Jasmine Nanayakkara is an entrepreneur as well as a social and environmental activist who uses her knowledge, experience, and skills to promote a sustainable lifestyle in Sri Lanka. This is done through two initiatives – Real Life and O’girl. According to Nanayakkara, Real Life is her entrepreneurial journey’s social wing which provides life coaching, while O’girl is the environment wing and an eco-friendly brand. In addition to this, she is a Founding Director of Step by Step Consultancy and has been a business growth strategist since 2015. Jasmine joined Daily FT to discuss her initiatives as well as her eco-friendly products:
By Shailendree Wickrama Adittiya
Q: When did you start O’girl and what motivated you to do so?
A: O’girl was born because of two mothers; my mother and mother nature. It is an interesting story, but is also like the story of an oyster pearl. In the beginning it is a painful experience and then it is a precious gift to nature.
My mother had cancer in 2014. We had a very painful period of treatments and recovering her from all side effects of the chemotherapy and lots of antioxidant drugs. She lost her memory sometimes and was weak both physically and mentally after many treatments. While she recovered in 2018, she used her love of nature and the creative art of origami to manage her mental and physical pain and stress. I was also a part this attempt and directed her towards a hobby.
Later on, we realised that this creativity with a hobby of origami art can be presented as a business model. We always wanted to add nature and uniqueness to this art by making it with handmade recycle paper. We continuously introduced 100% biodegradable eco-friendly paper made of natural fibre and ingredients. It is through this uniqueness of paper art that we maintain a reduced carbon footprint.
My mother directed me to the counselling unit of the Apeksha Hospital, Maharagama to do a pilot project of the Real Life social enterprise in February 2019. After a successful project, we wanted to initiate more programs with the Apeksha Hospital for the cancer patients. As a result, my mother and the counselling unit of the Apeksha Hospital supported to create a social subsidiary system for outpatients of cancer providing comprehensive training for a creative entrepreneurship program in May 2019. Thus, fifteen outpatients of cancer became the first batch of co-creators of the O’girl brand.
Through Real Life programs, they have benefited financially and mindfulness has improved their health. Their improvement in heath with a quality lifestyle was the great motivator for me to continue this program and the second batch of O’girl co-creators are waiting in 2020.
Q: What kind of work do you do through O’girl?
A: O’girl is a brand with an innovative concept and emotional therapy for a happier and sustainable lifestyle. We introduce many products and services to eco-tourism, corporate sector, entrepreneurs, and the community to promote innovative marketing and promotional tools, creative product packaging, and lifestyle needs for eco-friendly products. Our main expectation is to provide mind-set and lifestyle changes through our products and services towards eco-conscious living and a sustainable Sri Lanka.
Q: Who is the team behind the brand?
A: Real Life Honorary Ambassador Prof. Niranjani Rathnayake (environmental impact assessment professional, Professor Emeritus in Civil engineering of the University of Moratuwa) advised and empowered us to become social entrepreneurs from the engineering entrepreneurship program conducted by the Institution of Engineers Sri Lanka (IESL). The prototype of the O’girl brand was presented to her in December 2018.
There are several other mentors, consultants, and senior engineers who supported this green initiative to conduct preliminary research activities through innovation and product improvement to achieve export quality. The Export Development Board (EDB) and National Chamber of Exporters Sri Lanka (NCESL) recognised the potential of our eco-friendly brand and guided us to find export market as well as opportunities in the printing industry of the local market.
Apeksha Hospital with the staff of the counselling unit with representatives of the Social services Department (Western Province) initially provided guidance and support for the Creative Entrepreneurship program for outpatients of cancer promoting them as the co-creators of the O’girl brand. They gave value addition to these eco-friendly products.
But last, not least, my mother is the catalyst as the mentor for the all co-creators of this brand through her creativity, adding more value to social and environmental well-being through O’girl.
Q: What are some of your bestselling products?
A: Our innovative growing seed paper (patent in progress) is our bestselling product as it helps us to grow more and expand our customer base in the corporate sector as well as among event organisers and wedding planners. It is an innovative idea and a special gift or souvenir to people when they plant the paper after use and see how these seeds are growing.
We have varieties of seeds in paper with fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowering plants so that people can enjoy planting trees when they use our paper. These seed paper is used to print handmade greeting cards, business cards, promotional flyers, bags, and many other marketing and promotional tools in green promotion activities.
Q: Your products are 100% biodegradable. How did you learn to make such products and what are some of your eco-friendly products?
A: As an engineer and innovator, I believed that continuous research and innovation is the key towards a successful entrepreneurial journey. We registered the O’girl brand in 2017 and have performed many research activities prior to the launch of our products in March 2019. We started selling our products from February 2019 to beta customers. We still get customer feedback to improve the quality of our products which are 100% biodegradable and eco-friendly by using natural fibre and ingredients.
Q: What is the process behind designing and making new products?
A: We encourage creativity and innovation from all co-creators of the brand including creative entrepreneurs, mentors, researchers, and volunteers, thus we do prototypes and get feedback from people to make it more attractive and worth for sustainable living. We use Real Life ecommerce website (www.reallife.lk) for marketing and distribution of O’girl products islandwide.
Q: Tell us a bit about eco-tourism by Real Life. What experiences can people enjoy?
A: I believe that Sri Lanka is the best place for vacations and exploring nature and wildlife. Moreover, we have a great culture, activities, and experiences.
Real Life has values of mindfulness which provide many eco-tourism activities and experiences including meditation, mindful cooking, nature photography, origami art, mindful adventure with nature experience, psychotherapeutic painting, community services, organic farming, and a number of mindful activities.
Whoever loves nature and eco-products can make eco-jewellery, eco-decorations and eco-paper at the Real Life creative workshop. It is a very unique and remarkable life lesson with experiences that anyone could have during their vacation.
Q: Where is the Real-Life homestay? What does it offer guests?’
A: Real Life Mindfulness home-stay is located in Millennium City, Ja Ela with facilities for relaxing and enjoying mindful activities. We provide group meditation, mindfulness activities with practical sessions and eco-tourism activities for our guests who stay with us for a few days or weeks during their vacation.
Q: Do you plan on expanding the range of products? What can we expect from O’girl in the future?
A: We are in the process of disruptive innovation towards 100% biodegradable and eco-friendly products to replace plastic and polythene products massively imported from China. We request and encourage people to use sustainable products made locally and support the growth of local green innovators and creative entrepreneurs.
Therefore, in future we can provide eco-friendly marketing and promotional tools and products to promote sustainable living for national events, corporate events, and massive product campaigns, eco-political awareness, and wedding needs.
This immense attempt we initiate today is to make our country free of plastic and polythene in future and promote a sustainable Sri Lanka for our younger generation to act against climate change.
Pix by Upul Abayasekara