Living a waste-free life sounds easy, but it really isn’t. We don’t even realise how many of our seemingly harmless habits are actually contributing to choking the planet. However, if you really put your mind to it, it’s not impossible. That’s what Sahar Mansoor set out to prove when she started living a waste-free life. Armed with a degree in environmental planning, policy and law, Sahar started her career working with the World Health Organisation in Geneva and SELCO Foundation. Now, Sahar Mansoor is the founder and CEO of Bare Necessities, a company which specialises in using ingredients and raw materials which are zero waste and ethically sourced. You can buy a host of things from Bare Necessities. From menstrual cups to detergents and zero waste gifts, you will get it all without any guilt.
Recently, Sahar Mansoor was also a part of the Find Them On Bumble Bizz campaign which recognised women in power who are making a difference. We caught up with Sahar Mansoor for her perspective on women in business and saving the planet.
All About Eve: A woman in business in India was a novel concept till very recently, and now we have Bumble Bizz, celebrating a community of such women. How do you think this will help to encourage more female entrepreneurship in India?
Sahar Mansoor: It’s been fun getting to know my local badass women through Bumble Bizz. What I love about it is that it democratises conversations, makes it accessible to connect with someone in a chill, non-intimidating way. I have connected with ethical fashion designers who have cloth scraps they want to donate to my enterprise, Bare Necessities, to be used in packing our low waste products to be shipped across India. I have met illustrators and artists to collaborate with and potential investors.
I think Bumble Bizz has created an amazing platform not only for women but also everyone. There is immense potential to collaborate with other women entrepreneurs from across India and even the world. It will be immensely helpful to share learnings with other women on their entrepreneurship journey. I strongly believe that peer sharing is one of the most powerful tools of learning. Everyone is looking forward to candidly sharing our learnings and challenges so other women entrepreneurs don’t make the same mistakes we did.
AAE: What do you think is the step forward to bring more Indian women into the professional fold?
SM: A more supportive social and policy ecosystem could help women in the professional fold. I am thinking of a large-scale systematic shift in the mindset of professional women irrespective of socio-economic status. I am thinking of the small weavers in Uttar Pradesh, to the roti rollers of Karnataka, to the fin-tech start-up in Bangalore.
In general, in India, we need a major shift in rhetoric. We need equality in wages. We need potential investors not to ask you your marital status or your intentions of raising a family.
I really admire New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who was the second woman to give birth while in office. Another woman I look up to is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. At age 29, she became the youngest woman ever to serve in the United States Congress! (I mean, I am only a year younger than her).
There are so many Indian women I admire too, like Tanvi Hans, also 28, a fellow Bumble Bizz badass mentor and footballer who plays for Bangalore United in the Indian Women’s League. She is the first Indian woman who played for super prestigious English clubs like Tottenham Hotspurs and Fulham.
Another is Ishita Malaviya, India’s first female pro surfer who is changing the face of Indian surfing. She also works with the local community and villagers to create local jobs through the Shaka Surf Club and bring India on the map as a surfer destination. They are both amazing voices for women in sports in India but they are also carving a professional path that was traditionally seen as being only for men.
It’s nice to have such phenomenal women role models to look up to. They are bold in their convictions and unstoppable in their conviction to make a difference.
AAE: Everyone faces some sort of obstacles in their line of work, at least in the beginning. What sort of challenges have you faced in your career?
SM: I think being an entrepreneur is extremely rewarding, but the road is often filled with challenges. They are always naysayers, and it takes a certain resilience to persist. Personally, these are some of the challenges I faced.
They told me with all my learning disabilities, I wouldn’t be an academic success in the traditional sense of the word. They told me with your single mom, you would never be able to afford the education of your dreams at Cambridge.
They told me you cannot start your own business in India without your father’s money or VC money. But us humans, we are made from resilient stuff. So, let no one tell you what you can and cannot do. Be bold in your imagination and create the most vivid and beautiful life for yourself. After all, we are the authors of our stories. We can physically, emotionally, mentally heal from anything and defy all socially constructed notions of what our life should look like!
Being a women entrepreneur also enables me to harness my values to overcome these barriers. Being raised by a single mother, I wanted to create an enterprise that empowers women. I am very proud to say, we are (almost) completely a woman run enterprise!
As a female entrepreneur, there are certain challenges associated with access to technology and access to capital. I am excited to share that we are currently fully bootstrapped, retailing in 40 stores across the country and serving over 10000+ customers.
AAE: What inspired you to adopt a waste-free lifestyle?
SM: I felt overwhelmed with India’s trash problem. I was confronted by it every day, seeing piles of garbage on the streets. I spent time with local waste pickers and watched them sort through waste with their bare hands. I started to think of the environmental, health and social justice issues associated with our garbage problem.
I wanted to stop being part of the problem. My solution was to live a lifestyle that best reflects the values I cared about. I studied environmental policy at the University of Cambridge and I had worked at the World Health Organization, but I decided I needed to live a life fully congruent to my environmental and social justice values. I needed to walk the talk, and I knew I had to start living a zero-waste lifestyle.
I have been living a zero-waste lifestyle for two and a half years now. In that time, I have produced only half a kilogram of trash, all of which fits in a 500 ml jar.
In my zero-waste journey, I realised that it was impossible to find personal care and home care products that didn’t contain harmful chemicals and weren’t packaged in plastic. In response to this problem, I wanted to create a company that mirrored the values of zero waste, ethical consumption and sustainability. I wanted to make it easy for other people looking to consume more mindfully and to encourage others to produce less waste. So, Bare Necessities was born.
AAE: What advice would you give to young women who are just starting their careers, especially in environmental studies?
SM: We are living in extraordinary times, in extraordinary circumstances, with the IPCC report stating we have just 12 years to make massive and unprecedented changes to global energy infrastructure to limit global warming to moderate levels. From rising sea levels to more devastating droughts to more damaging storms, the report makes brutally clear that warming will make the world worse for us in the forms of famine, disease, economic tolls, and refugee crises. And there is a vast gulf between the devastation from 1.5°C, what’s considered the moderate level of average warming, and 2°C.
With a rise of right-wing governments across the world with little and no regard for environmental justice, I think this would be an important time to be part of the climate action movement or be a social entrepreneur. It’s now or never. The world needs you, so “Just do it!”