Published: 09th March 2018
Tanisha Arora's journey to the frozen continent Antarctica was an experience that changed her life forever
The 29-year-old was selected as part of the 2017 polar expedition led by legendary environmentalist Robert Swan
If you ask Tanisha Arora what paradise would look like, she’d probably say she’s already seen it. Sailing in the unpolluted Antarctic waters with seals and whales around was the closest thing to magic she could experience. Tanisha, the Head Visual Merchandiser at Restore Design, a design company that incorporates sustainable methods as much as possible, was part of the 2017 polar expedition to Antarctica, led by the legendary environmentalist Robert Swan. Excerpts:
What is your company Restore Design all about?
We basically do retail design. We don’t restrict ourselves to retail, we also do restaurant and bar designs. While I was studying at London, I had an opportunity to design a window display. Instead of creating props and building stuff, I decided to create things using trash because there’s a lot of trash that’s being generated. I went to different salons, I collected trash like broken hair dryers and other waste materials and built a window display out of that. I feel like there’s a need to make that a trend because the fashion industry is actually the second largest polluter in the world.
Green Trend: Tanisha is the Head Visual Merchandiser at Restore Design
It’s not just the products — the prop building, the visual merchandising — it all generates trash. The products themselves are creating pollution, and to add to it, the design industry is creating a lot of waste. My thought was why not recycle as much as possible? That’s what I try to do through my company, though it’s never 100%. I try to do things like using an old bicycle as an element in my design or using a recycled Tetra Pak as a table surface. These are elements which we need to consciously make an effort to recycle and create a trend out of. There should be more trendsetters in the industry to inspire people to take that direction and be more sustainable in their approach.
Is that why you were selected for the polar expedition?
Yes, in fact, I was the only designer on the expedition. I had known about Robert Swan for four years before I went on the expedition. I had applied for it, but I never thought I would get accepted because I was from a space design background. But I realised that that’s what they were looking for. They wanted people from different industries to come together and make a change within their own communities.
Fund Raise: Tanisha had to raise ten lakh rupees to be part of the expedition
After I got selected, the whole process of fundraising was a transformative experience because I was the kind of person who would never ask anyone for money, and going from that to raising Rs10 lakh was a challenge. Moreover, it was during that time that the country was going through demonetisation. I had approached a few retail stores and everyone said that they were themselves going through huge losses because of demonetisation, and they had been taking cost-cutting measures. But I was determined. I had decided that I would raise the whole amount somehow or return whatever I’ve received. For two months I dedicated my life to it. I got rejected by 60-70 companies and finally, two companies agreed to give me 6 lakh each. I put in some of my own money and the rest I received as a scholarship from Robert’s team. It was a scholarship for women from developing countries.
How would you describe the experience?
It was one of the most transformative experiences of my life. Antarctica is one place that a lot of people dream about. I always wanted to travel there. But more than anything, the people I met on the expedition, about 80 of them, enriched my life. There were people who were zero-waste travellers who educated me on why they were doing what they were doing. And Sir Robert Swan himself. His aim with the expedition was to show us that such a place like Antarctica was so beautiful because it remained untouched. There is a treaty right now which protects Antarctica, but by 2041, the treaty is at risk of being diluted. If that happens, you will see a lot of mining industries coming up. Everything will be destroyed. People need to be aware of this and that was the main objective of the expedition. The second objective was to train people to become trendsetters of sustainable living in their own communities because that had the ability to indirectly affect Antarctica. He applied very simple logic: he would say, ‘you can’t really protect something unless you love it.’
Role model: Robert Swan and Tanisha Arora
How long did it take to get there? What was the journey like?
I applied for an Argentinian visa and stayed in Buenos Aires for a couple of days. From there we went to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. From there, it was a ten-day journey by ship to Antarctica. Out of that, the first two days, we crossed some of the roughest seas. Your windows literally look like the inside of a washing machine. While on the ship, we had a lot of sessions with Sir Robert on leadership. There were other experts on whales and penguins. After we landed, we had zodiac cruises, I was in a penguin colony where I also got to see seals and whales in the water. It was one of the most magical experiences. I had travelled a lot, but I had never seen anything like it. But at the same time, I felt like we shouldn’t have been here. It was so beautiful that I felt that tourism shouldn’t be allowed in the region so that it can remain that way. Maybe we should just leave that part of the world alone.
What was your most memorable moment in Antarctica?
On the last day, I was on this zodiac boat, and there were two humpback whales in front of me, four seals on my side on an iceberg, and we also had Minke whales following a kayak nearby. I literally dropped my camera because I was like, ‘I don’t know where to look.’ I said to myself, ‘I don’t think I can capture this. I don’t think I can do justice to this beauty, maybe I’ll just keep it in my memory.’ I just looked around, there was so much happening. It was as close as you could get to nature.
Magical world: Tanisha's favourite moment was sailing on a zodiac boat with penguins and whales around her
Did you have to undergo fitness training before the journey?
We didn’t really have to go through extreme fitness training. We just needed to maintain basic fitness. We did very basic hikes. Actually, we did yoga during the expedition on land, and the penguins were all around us, observing what we were doing.
It was so beautiful that I felt that tourism shouldn’t be allowed in the region so that it can remain that way. Maybe we should just leave that part of the world alone
Tanisha Arora, Restore Design
How has the whole experience changed you as a person?
I was using a lot of sustainable material as part of my work. But personally, I wasn’t too conscious. But after the trip, the first thing I did was make certain changes to my lifestyle. I started composting, I stopped using plastic, I started questioning every habit and asking myself what could be a better alternative. I am also helping a friend who was with me on the trip with her campaign called ‘No straws attached’. It focuses on getting eateries and bars to stop serving straws.