Kerala couple Devakumar and Saranya quit their corporate jobs in the UAE to launch Papla, a venture that makes sustainable tableware, grow bags and more from arecanut leaf sheaths.
Engineer Devakumar Narayanan spent four years in the UAE, working a 9-5 corporate job and leading a fast-paced life. Shortly after his wife Saranya joined him, the gruelling pace and lifestyle that his work entailed left the couple with a strong desire to return to their homeland – Kerala.
So in 2018, they returned to Kasaragod, with the idea of starting their own business.
“We always had this plan to start a venture of our own, but were unsure about what it would be. So we started brainstorming to find ideas that match our interests. One thing we were sure about was that it should be a business with a good cause and social responsibility,” Saranya tells The Better India.
Deciding to enter the manufacturing industry, they then started looking for locally available and natural raw material that could be their USP.
“After considering a lot of options, we narrowed it down to arecanut leaf sheaths, locally known as Paala. Arecanut trees grow in abundance in Kasaragod, making the produce easier to source. Also, they are eco-friendly, biodegradable and a good alternative to plastics,” says Devakumar.
Having finalised the idea, they started looking for a brand name that was meaningful and aligned with their business objective. “Arecanut leaf sheaths can be a good alternative for plastic as well as paper. We named it ‘Papla’ by incorporating the idea — less paper and less plastic,” adds Saranya.
Launched in 2018, Papla now manufactures products ranging from tableware to grow bags out of arecanut leaf sheaths, clocking a turnover of Rs 2 lakh per month.
Less paper, less plastic
Devakumar and Saranya soon set up a small manufacturing unit near their house in Madikai panchayat, which now has seven working staff members, Devakumar says.
“We source the sheaths mostly from Kasaragod, and sometimes from Karnataka. We buy them after making sure of their quality, and pay the producers based on different factors like variety, size etc,” he elaborates.
“The sheaths are only collected when they fall out from the trees, and never otherwise,” he adds.
Saranya says that the sheaths are only available during the flowering season of arecanut trees. “One of the challenges while using arecanut leaf sheaths is their seasonal availability. We could only source them for six months a year. So we have to ensure that we stock enough for the rest of the year as well. This demands a big storage space which we have set up along with our unit.”
Papla’s products include mostly tableware like plates, bowls, spoons. “We have tableware in different sizes and shapes like plates ranging from 4 inches to 10 inches, shallow and deep bowls, spoons etc. We also customise them according to requests,” explains Devakumar.
Other than tableware, Papla also makes packaging for handmade soaps, badges, hats, hand-fans, grow bags and also wedding invites. “The grow bags are handmade. They are made by weaving the sheaths together. We can’t promise longevity as the sheath is biodegradable. We suggest using them temporarily while gifting a plant or sapling which can be replanted,” he says.
The tableware, priced between Rs 1.50 to Rs 10, is Papla’s best sellers. Handmade products like grow bags are priced at Rs 40 and the hats at Rs 100. “We take orders through our website and well as over the phone,” he adds
Recently, the venture has also introduced wedding invites printed on these leaf sheaths. “We print wedding invites using UV printing technology on sheaths instead of paper. Other than that, use the same technology while making badges for events and functions. It’s a good replacement for the usual plastic tags,” Saranya says.
“Besides manufacturing our products in our micro-unit, we also help several other small local units who work on acrecanut leaf sheaths by giving them a space to market their products. There are around 20 similar units in this area which are struggling to find markets to sell their products. So we help them improve their product quality by training and assisting them, as well as finding a market,” she adds.
The couple says that they also export their products on a small scale, and plan to eventually expand their venture into handicrafts as well.
“We are now aiming for a wider international market for our products. Also, we wanted to try our hands at different natural raw materials like banana fibres, coconut shells etc,” she says.
To place an order visit their website or contact them at 6235726264
(Edited by Divya Sethu)