By Natalie Blanton
In the summer of 2014, I backpacked across India — mainly in the vein of animal rights pursuits and understandings in a morally vegetarian-saturated country. So many of the people I met and friends I made had a wildly different upbringing than mine. I was raised in rural Utah where rodeo and hunting are the “sports” of choice — whereby most of my Indian friends were raised in the “pure veg” avenue of Hinduism. Later in life, and thanks to globalization, much of India is branching out and adopting more animal products into their diets. What a juxtaposition — as here, in the US, so many of us are finding out about the beauty in plant-based living and shedding the “meat and potatoes” roots so many of us grow from.
While wandering Bangalore, or Bangaluru, I came across a storefront that made my heart jump:
Ethik: Live Leather Free — I immediately went inside and was in awe over the products I found and the incredible, innovative, compassionate entrepreneur behind this cruelty-free fashion, Pankaj Khabiya. I reached out to Pankaj for a recent interview for Sage Mountain and all of our readers:
Sage Mountain: Tell us a bit about yourself — name, business name, where you are from — where you are currently located?
Pankaj: My name is Pankaj Khabiya. The founder of Ethik: Live Leather-free. I am originated from Rajasthan, India. I was born and bought up in Bangalore.
SM: What first brought the idea of Ethik to you? How did this all start?
PK: My friend and I were just having a general discussion, which became intense when we started discussing animals and the torture they go through. The conversation moved on to how leather and its products are made.
Following the path of Jainism, we believed in its philosophy of AHIMSA PARMO DHARMA (nonviolence is the highest duty). Jainism believes in respecting the life of the minutest creation (micro level) of God… But we were wearing leather shoes, ourselves, and other accessories made from animal skin… That was a moment of epiphany!
We decided to do something about this. First we decided to quit wearing leather products and went in search for non-leather products. Until this time there was no intention to start a business in this perspective. It was only when we went searching for alternatives we realized there were no quality alternatives available. We had to either compromise with low quality rexine products, which aesthetically never looked good or felt comfortable, or the quality options that were sold to us as “non- leather” (despite them being animal skin).
This laid the seed for ETHIK!
SM: What was that process like?
PK: Discontinuing the family business (wholesale textiles) we took up a small space (about 60 sq ft) for our Research and Development of leather alternatives. Having no experience in terms of education or knowledge in this industry we started from scratch. Initially we were trying to understand: the market (leather and non leather); material manufacturers to finished product manufacturers (footwear to accessories); wholesalers for women bags and accessories; to men’s and women’s footwear, we tried to learn everything. This opened up a wide market for us, which was very difficult to cater to all at once. We needed to streamline on something to start with. With the help of our mentor, who guided us, we came to the most important question: Where was leather used the most?
The answer was: Men’s Footwear! Thus, we started our work in this direction!
We traveled the length and breadth of India, and abroad, in search of the right material and a good manufacturer matching International standards.
We also met a few material experts, a scientist, and footwear experts from FDDI, Delhi, India, to understand why leather preferred over non leather. Through this, we understood the attributes of leather which the leather alternative had to have in order to be a competitive replacement.
All of this lead to finding the right material, good manufacturers and most important, to create a Brand which would be known for its quality leather alternatives. The process was adventurous, exciting, tough, fighting all odds, and lots of learning.
SM: How has your community responded to animal rights/cruelty-free fashion/products?
PK: We started our store (soft launch) on 11/11/2012 with men’s footwear, belts and wallets. Initially we didn’t reveal our Brand name, we simply put out a few messages outside of our store indicating the concept of leather free products.
These messages read (as still represented on the storefront pictured above): “DISCLAIMER: No Animals were harmed in the making of the products, they enjoyed every moment of it! ”
And “You live for fashion, They are Killed for it “
Through these messages, people were curious as to what our products were made from, which lead them to enter our premises and get a feel for our products.
We wanted to get a bearing on people who walked by our store, to know what they think and feel of our products, whether they are accepting or excited about our products, etc.
The response from then on has been overwhelming! People from all backgrounds have accepted Ethik and love our products! Along with the concept, they love the design and quality of the products. We hear “this looks and feels just like leather” everyday.
Not everyone enters knowing it is a leather-free store, but come to appreciate and are in awe for the idea and quality. We also have loyal customers, who repeatedly buy only from Ethik. However, there are also customers who buy simply for the quality/design and not too inclined with the ideology of Ethik.
Despite limited stock and designs, the response has been great so far!
SM: How do we get our hands on your products? (they are amazing!)
PK: We have a standalone store in Bangalore where people can walk in to physically shop. Or, for easier accessibility we have an active Facebook page where we regularly upload our latest product range, also a static/informative website, to know more about us.
We personally share product designs and accept orders through phone, e-mail, Facebook messenger [see contact info below].
SM: What is your greatest hope that people take away from interacting with you, your shop, or the movement you are part of in India/globally for plant-based life and animal rights?
PK: Everyone I have interacted with regarding Ethik have been so appreciative of our initiative. People want us to grow leaps and bounds. They want to see Ethik stores all over the world. Ultimately, people want to see leather replaced by our products.
And that’s exactly our vision and mission – To replace leather, wherever it’s being used, with NEATHER (that’s what we call our material).
Ethik is looking for support in all forms, to expand and spread the cause. We plan to start our online store in the near future and then look forward to creating an omnipresence for Ethik with all channels and wider range of products for men and women! And this is possible with the love and support from everyone, worldwide, who believes in cruelty-free fashion.
Thank you, Pankaj! We love what you and the Ethik movement have created!
Ethik contact details:
PH: +91-80-41157459 (11:30 AM to 9:00 PM IST)
If you have any questions as to how to move toward compassionate fashion, cosmetics, or home products — reach out to us at Sage Mountain! We are here to help!