1. What is your name?
Sugandh G Agrawal
2. What is your occupation?
Founder, Creative Directive Director at Gunas New York
3. What was your favorite green ( Eco ) memory growing up?
Being a part of several tree plantation drives in Pune, the city I grew up in, in India.
I used to also help my mom with old clothing collection for donating to the homeless and poor.
Participating in several eco-camps as a kid that allowed me to connect with animals and nature was probably my most favorite memory.
4. What did you do before becoming a designer?
I’ve always been in the design field. I have a background in Industrial and Interior design.
I used to design appliances for brands such as KitchenAid, Whirlpool, Bosch & Siemens.
I haven’t practiced interior design professionally, but use my skills at a personal level in my own home and helps friends and family.
5. How is your fashion company increasing environmental awareness?
Gunas New York’s core values are based on cruelty-free and ethically produced fashion. We are constantly advocating eradicating the use of animals in the name of fashion and paying attention to who, how and where our products are made. We are America’s first ethical, vegan handbag brand. The bags are made from PVC free coated canvas and lined with recycled plastic bottles. Animal husbandry is a huge contributor to our environments downfall and we believe that the leather industry is not a byproduct of the food industry. We also give back a percentage of our earnings to nearly 50 different Animal welfare organizations around the world. Conserving the environment, animals, and nature while caring for the people that make our fashion is really the heart and soul of the brand.
6. What are the most rewarding and challenging parts of your job?
The challenges keep changing as the brand evolves. Initially, when I first launched the brand, it was challenging to find suppliers of high-quality leather alternatives and factories that would actually work with nonleather. I simply had no roadmap or case study of another brand to follow and I was creating my own path in an industry that was practically non-existent. We are past that now as customers are finally waking up the horrors of the leather industry and are demanding more transparency from brands. Most recently I’ve personally noticed a lot of new brands hopping onto the vegan fashion bandwagon, because it’s trendy, without actually understanding what that means. We are noticing a lot of cheaply made, sweatshop product priced at extremely affordable prices diluting the market. I call it the toxic fast vegan fashion, just like fast food in comparison to well prepared culinary foods.
7. What is one environmental change you vow to make this year?
Support more 100% cruelty-free beauty products.
8. Can you tell us what inspires you to become a fashion designer and create a GUNAS?
I turned vegetarian at the age of 12 after witnessing a slaughterhouse. And when I moved to the US for my undergraduate studies, I advocated for vegetarian meal options on campus. So I’ve been on this journey for a very long time. After moving to New York for my Masters, I happened to meet another handbag designer and was inspired to start my own collection. I interned with a New York-based Handbag brand that specialized in exotics for the experience. My internship lasted for 10 days. Seeing an actual animal hide sparked something in me and that’s when I decided to start writing my business plan for GUNAS.
9. If there was one industry/product that you could make more eco-friendly, what would it be?
The winter coat industry. I feel that there are too few options for a good light vegan outerwear. After expanding my handbag line, I’d most likely start a vegan coat line.
10. What’s next for you?
I’m currently working on a completely plant-based alternative for a vegan handbag that’s plastic free. Its a vegan leather made from Mulberry tree leaves the paper. It’s an ancient Korean art of making paper that has been translated into a leather look with canvas backing. You will also see more styles added to our small shoe collection.
11. What’s your favorite book?
I am more of a visual person so normally you’ll find me skimming through books. But I’ve really enjoyed reading An Autobiography of a Yogi. It’s a book that really resonates with me and my life path. Besides that I’ve also enjoyed reading Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, It’s All Small Stuff by Richard Carlson and The Secret by Rhonda Byrne.
12. Where do you turn for your news?
Good ol’ Google.
13. Where on the green scale do you fall?
I’d say closer to 6 on a scale of 1-10. Because the more you learn about being eco-friendly, you’ll discover new areas of improvement every time. I feel that a lot of damage has been done over generations and we can’t fix it all in a lifetime. But it has to start somewhere, by all of us.
14. Do you lead a vegan lifestyle?
Yes, I’m personally a vegan and avoid using animal-derived products in my diet as well as fashion. Besides these, there are other areas that I haven’t been able to completely transform in such as beauty and healthcare.
15. Who would you want to have a conversation with past or present?
Steve Jobs. Not was was he a design and strategy guru but also a vegan.
16. What is a small environmental change you think we all can do to make a difference?
Adopting a vegan or a conscious lifestyle won’t happen overnight. It’s ok to take baby steps and reduce our consumption whether it’s eating less meat, avoiding poultry or dairy or starting to be more conscious about shopping for our fashion. Educate yourself about the options available. Support local and small businesses rather than corporate giants as it is one of the fastest ways to help this change.
17. How does GUNAS positively impact the environment?
Besides using animal-free and recycled materials, at GUNAS we advocate conscious consumerism. We produce in limited quantities and don’t believe in seasonal or trendy fashion.
18. What do you want your personal legacy to be?
I want to be remembered as an evangelist and a founding member of the Ethical and Vegan fashion movement. My legacy would be love and compassion, for self and others.