Ethical consumption in 2021 can be tricky but the modern consumer is more vigilant than ever, be it about responsibly-sourced pantries, thrifting wardrobes or supporting small businesses. A few Northeastern lifestyle labels have been prioritising nature-loving, eco-safe production for a while now, be it in fashion, beauty or produce.
It helps that Northeastern states boast an unmatched diversity in natural resources which makes it easier for labels to source raw materials from local farmers or to reap the benefits of homegrown botanicals. New-wave labels are constantly pushing the envelope when it comes to transparency and are opening up about their production routes, sourcing habits, community engagement and even labour wages. Here are a few conscious lifestyle labels from the Northeast that are doing things the right way:
Assam’s Kopou offers artisanal furniture and hand-loomed home decor made with water hyacinth, and also offers a line of rattan and bamboo pieces. You’ll spot some heritage design elements like hand-woven trunk-style storage boxes and rattan stationery boxes and serving trays.
Rattan furniture has been one of the biggest natural trends in the lifestyle sector and is a naturally renewable palm, although founder Apurva Harlalka shares that water hyacinth is more sustainable.
“People understand sustainability today which has ramped up sales of eco-friendly homeware. The idea was to provide employment to women artisans, we work with 32 artisans in and around Assam. The artisans have been making water hyacinth products for years but we updated the designs to make them more versatile and saleable,” Harlalka tells us.
Manipur label hill WIld was famed for its artisanal chocolates, its production was aimed at uplifting farmers and empowering communities in Ukhrul, the hometown of the founder duo Zeinorin and Leiyolan. In the last few months, the label has included a produce section on their website in an effort to work directly with the indigenous farmers to curate a selection of Hau chilli, Perilla seeds, Sivathei chilli, Suma powder, ‘kongthong’ honey, and more. The label has a terrific social media presence and shares updates on their harvest on Instagram allowing consumers to actually trace the origin of their products.
Mana Organics is a social enterprise that employs local tea estate workers to become organic trainers, managers and independent cultivators. Its sister concern Mana USA directly sources its tea from Chota Tingrai, a tea estate famous for its long-leafed produce with golden tips that offers a robust maltiness in its flavour profile. Mana works with small tea growers in Assam to help improve their tea cultivation practices. Mana was recently able to install an ATM machine for tea workers that will help them with digital salary payments.
One of the top-selling featured products is the brisk, organic black tea with a honey-sweet aroma and is made with flowery orange pekoe, is one of the highest grades for Western and South Asian teas.
Nengneithem Hengna’s lifestyle label is run by an all-female team of artisans and is famed for making Goulu tribal jewellery, Chakhesang Naga shawls and natural handloom furnishing. Preserving indigenous skills is obviously a big focus for this Dimapur label, but Runway Nagaland also prioritises responsible production. The label offers a line of sustainable Eri silk clothing, a natural fibre home decor collection, clean beauty picks and reusable candles.
“We employ women from all backgrounds, this brand helps us strengthen our economy by driving more business to our state. We only use locally available fibres and we’re constantly working to preserve and promote age-old indigenous techniques through our handmade accessories,” we are told.
The NorthEast Store
The NorthEast Store sources local products directly from the producers as well as from NGOs, and self-help groups who support local farmer and artisan communities. It acts as a virtual one-stop-shop for indigenous produce, handlooms and merchandise, and the site helps people learn about Northeastern culinary traditions. You’ll spot rare finds such as Meghalayan Lakadong turmeric, Khasi Mandarin orange jellies, mountain pepper sauce, ‘dalley’ chilli paste, Himalayan yak ghee and more.
Tuingam Louzhi’s beauty label has a simple philosophy—only put on on your skin what you can eat. Almost every ingredient used by this Nagaland brand has therapeutic properties. The line-up is limited but reliable, and includes bottled raw honey sourced from Manipur’s Ukhrul and is extracted using indigenous methods. The Khaching hair oil is made with black sesame that reduces hair fall, supports growth and also reverses immature greys. The Perilla hair oil and vegetable-based cleansing oil are top-sellers.
Otsu Clothing Co.
The seasonless fashion brand from Nagaland upcycles vintage clothes and just celebrated its first anniversary a few weeks ago.
Otsu’s first collection was inspired by the Ao tribe and featured pieces like Changkini mekhela used on a golden silk blouse normally worn by chang-ki tsür women and a chic Chang-ki Daktepsu Shawl with 're-used' fabric patchwork on an olive green Ralph Lauren men’s shirt, and other thrift pieces made from Naga textiles.