UP man’s innovative venture upcycles chicken feathers to make wool and paper; clocks over Rs 1 crore in revenues

Radhesh Agrahari’s Golden Feathers has upcycled over 600 tonnes of chicken waste into handloom wool and handmade paper, reducing environmental pollution. Launched in 2019, the sustainable startup provides livelihood to tribal women and ragpickers

Aruna Raghuram
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Radhesh Agrahari, founder of Golden Feathers and a woolen fabric made from upcycled chicken feathers

Radhesh Agrahari, founder of Golden Feathers, and a woolen shawl made from upcycled chicken feathers

When food waste is unavoidable what do you do? You get innovative! That’s what Golden Feathers has done with chicken waste. The innovative green venture converts chicken feathers, extracted from chicken waste, into a ‘wool-like’ fibre and handmade paper and uses them to make shawls, stoles, diaries and other products.

Registered as Mudita & Radhesh Pvt Ltd in 2019, the social enterprise has a second major objective – to create employment for tribal women. It has skilled and provided a livelihood to over 10,000 tribal women so far, positively impacting them and their families. One of the places it engages with tribal women is Jhalawar in Rajasthan.

“Thousands of tonnes of chicken waste get piled up in landfills or thrown into water bodies leading to pollution and health hazards. Only a small portion is used as fish feed. From one kg of chicken, the waste amounts to 350 gm. Just imagine the quantum of waste generated!” the founder of Golden Feathers, Radhesh Agrahari, tells 30Stades.

The initial investment in the bootstrapped venture was Rs 50 lakh. It clocked revenue of Rs 65 lakh in the first year but dropped to Rs 15 lakh during the lockdown. The annual revenue for 2023-24 is Rs 1.12 crore.

A worker extracting yarn from chicken feathers. Pic: Golden Feathers

 Golden Feathers received a grant of Rs 25 lakh from the French embassy in 2023. Other than that, the venture is self-sustaining, says Radhesh. He has two partners, Abhishek Verma and Muskan Sainik. “Our target is to use at least 10 tonnes of chicken feathers daily so that our women workers get sufficient employment,” says Radhesh. 

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Classroom project

Radhesh comes from a traditional nine-member family in Fatehpur, Uttar Pradesh, headed by a matriarch, a loving grandmother. After completing his schooling in UP, he studied fashion and textile design at the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) in Mohali. He did his post-graduation from the Indian Institute of Craft and Design, Jaipur and took up part-time jobs to complete his education. 

How did he come up with this innovative idea of using chicken waste? “The motivation to start the venture came from a project during post-graduation. It was a design thinking project which had to be applied to a current Indian problem. I selected the topic of food waste, specifically chicken waste. I researched the topic for nine years before I launched Golden Feathers,” he says.

The company employs around 5,000 ragpickers trained to collect chicken waste from local butchers. This waste goes through 27 processes of meticulous sanitisation to ensure hygiene.

Sanitised chicken feathers (left) and wool (right). Pic: Golden Feathers

No harmful chemicals are used in the treatment processes. It is then sorted and the feathers are extracted from the waste. The sanitisation and processing unit is in Pune. Radhesh has designed special semi-automatic (to ensure that employment is not affected) machines for the various processes.  

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Patented processes

“Wet chicken waste spoils in six hours. We are collecting, sanitising and making it into useful products. Golden Feathers holds exclusive Patent and IP Protection for the innovative processing and production of feather wool pulp and yarn. Our sanitisation processes are also patented. The value of the patent is Rs 500 crore,” explains Radhesh. 

Tribal women segregate the feathers, which are turned into pulp and then yarn. Charkhas (spinning wheels) spin the yarn from the reclaimed feather wool. This yarn is woven on the looms to make woollen fabrics.    

The chicken feather woollen fibre obtained is soft, warm and durable having insulation properties and tensile strength. “Craft lovers and environmentally aware people appreciate the products. It does matter to them that the products come from chicken waste. After all even sheep wool is made from the hair of sheep. We make fibre from reclaimed feathers on chickens. I call the fibre that we have created the ‘sixth natural fibre’ after cotton, silk, wool, jute, hemp,” he says.

Radhesh Agrahari explaining work to tribal women workers. Pic: Golden Feathers

High-quality handloom wool is made into running cloth, and elegant shawls, stoles and mufflers. 

Golden Feathers offers products ranging from a diary made of handcrafted paper priced at Rs 100 to a shawl costing Rs 50,000. The more the surface ornamentation, like embroidery work, the costlier the product. The company’s catchline is ‘where style meets sustainability’. 

Customers are happy with their purchases. “I bought a shawl last year. It’s warm and comfy. It is a good alternative to wool that the world is depending on. It’s good for peak winters and for people with wool allergies,” says Kapil Verma from Jaipur.    

“The quality of fabric is amazing. Golden Feathers is a great initiative as it contributes to reducing carbon footprint and provides quality products. Good value for money,” says Sneha Soni from Dubai. 

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Zero wastage 

Feathers that are not good for spinning are used to make handmade paper or converted into fillers for quilts, pillows, mattresses and sleeping bags. 

To minimise waste further, the byproduct of the feather treatment process gets converted into compost and is distributed among local farmers. 

This makes Golden Feathers an almost zero-waste venture. Two other eco-friendly practices of this green venture are the use of recycled paper for packaging and the use of natural dyes. Sometimes, on customer demand for certain colours, they use synthetic dyes.

Women spinning yarn on charkha. Pic: Golden Feathers

“On average, there are 70 gms of feathers in a chicken. Since 2019, we have reclaimed over one lakh kg of feathers preventing them from creating land and water pollution. In the last three years, Golden Feathers has upcycled more than 600 tonnes of chicken waste into handloom cloth (wool) and handmade paper,” says Radhesh. 

Clutch of awards 

The venture has won several awards. When it was just launched, it won the CII Design Excellence Award in 2019 for ‘design for social impact and sustainability’. It won the Aegis Graham Bell Award for innovation in clean technology in 2020. In 2020-21, it bagged the prestigious German Design Award for ‘excellent product design - lifestyle & fashion’ category. 

Golden Feathers was the Swachhata Startup Challenge winner in 2022. It won the National Bio Entrepreneurship Competition in 2022. It also won the National Conference Social Innovation (Tribal Category) award. The venture won the Tata Social Enterprise 2022-23 award in association with IIM Calcutta. It also won the Eureka 2023 award with E-Cell, IIT Bombay.

GIAN (Grassroots Innovations Augmentation Network), Ahmedabad, founded by Prof Anil Gupta, helped the venture by providing networking opportunities, says Radhesh. Golden Feathers features in the book ‘People’s Festival of Innovations - 2023’. The festival was jointly organised by GIAN and C-CAMP (Centre for Cellular and Molecular Platforms). 

Spools of yarn from chicken feathers. Pic: Golden Feathers

Roadmap ahead

So far, the business has been B2B with the company getting bulk orders. It received a Rs 94-lakh bulk order from JP Morgan and Chase last year. Golden Feathers has collaborated for orders with US-based company Goods Again, which makes modern upcycled products with social impact, and Tribes India as well. 

The venture is now exploring B2C sales through exhibitions and its online platform. To market our products, we take part in startup events and challenges. We also use social media channels. Domestic sales come to 80 percent of the total while exports are currently 20 percent, says Radhesh.  

Women working on the loom to weave fabric. Pic: Golden Feathers

“We are doing R&D on lightweight warm saris, using a blend of silk and wool, and will launch these soon. We need more infrastructure and will also need to train our women further if we venture into saris in a big way,” he says. The venture is in talks with the government and companies and may start selling fibre soon. It also plans to expand in the paper segment. 

Golden Feathers plans to set up a paper mill and enter the paper-making and packaging industries. 

“Today, to make one kg of paper you need 3 kg of wood. We want to make wood-free paper from chicken feathers. This is another green, sustainable product we want to expand in,” he adds. 

(Aruna Raghuram is a freelance journalist based in Ahmedabad. She writes on women’s issues, environment, DEI issues, and social/development enterprises.)

Also Read: Gujarat’s Rajiben Vankar: From living in a tent to weaving upcycled plastic, how this housewife set up a successful business from waste 

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