Mother and daughter Riti Jain Dhar and Maanya Dhar have been upcycling old, broken, and discarded items by hand-painting them, giving them a new lease on life.
“We live in a world that believes in throwing away things after using them briefly. This starts bothering you if you care about the planet. I had always loved painting as a creative outlet. So, I would repaint any run-down items in my home, like my younger daughter’s desk. Then I wondered if I could do it for others,” recalls Riti.
Her daughter, Maanya, would give her company in these artistic and upcycling endeavours.
Adding value to junk
Riti would visit junkyards around Delhi and pick up items to paint on.
“Once, I went to the market to buy some plumbing hardware as we were re-doing a few things around the house. At one shop, I saw wood planks lying around. I thought if we fixed handles on the sides and repainted the piece of wood, it could transform into a beautiful tray. I picked it up and did exactly that,” she smiles.
With friends and family appreciating her artwork, she would often get requests from them. And each time, they would be awed at the colourful transformation of the items they were on the verge of discarding. Some would often come and give her stuff that they no longer needed, and she would work her magic on them.
This is what led to the birth of Imarim in early 2017, a small business based in Gurugram where the duo sells upcycled items that have been hand painted. These include decorative pieces like tea kettles, sculptures, wall art, coasters, notebooks, paintings, and coasters, among others. They also sell beautiful cushion covers fashioned out of old scrap fabric.
Additionally, they take commissioned projects where one can have their choice of items upcycled after giving them a brief. The duo also takes on interior design projects where they transform a space, keeping waste at a minimum.
“I have to emphasise that most of my designs have been inspired by nature and the pieces that have included animals have been most well-loved,” smiles Riti.
The duo has created over 100+ designs on different pieces, about 80 per cent of which have been picked up from a junkyard and upcycled. The final products are sold on their e-commerce website. In conversation with The Better India, Riti shares their journey.
Growing up in a creative home
Art and colours have been a part of Riti’s life for as long as she can remember.
“I grew up in a very creative and liberal home. My father worked at The Times of India and was a photography enthusiast. While, my mother was a Hindi teacher and poet at the Indraprastha College in Delhi. They were extremely creative and would take me to exhibitions, music recitals and plays. It was home where art was nurtured and flourished,” says the 53-year-old.
Riti went on to specialise in Applied Art from the Delhi College of Art and later worked in advertising.
“I had always thought I would work in advertising for two years at the most and move on to something else. But I ended up doing it for almost 20 years,” she says.
Maanya, too, was deeply influenced by growing up in an environment that respected art. After finishing her degree in Animation from Arts University Bournemouth in the UK, she returned to India last year. She has been working as a graphic designer since then, while also accompanying her mother in fulfilling Imarim’s projects.
A Pop of colours
“I am all about colours, and I couldn’t pick a single colour that I don’t love. I believe this is something that Maanya and I have in common,” says Riti. This love for colours is evident in their hand-painted pieces.
“When you talk about organic and upcycling, earthy colours immediately come to mind. I have nothing against these colours, and I love them too. But, I want to break that myth and show that upcycled items can go beyond earthy tones and be vibrant too,” explains Riti.
She’s inspired by traditional art forms like Madhubani and Kalamkari.
“Painting on different surfaces is a very organic process for me, and I go with the flow with each piece. Some get done in a day while others can take longer, depending on the intricacy,” explains Riti.
This is also how most of her pieces are priced. The products start at Rs 300 and can go higher for larger pieces like furniture or customised projects. She has fully embraced the sustainable lifestyle, and nurtures a home garden, growing her food as well. A lover of animals and nature, she is always on the lookout for small animal sculptures in the junkyards.
“I often see sculptures with a broken leg or a part missing. I would buy it and fix it before painting it. We look for perfection in everything, but things are far more beautiful to me when they have imperfections,” she says.
Her love for colours and her beautiful artwork has quite a few impressed customers. Gurugram-based Sudipta Banwar Karnick is a writer and film producer whose home has multiple pieces by Imarim.
“I was setting up my home and adding pieces bit by bit. I saw Imarim’s artwork and decided to upcycle a few pieces. These included an ugly chair and a life-sized giraffe sculpture that was on the verge of disintegrating,” she says.
Now, the previously ugly chair has transformed into a centrepiece, and, as an animal lover, she loves how the giraffe was hand-painted.
“Each piece is unique, and there is thought put into every item. I am very happy with the things around my house,” she says.
Another customer, Vimoha Bagla, says that every item in her room is a reflection of Imarim. She enjoys browsing through their website and has gotten a lot of things customised.
“I had this drab metal wardrobe in my room, which has been beautifully hand painted on by the mother and daughter. Even a mirror has been done up by them. I love their aesthetic and their colours. Their style is unique, and there is great attention to detail,” says the 40-year-old.
Overcoming hurdles and looking forward
Since it is just the mother and daughter duo who carry out all the operations, there aren’t any complications that come with managing a lot of people. However, they do have their share of challenges.
Due to the pandemic, they faced issues with fulfilling orders as the courier services were disbanded for quite some time. But now, they are slowly and steadily picking up pace again.
“Also, for a small business like ours, it is difficult to get the word out. We are trying to figure out how to become more visible,” she says. From running a small business that reflects her passion, she shares a few words of encouragement.
“I do not think one should get discouraged easily. If you are passionate, be at it. Make mistakes and learn from them. That is exactly what we have been doing. While going about our business, we also need to be conscious. Because this is one aspect that we cannot ignore any longer,” she says.
Now, Riti is looking to keep up painting daily. Although a few concrete plans have been halted, she ensures that there will be some new products in the future.
“Currently, there is a lot of stress on the environment, all of which has been our doing. We are living in a messed up world, and we must do our bit in adopting more sustainable practices. I want people to draw inspiration from our products, and instead of throwing things away, I hope they become more conscious and give their waste a new lease on life,” she says.
*An entrepreneur you admire.
Ans: Justina Blakeney of Jungalow
*New tech that can transform the future of small businesses
Ans: Social Media
*One value that can help small businesses thrive
* Any app/software that helps you manage your work
*Your favourite book
Ans: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
*In my free time, I ____…
Ans: paint some more
* Before this interview, I was ____…
Ans: sending emails
* A message for your past self about small businesses
Ans: still figuring this out
*Best advice you ever got is ____…
Ans: Just go for it!
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)