The Green Shop – where products meet people. One crucial part of Last Forest’s mission is connecting communities and markets and thus providing a market place for indigenous, organic and fair-trade produce. The three pillars of this market place are the online shop, wholesale in stores all over the country and the three Green Shops in the Nilgiris. The Green Shops are located in Ooty, Coonoor and Kotagiri and run by Last Forest itself. There you can buy the whole range of Last Forest products as well as other products from all over India which have a story to be told. But what are these products without a story teller?
This is where Kokila comes in. She is the in-charge of the Green Shops and the story teller for the Kotagiri store, where she has been working for the past eight years. In a little interview, she has shared her thoughts from within the Kotagiri Green Shop for you.
Every morning at 9:30, she opens the store, ready for another day of shop keeping, conducting purchases and attending customers. “I love this job” she says and adds “Last Forest is like a second family for me.” At the beginning of the day, she and her colleague Vijaya make sure the shop and shelves are clean and tidy and filled with the range of products Last Forest is selling – from honey and groceries to garments and personal care products, everything is there.
While they are waiting for the first customers to arrive, Kokila likes to research for new ideas on how to take the Green Shop forward. In the so-called Monday meetings, she can then share her new suggestions. It makes her proud to see that her perspective is valued and her ideas get realised.
A couple of months ago, she came up with the idea of complement gifts. When a customer’s purchase exceeds a certain amount of money, they can choose from a range of gifts, such as different varieties of little soaps.
Kokila loves attending the people who come to the shop, that is her favourite part of the work. “My backbone is my customers”, she states happily. Some are even calling her in the shop, making sure she is there before they visit. Once, customers come into the shop, they can consult her on any questions they have. She enjoys explaining the story of Last Forest: “First I tell them about Keystone Foundation as an organisation working with tribal communities. They have brought Last Forest to life to sell the indigenous produce. Then I will tell the story behind the products we have. The customers are very interested.”
“My favourite story is honey”, she adds. “We have different kinds of honey. Most of it is collected by Kurumba and Irula community people from cliffs in the area.” Then she gives a detailed account of the medical values of the different kinds of honey sold by Last Forest. From “pepper honey for cold and cough” to bitter honey, which “is good for diabetic patients and gets the bitter taste because it comes from the Black Jamun tree.” If you want to have an enjoyable chat and a real learning experience, a visit to the Green Shop is definitely worth the while.
Kokila is happy about the responsibility she has been entrusted with and feels very well off at Last Forest. “They are my rock actually, always supporting me.” Joining Last Forest all these years ago gave her a new perspective after a difficult time. ”Last Forest is giving a second life for me”, she emphasizes and adds that she even managed to complete her degree in marketing this February. “They have told me that it is very good that I completed that degree. So I am happy. Every day I am happy to work in the Green Shop. I love the customers, I love this job, I love these people.”
When the day comes to an end, she closes the shop to go home to her family. On some evenings they are making a nice Biryani from the foxtail millets that are sold in the Green Shop – her daughter’s favourite. The next day, she will go back to the work she loves and sell the products that will help to improve the livelihoods of those whose stories she tells every day.
Complied by Leonie Gillot