We’ve all used a variety of stationery but has anyone come across ones that grow into plants after their usability is exhausted? I remember watching a video on Facebook, on the same few years ago. It was pretty impressive and exciting to watch but never had I thought that these kinds of stuff is available in Nepal too. Thanks to Aradhya and Shubham, the cofounders of Rukh Eco,
ecofriendwe can switch to these cool yet sustainable stationery and encourage others to do the same for an eco-responsible living.
We got a chance to interview this duo, couple of weeks back and here’s how the conversation unfolded, starting with their story and moving on to hurdles, opportunities, further plans and more. Read till the end to know all there is to know about Rukh Eco.
1. Can you tell us how Rukh Eco was started? What was the motivation behind it?
Nepal consumes 1.5 million pilot pens annually all of which end up in the landfills at the end of their life. Likewise, 13 millions of ball pens are sold every day in India which again are dumped into landfills eventually. Add to this the data that on average people use pens and pencils for around 50 years and that all of this is made from plastic. Imagine how much plastic waste is being created by something as small as a pen every day by everyone. Massive!
We started Rukh Eco about eight months ago after finding out these data. Environment sustainability is one of the prime topics for a lot of people now, all for the right reasons but what we saw was that it was very difficult for people to make a switch to eco-friendly products. Sure, they’re costly at their face-value but if we take their impact factor into consideration then its not so much a compromise after all.
During our research, we found that the main reason people found it difficult to switch to eco-friendly options was because of their cost factor. Taking this into consideration, we decided to go for the small everyday items that don’t cost too much but have huge impact on the environment and upon further research, we opted for stationeries.
Then a question of where we would get these stationery popped up and that’s when we approached a company in India that works with recycled paper. We partnered to work on this idea and came up with a process to make pens and pencils completely from recycled paper, except for the refills which we’re still looking for eco-friendly alternatives. Otherwise, even the colors used in the paper and the cover that holds the seeds are all biodegradable.
Now going back to our initial story, we’re basically trying to help people to switch to environmentally sustainable products in an easy, affordable and exciting manner. That’s why we also added seeds to the pens and pencils which people can plant once they’re done using it. We started with a small consignment first and after getting a good response, we formed Rukh Eco as a division in our parent company. That’s about our story for now!
2. You mentioned that these eco-friendly pens and pencils are manufactured in India. Any plans on doing it here?
Yeah, definitely! Since we’re just starting out right now, we want to see how the market here reacts to the products. People are still not fully aware of using sustainable products. So far they’re been accepting and using our products but we want to have a strong and steady demand that will allow us to gather the resources to bring the production here. It’s a bit of lengthy process right from getting the paper, increasing its quality to rolling it carefully and finally finishing with a high quality product.
3. What does the production process look like? Are they all handmade or machine made?
It’s actually a mix of both. We have machines in place along with manpower. The process starts with collecting the recycled paper in one place, then colors are added to these papers, then a thorough quality check is done and after which the papers are rolled into pens and pencils. The last part is done by machines since it’s a very precise process and we want the final products to be of high quality. When they aren’t rolled properly, pencils do not sharp properly and we don’t want that.
4. What are the other products that you offer through Rukh Eco besides recyclable pens and pencils?
As of now, we have biodegradable pens, pencils, notepads and calendars which are made of recycled paper and have seeds in them , we even have recycled folders, a couple of seed bombs and coconut husk planters too. We also provide corporate plans in which we offer gift packages of all these products. Also, the boxes that we use to make these packages are made from lokta paper and sourced from vendors in Bhaktapur.
5. What are your future plans with Rukh Eco?
We’re planning to do neon pens, all made from recycled and sustainable materials. We’re also planning to get into sustainable furniture made from honeycomb cardboard to offer to offices. Along with that, we’re planning to add lamp shades and other essentials for an office.
6. Do you have a physical store or everything related to sales is done online?
For now it’s all online either through our Instagram page or through Sasto Deal, whom we partnered with some time ago. For major customers though, we approach them door to door and try to convince them to switch to our eco-friendly products. We’re more focussed on wholesale orders rather than individual ones because currently, we don’t have a proper system in place plus there’s always resource constraints since we produce in India. Regardless, we do provide for individual orders that’s above our minimum order criteria.
7. As a startup, are there any significant challenges you are facing?
The number one challenge would be spreading awareness among people. A lot of them have numerous doubts about how the seeds grow and basically just how the pencils function. So, through our approach we’re trying to make people aware of the amount of plastic being produced by something so simple as a pen. Greater awareness would allow people to understand sustainability and know how small things add up to a whole big problem.
Second is getting a little help from the government. We did approach the import division and also went to the customs office trying to explain how these are not really plastic like other regular pens and are actually good for the environment. All of which went in vain. The thing is the government doesn’t have a different code for such products. Consequently, we end up paying a lot at the customs office to bring it to Nepal which I think adds up to our costs and ultimately to the price which could otherwise be lowered.
On a brighter note, I’m sure a lot of companies are going through something similar so collectively maybe in the future we might get some policy for this. People who are in similar businesses would get a kind of encouragement too in terms of both money and appreciation.
8. Are there any customer experiences that you would like to share?
Yeah! We really enjoy when people hold onto our products and get surprised when we tell them it’s all recycled and biodegradable. As you can also plant the seeds after using our products people seem to get amazed and more interested.
Back in 2019, when the Miss World 2019 was here, Miss Nepal 2018 Shrinkhala Khatiwada gifted our product to her who really liked them and wanted to collaborate with us. She also told us how happy she was to see such products in Nepal. However, the COVID19 crisis has unfortunately delayed this project indefinitely.
I think the cost factor is something we’re struggling with though as a lot of customers we approached had hesitation on buying our pencils even when it’s priced just slightly higher than the regular pencils.
9. Has the company break even?
I think we can say we’ve break even as there wasn’t a huge investment involved. Whatever we were selling were based on orders and since we’re outsourcing the production, we haven’t had too much spent from our pockets. Here’s the scoop. We went to exhibitions, one in astrek another in utpala café to test our products. We got initial feedback and a very positive response and that’s when we realized we could work on this. We were only catering to small orders instead of getting big consignments so there wasn’t a lot of investment as after that everything is bootstrapped.
10. What is your team composition like?
We’re a very small team to be honest just like any other startups. For now there’s the two of us handling orders and operations. Then we have some office staff who’re also handling our other companies. Then we have a procurement person who coordinates with the transport, another person who does the purchases and coordinates with Indian company and transport. Then we have a finance person who handles all the accounts.
11. How did both of you team up to start Rukh Eco? What’s the backstory?
Aradhya: I’ve always wanted to do something in the biodegradable packaging sector. After my marriage, I shifted to Nepal and started looking for opportunities here. I saw that there are a lot of companies already working on biodegradable packaging so my focus shifted to sustainable startionaries, whose concept was barely touched, especially in Nepal. Fast forward, we approached a company in India that was working with pens and we discussed our idea. Then we collaborated and came up with these pens. So, I partnered with Shubham, who is my brother-in-law and equally aware of the need for environment sustainability, to start Rukh Eco.
Shubham: I studied at The British School where the concept of sustainability and eco-friendliness is emphasized a lot. So, I was very much aware of these things and wanted to do something in that sector. When my sister-in-law discussed the idea of Rukh Eco, I was already ready to join in.
12. Have you planted the seeds that come with your products?
Yes! Absolutely! Most of our products are planted in our garden and we keep tabs on how they’re growing. They’re very basic plants actually like ladyfinger and coriander, something people use every day.
13. How are you spending time during the lockdown?
We have a lot of orders ready but we haven’t been able to deliver. We’re also getting in touch with a lot of companies here and watching what they’re doing. It’s all about coordination and how we can get help for now. Besides that we’re researching sustainable furniture and future products to add to our list of products.
For more information about Rukh Eco, please connect with Shubham at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check out their Instagram page here: Rukh Eco
Interviewed and article by Yangzum Lama