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Resham Sutra revolutionizes sustainable silk production in India

Acumen announces a new investment in the company empowering rural silk workers through solar-powered reeling machines.

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Silk is one of the most coveted fabrics in the world. It’s also one of the least sustainable. From the inputs used to grow mulberry trees that silkworms feed on to the fossil fuels that typically power production industrial facilities, this luxury can have an ugly environmental impact. Then there are the staggering social costs in the form of grueling and low-paid work undertaken mostly by women. 

Some point to wild silks cultivated from silkworms living in forests as a more eco-friendly alternative. However, this cottage industry approach is inefficient, hard to scale, and entails its own hazards for workers. In the rural northeast of India, for example, women traditionally extract filament from wild cocoons and turn it into raw silk by reeling it against their thighs—a slow, painful, and unhygienic process. 

Enter Resham Sutra, a new Acumen investee making wild silk production more sustainable by transforming how women work in rural India and giving them the tools to build more lucrative livelihoods. 

Resham Sutra offers 12 machines that run on renewable energy and cater to different tasks in the production of wild silks, from reeling to spinning to twisting to weaving. Most come connected to a portable solar panel, which is essential for women who live without access to the grid or in areas where power is unreliable. 

Compared to thigh-reeling, Resham Sutra’s solar-powered machines enable women to more than double their production and nearly quadruple their daily income. The machines save an average of 857 Kg of greenhouse gas emissions per year per product compared to electric power motors. As of 2024, the company has installed roughly 17,000 machines in more than 400 villages in India across 14 states, creating more than 22,000 direct jobs in the process.

“Ultimately, our goal is to enable dignified livelihoods for the most marginalized rural women,” says Kunal Vaid, founder and CEO of Resham Sutra and an Acumen Fellow. “This is about more than silk. It’s about ensuring progress that is significant and lasting.”

Weaving an end-to-end ecosystem

Resham Sutra plans to use Acumen’s investment to help it scale. In the next two years, it intends to sell 15,000 solar-powered reeling machines to 15,000 women, thus creating more jobs and lifting more women out of abject poverty. But the company’s business plan goes beyond that. Its ultimate vision is to build an end-to-end ecosystem that enables sustainable village economies and increases efficiencies in the wild silk value chain throughout India. 

This ecosystem will be anchored around newly created Rural Experience Centers, which will act as “cocoon banks” to stabilize the supply of raw material, and Rural Facility Centers, where women can work together with state-of-the-art machines, receive training and find financing for their businesses. 

Furthermore, Resham Sutra is building a digital platform that connects all stakeholders in the rural textile value chain, from farmers who cultivate cocoons to weavers, yarn producers, and processors. It’s also creating a Quality Certification standard to build trust within the sector and a B2B marketplace app that allows players at every stage of the silk production cycle to buy inputs and sell outputs.

Why we invested

At Acumen, a big part of what sets us apart from other impact investors is that we go places they will not — into nascent markets where commercial-level returns are not guaranteed but where emerging businesses have the potential to effect significant change.

Our investment in Resham Sutra is part of our Pioneer Energy Investment Initiative: Powering Livelihoods Using Solar (PEII+) fund, which is focused on building a clean-energy-powered economy that benefits people living in poverty. Our investments under PEII+ are about more than putting renewables on the grid. They’re about building a new business ecosystem of profitable companies that provide clean, affordable energy and help people improve their livelihoods, earn more money, and create their own sustainable businesses. Resham Sutra checks all the boxes.

We first became aware of Kunal Vaid and his company when he participated in our Green Growth Accelerator in 2022. He became an Acumen Fellow in 2023. Now in 2024, he joined the list of entrepreneurs who have graduated from Acumen Fellows to Acumen investees. It’s a reminder that the work we do through our Acumen Academy helps prepare the next generation of leaders with the hard skills of entrepreneurialism and the harder skills of moral leadership. It also builds a pipeline for future Acumen investments.

“Scaling businesses that address issues of poverty and building markets in hard-to-reach places is where we excel,” says Mahesh Yagnaraman, India Country Director at Acumen. “We’re excited to partner with Kunal and the dedicated team at Resham Sutra to help them achieve their next stage of growth.”