After spending over two decades working with her husband in his chartered accountancy firm in Gujarat, Hema Sarda, then in her late 50s, decided to turn into an entrepreneur in the year 2016.
A chance encounter with jewellery made out of bamboo in Delhi’s Dilli Haat was how the idea came to Hema. She says after buying a few pieces she spent the next few weeks trying to work on making the design better and, voilà, Bambouandbunch was born.
“In all honesty, this was never planned as a business. I started dabbling in it because of how unique the jewellery was. It also was a way for me to get connected with some of these artisans whose work is so intricate and deserves to be applauded,” says Hema to The Better India.
With an initial investment of Rs 15,000, she has managed to grow the business to earn a revenue of Rs 5 lakh annually. In a mark of true global recognition, Bambouandbunch also clinched the International Craft Award for the best brand from India Craft Village, Delhi, in 2020.
In this business, she is ably supported by her daughter-in-law Tanya Chugh. “After me, it’s up to Tanya to take this forward,” she says with a smile.
Artistry in her DNA
The now 65-year-old describes herself as an artist, adding, “I have always had a good eye for design and jewellery. The ability to merge these interests was rather exciting for me.” Born and brought up in Gujarat’s Jamnagar, Hema got married and later moved to Mumbai with her husband.
“Art is in my blood since both my grandmother and mother are artists in their own right. They work on coloured beads and that art has travelled down generations,” she says.
To add something more to the designs she got from the artisans in Dilli Haat, Hema started experimenting with a few pieces. “I added pearls, semi-precious stones and coloured beads to the pieces. They enhanced the look of the already beautiful pieces and that was how the idea struck me,” she says. Her friends started appreciating these designs and also bought a few pieces from her.
She then created a venture to help the bamboo artisans. “I wanted to find a way to showcase their work and provide an additional income source for them.” While the handiwork of most of these artists is impeccable, Hema says that the challenge was in making them learn a new form of design. “They were all very comfortable with the ways they knew and were not open to learning or experimentation early on. It took me a long while to break through that mindset,” she adds.
The initial period was not easy, says Hema. “None of the artisans, who live in remote villages of Assam, speak Hindi and I do not speak their local language either. To make things work, I got in touch with a local doctor, Dr Elena, who became the intermediary,” she says, adding, “I chose to work with a local doctor simply because I wanted someone who the artisans could trust. All these artisans visit the doctor on and off and had a good rapport with her as well.”
Changing perceptions of traditional ‘jewellery’
What Hema was certain about was not giving up on her idea. Leveraging technology, Hema says that she would send sketches to the artisans via WhatsApp. “Even that was an issue since they live in remote villages where connectivity is not always great. Somehow, the group of artisans found ways to make it work.”
Once the jewellery piece was ready the artisans would courier it to Mumbai where Hema would check to see if it matched the design. She then places an order for the number of pieces she wants to stock. “Even courier service is very patchy where they reside. Many times, they have to travel a fair distance to be able to access a courier service,” she adds.
Hema and Tanya also look after their medical needs from time to time. What is also interesting is the trust that Hema has forged with the artisans. Having never physically met them she has been working with the same group for over five years now.
On average, the duo says that the artisans can make close to Rs 70,000/month, and while the starting price of these pieces is Rs 750 they go up to Rs 8,000. “While bamboo by itself is not expensive, the pearl or semi-precious stones I use in the design is what adds to the cost,” says Hema who ships about 10 orders every month.
Today, having forayed into the Indian market, Tanya, who is based in London, is now trying to establish the brand overseas.
While Hema handles the designing and artisans Tanya is the brain behind their social media presence. “Creating the look books, reaching out to people on social media and marketing is all Tanya’s forte,” she says.
Tanya adds, “What’s unique about these pieces is their versatility. They can be paired with Indian and Western clothes with ease. These jewellery pieces are also extremely lightweight and sustainable. We are also constantly innovating and had launched a bamboo rakhi last season that did very well for us.”
Sujata Biswas, co-founder of Suta, praises Bambouandbunch in an Instagram post and showcases some of the products she purchased, which included earrings, a ring and even a bamboo bangle.
With various social media influencers supporting this homegrown brand, Hema says, “We are just getting started.” The duo aims to change the perception people have of jewellery. “Gold, silver, precious stones and platinum are not just the options that people have when they want to buy jewellery,” she says. She wishes to see bamboo jewellery be amongst what today is considered ‘jewellery’.
Team Bambouandbunch give essential tips on how to care for bamboo jewellery:
1. Always store your jewellery pieces made of bamboo away from direct sunlight.
2. Do not expose the jewellery to water or perfume.
3. Use only dry cloth to wipe the piece clean. Do not use a damp or wet cloth.
4. Do not apply too much pressure as these pieces are very delicate.
To place an order or check out these exquisite pieces, click here.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)
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