Six-year-old Sruti Harihara Subramanian grew up in Mylapore with a special love for animals and open spaces. During the vacations, she used to visit her grandparents in a small town amidst the folding green landscapes of Kerala. Her only source of entertainment in this sleepy town was to sit on the steps with the local shopkeeper and open goli soda bottles for the customers. With every ‘pop’ and ‘glug’ she observed that the glass bottle was ready to be refilled with new soda. Little did the girl realise that this event would play a bigger role in her life.
As Sruti grew older, her curiosity only increased. The day she stumbled upon the fact that the animals that she loved so dearly were used to make leather and silk, she decided that she would boycott these objects and become vegan. “Perhaps that was when I started becoming conscious about the environment and living a sustainable lifestyle,” she recollects.
Flashforward 2012, Sruti was rising up the ladders as a filmmaker in the South Indian film industry. “My job took me all around the world. Sometimes we would shoot at remote villages or forests and when I came back home to Chennai I would notice how dirty the city was with garbage bins overflowing with plastic.” The juxtaposition called for action. “There’s no point complaining. I contribute to this garbage as well,” she thought to herself, while consciously aiming to reduce her plastic usage.
Later that year, she decided that she was going to grow her own food. “It wasn’t as popular back then, so the resources were limited,” she explains, “One of the things I was trying to figure out was how to compost in my apartment. That’s when I stumbled upon a pot at a store in Bangalore, designed specifically for this. I was blown away by the fact that composting didn’t just happen on the ground!” As she set upon this journey doing research and meeting like-minded people, she realised that most people who were interested could not access the products that would help them live more sustainably.
That marked the inception of Goli Soda (a nod to her vacation ‘part-time job’), a brand with a quirky take on sustainability. “Sustainability is not just about wearing khadi and living like your ancestors. We wanted to show people the fun side of a sustainable lifestyle.” It began organically as a group of curious friends gathered at Sruti’s apartment as a horticulturist demonstrated how to mix soil and sprinkle seeds. This led to a series of educational sessions and workshops on living sustainably. “In 2013, we opened a store at Besant Nagar (as the community seemed more accepting of the idea of sustainable living), where we were probably the first to sell upcycled products,” smiles Sruti, “Back then people barely knew the difference between upcycling and recycling. That has changed now.”
2015 marked the year the brand went digital, reaching Pan-India. Besides becoming a dot-com, the brand began to enlist products on the more popular and upcoming e-commerce platforms—Amazon and Flipkart. “If you can’t beat them, join them,” she shrugs. By this time, the brand was selling products made by self-help groups and rural communities. “We realised that we had the power to market these great products and get them the reach they deserved,” she describes the formative years of Goli Soda as a multi-brand store.
The hype caught on soon afterward and competitors who green-washed their products followed suit, discovering that sustainability sells. “I am my first customer,” Sruti declares, “I constantly re-evaluate my lifestyle and see how I can make it more sustainable.” That was when she found a gap in the market. “I still couldn’t find an eco-friendly product to scrub my dishes or a plastic-free shampoo to wash my hair!” she noticed, as a new set of goals unfolded under the Goli Soda brand. Equipt with a mighty team (currently 10 core members), the brand began R&D with a checklist of twenty requirements (along the lines of fair trade, sourcing locally, animal safety and eco-friendly) as they set foot into manufacturing their own line of products. “At Goli Soda, we urge that you live a sustainable lifestyle without drastically changing the way you live.”
The Goli Soda products have an integral ingredient making them a game-changer in the green market. “Our line of soaps, shampoos and dishwasher bars are not only natural but also infused with probiotics. The probiotics are great for the skin and health and once washed into the sewer, it helps clear the waterways by breaking down bad bacteria and chemicals.”