that that you don't think about. The more I get involved in sustainability and the more you learn about it, it just is kind of like a never ending journey of how you can keep reducing waste and reducing your footprint.

And we're only just now really, all the pieces of our business ... Like we're just looking at how we can get sustainable packaging and branding. We've got so many more things we want to build in our business in that area.

Alison Rentoul:
Oh that's so cool. And it really is a kind of thing of once your eyes have been opened, you know you just can't unsee ... You see it everywhere then.

Sally Murali:
Exactly.

Alison Rentoul:
That's great that you're looking into ways that you can become even more ethical and even more sustainable.

Sally Murali:
It's an ongoing journey I think, and I don't think it will ever end.

Alison Rentoul:
Absolutely. I hear you. We're certainly on that journey together.

Sally Murali:
Yeah. Great to connect with people like Aquamarine. People in the same tribe, going on the same journey. It's always heartwarming to find a fellow ...

Alison Rentoul:
Yeah, I love it. That's one of the things I love so much about what I'm doing now, and why I started doing this series of interviews as well. Because I really want to know more about all these amazing people that I'm meeting. And I thought, "Well, if I'm this excited and interested, you know probably there's going to be other people that'll be interested to know more about these inspiring people as well." So yeah, I thought, "Why not record these conversations, and then everyone can hear about it too." So where does the actual waste come from that they're making the rugs out of?

Sally Murali:
There's a mini industry in India, I think not just for textile waste, but for any type of waste. There's people ... So our waste comes from garment manufacturing. So any shirt, jeans, anything that gets produced, there's always strips of waste. And even all other industries in India there are people that they try not to waste anything because everything can be repurposed. So there's people buy the garment waste, and then our weaver communities purchase, they buy that at a nominal price, and they stockpile it for what colorways we want and things like that. But there's an actually little mini industry of repurposing this textile waste.

Alison Rentoul:
Wow. I mean it must take ages to sort out all the different colors as well.

Sally Murali:
It does, it does. That's why the denim ones are quite good, because you can just go with the shades of blue. But when we're working on different colorways it takes a while. We're going to start using for some products specifically sari waste, which is we'll get much bigger blocks of color, and some of the block colored saris which will be nice for some. We've got some specific kind of colorways we want to work with with some products that we're finding it hard to match with a lot of the textile waste, so that'll be fun to see. And it'll be a slightly different material.

Alison Rentoul:
Oh gosh, that'll be gorgeous. Because just for the listeners, we only stock the coastal kind of colored ones, the blue and white ones. But Sugarcane Trading Co have lots of colorful things as well, so if you check them out you can go to their website and see all the other things that they make, too. So apart from volcanic mortar and pestle bowls and things like that, what else is on the horizon for you guys?

Sally Murali:
We're not even sure. We just know that we're just at the beginning, so we're planning. We've always got trips in the works to India. But the next trip we're going to go and maybe source some new. We want to stay within home wares and things for the home.
We're not going to go into fashion or anything like that. Our interest is in the home wares, but we're open to ... We've seen a few things in our journeys that we want to explore, but it's really important to us that the products are handmade and handmade from scratch throughout the whole way. The groups we're working with, well looked after, paid well, have good working conditions, and are normally managed by a co-op or some other type of organization that's run ethically. So we are ... the sky's the limit for us. And we'd like to explore more things with upcycled materials, obviously of course.

Alison Rentoul:
Yeah. Fantastic. And how do you actually ... have you been able to measure the impact that you guys have had in the community or in terms of how much waste you've been able to reduce going into landfill and stuff.

Sally Murali:
We're working on that. I don't have a figure right now, but it's definitely something that we are very keen to measure, because we've only really been going for a year, and we've had a ... you know slowly building up. We haven't got strong metrics on that. But we've also got a trust that we've registered in India where a percentage of all our sales go into that trust, and we've been consulting with the weaver communities on how they ... because it's to go back to our weavers ... how they would like to best see those funds used, and what they've communicated to us mainly is their children's education. So we've got another trip planned to India hopefully before the end of this year where we'll be rolling that out and getting some more measureables in place. So watch this space and we'll be updating that on our website. In terms of the waste we've saved, we're still trying to put those numbers together, but it's on our to-do list. So great question.

Alison Rentoul:
It must be a huge amount. You should measure it in like I don't know in Kardashian jeans or something.

Sally Murali:
Don't want to use that word on my website, so ...

Alison Rentoul:
How many Kardashian wardrobes worth of material waste have you saved? So with the trust, that's really exciting. And we've paired your products as well, because you know we pair everything with a buy one give one project, so yeah we've also connected education for disadvantaged children in India with your products, too. So you're sort of paying it forward on that end, and we're paying it forward on the other end as well, which is really nice.

Sally Murali:
That's the way it should be really. So everybody gets better off in the process.

Alison Rentoul:
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. That's really our philosophy here, too, is that you know the whole kind of chain all the way along should be a win-win for everybody, including the planet.

Sally Murali:
That's the way to consume. It should be the only way to consume these days I think.

Alison Rentoul:
Absolutely. Sally it's just been really lovely chatting with you, and so interesting to find out more about you know your wonderful business. And another person who's proving that you can create commerce for good, and you know do good with business. And I really believe that so strongly, that it's all about trade not aid. Helping people to build profitable enterprises that are profiting everybody including our planet. So really lovely to chat with you. Thank you.

Sally Murali:
Alison, always great to speak with a like-minded soul. It's been lovely chatting with you.

Alison Rentoul:
Thank you. Have a wonderful day, and I look forward to speaking with you again soon. Say hi to Tim for me.

Alison Rentoul:
Thanks. Take care. Have a great day. Bye!

______

Aquamarine Home stocks a selection of Sugarcane Trading Co's gorgeous range of rugs and baskets. Browse the range at Aquamarine Home here

______

Want to receive our weekly blog articles directly in your inbox? Make sure you subscribe via the signup box at the bottom of this page. We'll send you weekly articles and news about new products and special offers that are only available to our subscribers!

______

How does Sally's story inspire you? What are your thoughts on building a successful business that still contributes in a positive way to the world? We would love to hear your reflections on this in the comments below!

Leave a comment