With Women’s Day just around the corner the Nation spoke to a responsible social enterprise that is dedicated to saving the planet and empowering women in the Eastern coast while at it.
What makes Rice&Carry even interesting is that it has been founded by Susan and Henry who are from Austria and Germany respectively. Their products made with up-cycled rice bags have attracted a considerable deal of attention not only because the product is beautifully unique but it also comes with an even beautiful story which Henry shared with us as thus:
Q: We think the name is quite catchy, but what really fascinated us is that you have created this beautiful product with used rice bags which we usually discard as garbage. How would you, as the founder, introduce your business to our readers?
Rice&Carry is a social enterprise manufacturing bags from recycled materials. Not just rice bags, we also use Hessian (burlap) spice packs and ‘silisili’ plastic shopping bags as well.
Q: What inspired you to start Rice&Carry?
The extensive and unnecessary use of plastic bags inspired us. Handing out shopping bags for the smallest purchase seems to get confused with good customer service. We tried to implement a newspaper bag for the small shops in Arugam Bay many years ago but that failed for many reasons. We realized that it was impractical to use a newspaper bag if one wants to carry a chilled water bottle for example. This made us look at other alternatives with which bags could be made to eliminate the need for shopping bags. We wanted to make these bags with a discarded material ideally something that can be recycled.
Q: That’s interesting. What brings you here to Sri Lanka all the way from Germany and Austria?
We worked in hotel management in Arugam Bay. We started Rice&Carry as a pet project to provide some work to the female relations of the hotel staff.
Q: So why rice bags?
They are omnipresent and as the Eastern province is growing so much rice, there are many different rice mills with all their colourful printed polythene bags. We realized that it was the perfect item to up-cycle as it is very common yet not very valuable for Sri Lankans, but has a great value for tourists when up-cycled. It creates an interesting new perspective about value itself. Rice bags are made from Polypropylene which is a high quality plastic, so why throw it onto a landfill?
Q: When was Rice&Carry launched officially? Would you like to tell us a bit about how things were at the start?
We started in 2012. We decided to be based in the Ampara district because it was where we worked in hospitality. It might have been easier to move to the West Coast where all the manufacturing is, but we liked the challenge of building something up here and we wanted to support the local communities. Although many people thought and might still think that we are crazy, we made some very good friends here who supported and believed in us from the very first rice bag stitched.
Q: How many members do you have in your staff currently?
Fifteen women work in the production. Half in our company is housed in the village of Komari and the other half in their homes in Pottuvil. Plus there are three men that run our own shops in Arugam Bay and Whisky Point.
Q: Would you like to tell us a bit about your staff too?
All women we employ are not trained in manufacturing or sewing. We do that with a lot of patience. Some learn faster some learn quicker but if someone is determined we find a way. We don’t work with targets as well. Our motto is to rather make fewer products with a better quality than the other way round. So we take in rural women and give them an option of working from home or coming and working at our place. That keeps them free to tend their farms when needed.
Q: Where do you source your raw materials from?
The Ampara district with all the rice farming is perfect for this. We just go to the small shops in the area that buy and sell used items from plastic canisters to rice bags. There are thousands and thousands out there. Cleaning them is the difficult part as it is all done by hand.
Q: What is your market ideally?
It is probably the so called “conscious consumer”. They come in all ages. We have teenagers and grandmothers writing to us that they like what we do. People get more and more aware that consuming anonymous products is not very satisfying.
Q: What are the challenges you face and what does the future hold for Rice&Carry?
We want to try and use every bit of plastic we reuse in our production and be as zero waste as possible. That is definitely a challenge but doable. We also want to scale up. But we realize that it is a bit difficult as we want to keep our ethos and take the community here with us.
Q: From where can people buy your products?
We have two shops over here around Arugam Bay. All over Sri Lanka there are around 20 retailers from small boutique hotels to bigger retailers like Selyn and Barefoot carrying our products.
The Nation discovered Rice&Carry on Instagram (@riceandcarry). Their products can be also viewed by visiting the Rice&Carry Facebook page or by visiting their website www.riceandcarry.com