Debashree Tal, 35, a Bengaluru-based architect has a two and a half-year-old son who loves art. However, the concerned mother wanted to buy non-toxic and safe crayons for her child.
“After being unable to find any good crayons here, I asked my friends who were travelling to the US to get these non-toxic crayons. However, the crayons kept breaking, and I would try different things to stick them together. At one point, the crayons broke beyond repair,” informs Debashree.
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This year Debashree signed up her son for swimming classes. During one of the sessions when she’d gone to pick up her son, she met Karen Saldanha, 41, who had come for a workshop. Karen, along with Neha Bajaj, 37, are co-founders of Dabble, a startup that produces crayons and paints which are food-grade, non-toxic and completely safe for children.
Debashree loved the idea. “I bought the first set of crayons, and I loved the fact that they were food grade. The colours can also be easily washed off from clothes. Now, when I give him crayons, I do not have to worry while he goes about his art,” says the happy mother.
She’s also bought several packs of these crayons and gifted them to her friends who have young children.
Talking to The Better India, Karen says, “The arts have a special place in our hearts and our homes. As mothers, we wanted to introduce art early to our children. A child can draw even before they can write, and colours are a natural language for expression in children.”
The idea to come up with non-toxic crayons and paints lay in the fact that Karen and Neha are mothers themselves. In an attempt to introduce their children to art, Karen and Neha had to buy expensive products from abroad.
These products are almost five times the price of Dabble’s products.
“We could not find safe, fun and age-appropriate products in India. Our experience as expressive arts therapists and as mothers helped us envision our products and we decided to take a shot. That’s when Dabble was born,” explains Karen.
Dabble was incubated at IIM Bangalore in the Launchpad program and founded on 14 May 2018.
“The word Dabble perfectly describes us. It’s about play and uninhibited fun through the medium of colours. Our vision is to spread the joy of art and colours by inspiring creativity and free expression,” says Karen.
Dabble’s products and how the mothers met
Neha and Karen met at an Expressive Arts program in 2014, and the duo spent an entire year experiencing arts as a medium of expression. Before they met, Neha was working as an advertising photographer after pursuing a degree in photography from Light & Life Academy in Ooty. After completing her degree, she worked in the field for about 13 years shot for companies like Chumbak, Lonely Planet among several notable names.
“I was not enjoying it anymore. I read about art therapy and wanted to incorporate photography as an element in it. That is how I ended up taking the class where I met Karen,” says Neha.
Karen, on the other hand, worked for a decade in the corporate sector after pursuing her MBA in Marketing & Finance. She also facilitated workshops on sales, communication and leadership.
When discussions led to the idea of Dabble, the mothers researched for six months for the right ingredients for their product and Neha’s kitchen became the laboratory where the co-founders experimented. Finally, in August 2017, the duo came up with their first set of crayons.
They experimented with different materials. Once they knew a particular idea would work, they got in touch with a reputed team of scientists and food technologists in Mumbai who could further perfect their products.
“Our beeswax crayons come in different shapes and can be used as story-telling tools. The beeswax used is eco-certified which makes it safe for even a one-year-old child to use our products,” says Neha.
Although the duo manufactures the crayons in a facility, a large part of the process is handmade. Now, these Beeswax crayons are in the process of being patented.
The duo also came up with safe-to-use finger paints. “Our finger paints are simple to use – Shake it, Squeeze it, Paint with it. Children love the fact that they are smooth, smell like an orange (due to sweet orange oil) and that they can make magic! Out of just three colours, they can create a palette of colours. This also goes with our philosophy that less is more, where they don’t need 20 colours, they learn with just three primary colours,” says Karen.
All of these products contain natural ingredients like vegetable butter, coconut and soy oil, vitamin oils, food-friendly colours and child-safe waxes. Toxic materials like paraffin and heavy metals such as cadmium, arsenic, and lead are ingredients that their products do not contain, says Karen.
Another interesting thing that stands out about Dabble’s crayons is the way the founders shaped the crayons to aid muscle development of kids between the ages of 18 months to about six years.
“The unique crayon shapes help children develop the tripod grip. They are big-sized and help with easier colouring. You will find our finger-paints come in soft, squeeze bottles that kids can handle. We maintain this for every product we design. No compromise on that,” says Neha
Operations, Challenges and Goals
The duo first launched their products in art workshops. The prices of the crayons and paints range from Rs. 400 to Rs 600. It stands to reason that parents have taken well to the concept.
“Parents are also really excited about the shapes, the fact that these crayons don’t break, and that they can be easily cleaned with coconut oil if they rub against each other,” says Karen.
Jayanti Bhattacharya, 38, an entrepreneur living in Bengaluru, is one such example. She initially saw an ad for Dabble’s crayons on Facebook. When Jayanti sent her two daughters aged four and seven to a summer camp earlier this year, she came across Dabble again as they had set up a stall.
“My kids are always painting. I bought a set of crayons and finger paint. My kids love these crayons as they can even use them as toys. The quality is good, so is the consistency and they come in a good quantity because of which they last longer,” says Jayanti.
However, the duo has had their share of challenges, and especially during the development stage. “When we were developing these colours, we were initially using natural colours, but this was not giving the vibrancy we expected. Hence, after a lot of experiments, we stuck to food colours which worked well,” says Neha.
Also, during this stage, Neha explains that they had to continually travel to the testing and product development labs in Mumbai.
Despite the challenges, the duo has sold their products to over 2000 families in a year. “We are also developing our third product—the Fizzy tablet—that dissolves in water and children can use it as a watercolour,” says Neha in excitement.
So, what fuels the duo in developing more products in the future?
“For us, it’s just the pure joy of just looking at a child’s face and the relief in the parents’ mind when they are using our products,” says Neha. “We now hope that Dabble can be every child’s first crayon!” cuts in Karen, smiling.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)