When you speak to Nallasivam Thamilarasi, you immediately realise there is an inherent passion for bringing about a positive change. He has done his homework. His passion is now driving his efforts and actions.
It is this passion that drove him to different rural areas in Tamil Nadu when he was pursuing a post-graduation degree in product design from DJ Academy of Design at Coimbatore. For a year-long project, Nallasivam visited six different areas of the state, hoping to find potters who made quality earthen pots that functioned as water filters.
The idea was to make a cheap water filter that would be affordable for anyone and everyone to use anywhere in the country. The reverse osmosis water filter, often priced well over Rs. 10,000 is way too expensive for a non-urban family to afford. The regular UV filter, around half that price, is still too expensive for the non-urban household. That is exactly the reason, among others, why Nallasivam’s idea catches attention.
On the face of it, the problem seemed unsurmountable. But when Nallasivam and his co-founder Vaishnavi Muthukrishnan got down to finding a solution for it, there were some options.
Potable water is a big challenge for non-urban Indians. That is why local solutions for water are very important. The traditional water filter, which has charcoal, sand and gravel in three layers, has always worked in non-urban areas. Nallasivam's idea is an offshoot of the same with a touch of innovative thinking around design. With a simple genius idea of having an inbuilt filtering chamber made up of gravel, sand and charcoal through which water can percolate down, the pot filters out the impurities and stores purified water that can be used for drinking. In January 2016, passion drove Nallasivam to set up Claymann. He saw it as an opportunity to build an ecosystem that could support the traditional crafts, beginning with pottery.
But when he went to six different locations where traditional potters were found in Tamil Nadu, he found that everywhere the potters were above 60 years of age. The elderly potters mostly worked alone or sometimes, were assisted by their wives. None of the elderly potters encouraged their children to pursue the craft for they felt that other careers would secure their children’s future. This meant that the craft would have no takers after the current group of elderly potters. For Nallasivam, that was heart breaking.
“Potters traditionally used clay from the local areas and could meet the needs of the local people with their craft. This has been sustainable over the years. But that’s changing now,” he says, hoping that his effort can change the course, even if a wee bit.
Claymann wants to manufacture and market the water filter, using the skills of local potters. The aim is clear – make a water filter for less than Rs. 1000.
Nearly 30 months after its inception, the proof of concept for the below-thousand water filters is ready. He has been able to work with many potters to produce 20 pieces that can become prototypes for production on a larger scale. It has taken a lot of hard work to achieve the finesse that will help compete with the more established brands. Nallasivam is still hopeful that he can manage to achieve that. Some potters are now ready to accept design input and adapt to using digital tools to make products that can appeal to the modern consumer.
For a graduate in mechanical engineering from Amrita University, there are other challenges too. The 20 pieces that have been produced will be tested at various places and he is hoping that the festival of Pongal will bring him some good cheer. Logistics is making it difficult for him to market it beyond a limited geography. He says that there is a demand for the product across the country, and he is currently working on standardising the process of making the product available to everyone.
“We are losing our native skills and several traditional crafts due to that. I want Claymann to be a platform that connects the age-old crafts to the needs and tastes of today's society.” Nallasivam says as he spells out his idea of using the skills of the traditional potters to give shape to his idea. Quite literally!
“I am swimming against the tide and I’m hoping to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But in the process, I feel more connected to the world and people around me.” Nallasivam says. You can feel the simmering passion in the voice.
Claymann was one of the top 40 ventures identified for the Jagriti Yatra Sustainable Enterprise Award. It could not go ahead to win one of the awards but the passion in Nallasivam has not waned one bit.
Coca-Cola supports Jagriti Yatra which provides a platform for start-up ideas from non-urban areas of India. Hundreds of small ventures from non-urban areas compete for the award, adding to the efforts being made towards sustainable businesses in India.