It’s always been my dream to live in a home that has been built brick by brick, through hard work and perseverance. But, is an empty house really a home? Furniture is an important component of our homes, and it is a reflection of our tastes.
Although you may have built a home sustainably, it is not truly eco-friendly if you fill it up with furniture crafted by chopping trees.
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One could argue that wood furniture is definitely better and lasts longer than flimsy and polluting plastic furniture. But is there a way to get furniture that can stand the test of time while also being eco-friendly?
Ubyld, a furniture company based in Bengaluru, upcycles wood used in the shipping industry, providing customers with beautiful furniture that does not bear a cost on the environment. In fact, it prevents about 90 tonnes of wood from going to landfills each year.
And, this isn’t just any kind of wood. Ubyld uses quality pinewood that is used to import heavy machinery from Europe.
“Companies manufacturing these machines make large containers as big as a room to transport their machines across the world. In India, people don’t know what to do with the wood and throw it in fire or use it around the factory. Unfortunately, this wonderful wood goes to waste,” says Lavanya Ravishankar, designer, and a partner at Ubyld.
The company was founded in 2015 by Pradeep Nair, an IT professional. Gradually, he was joined by Lavanya and Arun Ashok, a former colleague at an IT company.
The idea came to Pradeep quite out of the blue. The IT professional was fond of pigeons and made lofts for them using pinewood and placed them on the terrace. He found that despite being exposed to rain and sunlight, the wood was not damaged!
After further research, he found that top-class pine wood in India comes from Europe and is used to make containers for machines imported to India.
Pradeep wanted to educate people about sustainability as well as provide affordable and quality furniture. Thus, the company was founded in early 2015.
Now, Ubyld upcycles pinewood and has about 2,500+ designs of different products like kitchen cabinets, cots, dining sets, tables, shelves, shoe racks, among others. About 90 per cent of the production involves the handiwork of local craftsmen. The company also offers its services in customising furniture as per a client’s requirement and has catered to 3,000+ customers so far.
In addition to being weather-resistant, the furniture is also termite and borer-free. This typically means that Ubyld makes furniture that can last a lifetime!
Finding value in upcycling
The founding of the eco-friendly furniture company by the coming together of the three individuals was quite by chance. After years of experience working with companies like HDFC and IBM, when Pradeep first started the company, he started it as DIY (Do it Yourself) furniture company.
Once a customer ordered the products online, a package would arrive with wood, adhesive, nails, screwdrivers, and a manual with directions for assembling.
Interestingly, Lavanya was one of Ubyld’s first customers.
“I knew Pradeep as both of us were from Mysuru. A few years back, when Pradeep mentioned his furniture company, I decided to check out their website. There were about 14 types of furniture, and I ordered a table and two chairs for my home. It had to be assembled by me and looked beautiful,” says Lavanya.
She was so intrigued by the concept of upcycled furniture using quality pinewood that she went on to do her own research. She read about successful furniture designers from Europe like Ana White who had started their entrepreneurial journey upcycling pinewood to make furniture.
This inspired Lavanya and she began giving Pradeep inputs on furniture design. “However, since I did not have experience in designing furniture, I was unable to communicate my ideas effectively. Hence, I decided to get professional training,” informs Lavanya.
She previously held a bachelor’s in journalism, a master’s in Literature, and an MBA degree. But she enrolled in a one-year professional interior design course from IDeA Worldwide, a fashion and interior design school, in mid-2015.
On finishing the course, she joined Ubyld as a full-time designer and soon became a partner in the company.
Later, Arun too quit his job in the IT sector and decided to join Ubyld to manage sales and the company’s store in Hegde Nagar; Pradeep takes care of marketing, sales, and production.
The company gradually moved from DIY furniture to making pre-assembled furniture, as the demand for this segment increased. They also started customising designs for clients and have taken on interior design projects (where every piece of furniture in a space is designed and manufactured by them) for hotels, boutiques and cafes.
Eco-friendly & durable furniture
Lavanya informs that Europe’s high cultivation of pinewood is on par with India’s bamboo production. Only a few companies abroad are allowed to cut these trees, and once they do, they plant another sapling in its place.
Once these trees are cut, they are seasoned.
For this procedure, the cut trees are soaked in river water for about 8-9 months. Since the wood is hard, it does not rot. After soaking, it is cut into slats, dried in open fields, and converted into containers for shipping machines across the world.
This wood serves its purpose once the machines reach India. This is where Ubyld comes into the picture.
They have contacts with dealers across Bengaluru who notify them when large quantities of this wood are available. They buy it from them and treat it so that it can be used to make furniture.
“When the wood comes to us, some of it gets chipped, there are codes on it and a lot of nails. We take it to our two factories in Thanisandra, where the nails are taken out and the slats are cleaned. If there are any holes, we fix them with putty and sand it for a smooth finish. We design the furniture after which it is cut, joined, and polished. After that, the furniture is sun-dried, because we do not follow any artificial methods for drying,” informs Lavanya.
In addition to being eco-friendly, other features make Ubyld’s furniture unique. The density of this pinewood is much higher, making it perfect for strong furniture that doesn’t spoil even when kept outdoors.
Another interesting feature of the wood, informs Lavanya, is that it is resistant to attack by pests like termites.
“When wood contains moisture, it facilitates the growth of microbes and attracts termites. But, pinewood has this special quality of producing resin that naturally repels them. This saves us from chemically treating the wood to resist attack from such pests,” states Lavanya.
To help people understand their furniture, they ask clients to visit their store. Lavanya designs the furniture and sends across the 3D designs for approval. After a green signal from the clients, they go into production and deliver the furniture within 2-3 weeks.
All the furniture is handmade Ubyld’s local artisans from the Vishwakarma community, who traditionally practice carpentry. “Manish, our first carpenter who belonged to this community put us in touch with others from his hometown. All of them now work with us in our factory,” says Lavanya.
The company also has a few DIY pieces of furniture, like shelves, storage units, and seaters.
Overcoming challenges to deliver to customers
About three years back, Rohit John Pulickal and Teresa, his wife, bought an apartment in Bengaluru and was on the lookout for furniture. Teresa did some research online and discovered Ubyld. The couple visited the store and were amazed by the myriad designs on display.
“We were also impressed with the sustainability factor. So, when it came to buying, we decided to visit the store again. We communicated our requirements and listened to them more intently,” he informs.
Now, the couple’s home has kitchen cabinets, four cupboards, four cots, a tv unit, a crockery cabinet, and a dining table set, all manufactured by Ubyld!
“In our previous apartment, we had furniture made from compressed wood, that was not very durable. Compared to that, Ubyld’s furniture is made by upcycling top-grade European wood, which is good value for money for the quality they deliver,” says the happy customer.
Despite having a community of loyal customers, the road to building a sustainable furniture brand has not been so smooth.
Lavanya says that since their concept is new and unique, many people do not know about it and hence have to be educated.
“Also, we are not a business-focused company, rather one that is intent on saving the environment. We try to keep the prices as affordable as possible so that more customers can buy the furniture and this concept can gain momentum. But, that doesn’t necessarily translate into higher margins for us,” she says.
She adds that since all of their furniture is handmade, making it takes a little longer than other conventional companies. Every aspect needs to be micromanaged, starting from designing to transportation.
Regardless of these challenges, Lavanya informs that they plan on educating more people about their concept.
Currently, the pandemic has stalled their plans to scale the business.
“We are trying to upcycle wood to produce eco-conscious furniture that can stand the test of time and prevent it from going to the landfills. We want people to understand that owning furniture that does not cause damage to the environment is possible,” says Lavanya, signing off.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)