Canvaloop: Batting for eco-friendly hemp in textile industry

The Gujarat-based startup transforms agricultural waste of hemp into textile grade fibre that can significantly reduce the industry’s carbon footprint

Pratik Ghosh

Determined to become a fintech entrepreneur, Shreyans Kokra had gone to the US to acquire a professional degree. The turning point came when a case study as part of his entrepreneurship course, revealed to him the environmental impact of the textile industry. “Till then I was blissfully unaware of the magnitude of the problem even though my family is in the garment manufacturing business for four generations,” says the 28-year-old. This was in 2016-17, when the move to legalise industrial hemp in the US with severe restrictions was gathering steam but its use in textiles wasn’t part of the agenda. On the quest for an eco-friendly fabric, Shreyans zeroed in on hemp because of its negative carbon footprint and biodegradability while the bast fibre from its stem lends itself to scaling up in textile manufacturing. Unlike cotton, hemp requires much less water and fewer pesticides.

He returned to India with the arduous task of convincing mill owners and fashion brands to give hemp a try. Alongside, he was also making the agricultural waste of the hemp plant compatible with the textile machinery through an innovative process. “The coarse hemp fibre, which we import from Europe, undergoes a radical change through a 3-step process, which involves bio-chemical, enzymes and mechanical treatment. The final product is a textile-grade fibre that can effortlessly undergo spinning, weaving, dyeing and stitching. This remarkable change in form, however, doesn’t interfere with the essential characteristics of the fibre such as its anti-UV and anti-microbial properties and the ability to adapt to the weather,” says Shreyans.

He founded the Gujarat-based startup Canvaloop Fibre in 2020 only after earning the confidence of the mill owners who decided to use hemp fibre in a blended form with cotton, polyester, wool and jute. Shreyans’ vision to transform a polluting sector coincided with the spirit of the times. There is a growing awareness among customers about sustainability and environmental footprint of the products they use, and brands too are feeling the need to change their systems and processes in the face of climate-change threats. The American clothing company Patagonia is heavily basing their collection on hemp while Levi Strauss & Co has promised to increasingly use hemp in their fashion collections as part of the company’s sustainability strategy that focuses on climate, consumption and community. Indian brands like Welspun and Trident have made some headway in this regard.

It is common knowledge that clothes, footwear and household textiles are responsible for ruining the planet through water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and landfill. Major studies have revealed that textile production is responsible for about 20% of global clean water pollution from dyeing and finishing products. The apparel industry accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions. A BBC report states that “globally, an estimated 92 million tonnes of textiles waste is created each year and the equivalent to a rubbish truck full of clothes ends up on landfill sites every second. By 2030, we are expected as a whole to be discarding more than 134 million tonnes of textiles a year”.

Even though hemp constitutes only .01% of the overall global fibre market, Canvaloop has been successful in changing the mindset of manufacturers in India and abroad. “We supply to all the major mills in India, including Arvind, Vardhman and Himatsingka. Textile manufacturers in Argentina, Poland, and Japan too have expressed interest in our products. We are working towards getting the global organic textile standard certification to aggressively pursue international markets, especially the European countries,” says Shreyans.

Canvaloop creates high quality, high value product out of agricultural waste. Sustainability is ingrained into the company’s operations, right from the stage of sourcing, claims Shreyans. “We accept the fibre of the crop that has grown from non-GMO seeds. We use CNG for heating and reutilise most of the water used in our factories. The chemicals and enzymes used on the hemp fibre are non-hazardous,” he says.

The cultivation of industrial hemp in India has a long way to go with only Uttarakhand state government issuing a license for cultivation. Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan governments are expected to jump into the fray soon. However, Shreyans is optimistic that the situation will improve in the coming years with larger collections from reputed brands making their way to mainstream stores. Countries like India, Bangladesh, China, Vietnam and Philippines, considered the hub of textile and garment industry can play a decisive role in popularizing hemp fibre, he says, adding that his company is looking at international collaborations to source raw materials while seeking to expand operations in India.

Simultaneously, Canvaloop wants to tap into other fibre crops like banana and pineapple, which are grown in abundance in India, for raw material. “If the government provides institutional support for extraction and collection of fibres, a lot can be achieved in the meantime,” he says.

Social Alpha and Theia Ventures’ role

Canvaloop fits Social Alpha’s Sustainable Consumption (SC) thesis that defines sustainable consumption and production as “the use of services and related products, which bring a better quality of life while minimizing the use of natural resources and toxic materials. There should be significant reduction in emissions of waste and pollutants over the lifecycle of the service or product so as not to jeopardize the needs of future generations”.

“Canvaloop is a great example of creating a new market as sustainability concerns and changing consumer behaviour continue to demand more circularity in the business models. By creating alternative fibres from agri waste and other sustainable sources, the founder is expanding the basket of fashion and lifestyle choices for a climate-aware consumer. We like it when entrepreneurs create a business case for sustainability. This is the new genre of activism,” says Manoj Kumar, founder, Social Alpha.

Theia Ventures, which invests in high-impact, technology companies in India to help them solve large and meaningful problems is a co-investor with Social Alpha. Priya Shah, General Partner at Theia Ventures, says, “We are thrilled to back Shreyans and the Canvaloop team on their mission to mainstream sustainability in alternative materials and fibres — an important theme in the circular economy — and we are confident of their ability to pioneer positive climate impact in the textile industry. “

Besides funding, Social Alpha will also help Shreyans seek deeper market connections in the textile industry and enable him to scale for his subsequent fundraise a few months later.