Dear Friend of Ashaya,
Three months is such a long period of time but also, so short. Like every quarter in our little world of Ashaya, so much has happened, but we are not there yet.
We’ve scaled up our lab into a micro pilot plant of sorts, we have grown as a team to nine folks, formalized two waste-pickers, won another grant, and made so much progress on our first product, but we’re still a couple of months away from launching.
If you’ve been following our journey, you’re probably sick of hearing me say the dramatic “we-are-not-there-yet” and trust me, I’m pretty sick of saying it as well, but it’s true.
Before you lose all hope, we have a prototype that we are somewhat proud of. It’s here, right below, look for yourself.
No, not supermodel Suraj, but yes, upcycled sunglasses is what we are building! Underwhelmed? Not surprising. But these will probably be the most impactful sunglasses you own, if not the coolest.
They are made from packets of chips – the least recycled plastic waste in the world. Lays might do a great job with those delish chips, but their packets are legendary for the wrong reasons: they are considered impossible to recycle.
What we have worked so hard on over the last two years is extracting materials from that packet of Lays that you sometimes lick the inside of. This is crucial because the recycled material that we extract is way more recyclable, increasing the circularity of the material – i.e. you can use it again, and again, and again.
Also, the material properties we are getting are pretty awesome. That’s why we choose to make sunglasses – sufficiently complex so we can show off the quality of the material, but not too complex that it takes us a decade to get going.
And this material is 85%-90% recycled! That might seem less than 100% (it is), but if you are familiar with the world of material science or plastics, that’s pretty high (it’s usually 30%-50%). And we are not greenwashing any of it – it’s a true 90% including additives and compatibilizers, no hocus pocus.
The impact doesn’t stop there.
We are building the recycling process in such a way that waste pickers can execute 50%-75% of it, working right alongside engineers and operators. So yes, we formalize them into the supply chain with better wages, and most importantly, more dignity.
We have currently formalized only two waste-pickers because uh, we are still tiny, and still have a big-fat-zero rupees in revenue, but our impact goals are heavily focused on permanently breaking waste-pickers out of their cycle of poverty.
For instance, we currently pay our waste picker collective 3X the market rate for those packets of chips. Also, 10% of all our sales will go towards the education of the children of waste-pickers. And that’s just scratching the surface.
Okay, pretty cool Anish, but sunglasses aren’t a new thing, what’s taking you so long?
This is going to be harder sell.
We are being audacious enough to manufacture them fully in-house – everything from mould design to lens cutting, to polishing, grooving, hinging and to assembly.
Yes, we are somewhat reinventing the wheel, but we are also modifying it to make it waste-picker friendly and to increase our lab-to-market speed (a little ironic, I know). And for many other reasons (investors ask this question so often that I now have a dedicated, wordy slide for it).
That’s what’s taking us so long. It’s like one step forward, two new steps discovered.
More on all that a little later, the sister’s eye-rolling beckons as the length of this letter increases.
Personally, it’s been a tough few months for me. But I’m so lucky to have an amazing team who have continued to pound on the problems we encounter.
Jitu and Suraj have been pivotal in scaling our patent-pending recycling process from 1 gram to 7 kilograms. We have built a new reactor that is truly scalable to many more kilograms. Jitu, entranced by the sheer and metaphorical size of it, has named it The MASS Reactor.
Santhosh and Shreyas have worked diligently at re-inventing the sunglasses manufacturing process using 3D printers and desktop CNC machines, bringing us oh-so-close to creating a process that could emulate a pair of sunglasses a month after Priyanka Chopra adorns them at Cannes or on some yacht.
So yes, many little wins, and countless blessings.
But the next three months might be the longest. And the shortest.
Here’s to many more though,
Rani and Jayshri signing their first-ever contracts.
Diwali lunch with the team! The only person missing was Anushka because she lives in Delhi (we missed you!).