Investing in organic agriculture for a clothing startup

Puja Barar worked at designer fashion houses in New York City, like Vera Wang, for more than a decade. But something was missing.

“Even though I loved what I did, I felt a disconnect in the way these big fashion houses were producing their garments and the values I believed in,” she says.

Raised in India, Barar was well aware of the challenges of the textile industry: heavy use of toxic chemicals, poor treatment of labor, and negative environmental impact. That’s why after having her first child in 2009, she felt compelled to produce a fashion line that was respectful to people and the planet. In 2012, she partnered with Mumbai-based Sameer Mehra, the Managing Director of Suminter India Organics, to launch Satva (which means “pure” in Sanskrit), an athleisure brand using organic cotton and GOTS-certified fabrics. Mehra put in the capital needed, and Barar provided the design expertise from New York.

The two built a supply chain, working with organic cotton farmers in the country, focusing on certification for their organic clothes. To do so, they settled on the GOTS certification, or Global Organic Textile Standard, which had an increasing audience. Working directly with farmers, they eliminated any middlemen, paying the farmers for their crop instead.  The farmers use non-GMO seeds, practice all-natural growing methods, and earn up to 40 percent more revenue than conventional Indian cotton farmers, Barar says. Given India’s history with GMO cotton, and stories of cotton farmers being buried in debt from having to buy new seeds each season, this was an important step Barar and Mehra to ensure that the farmers were fairly paid.