Despite the advent and popularity of digital resources, the charm of good-old paper is hard to resist. But manufacturing paper, and indeed many stationery items, involves the cutting of numerous trees. While recycling is gaining in popularity, an entrepreneur in Mumbai has hit upon an even better plan — plantable stationery.
Jalebi, founded by Renuka Shah, is an eco-friendly brand whose paper products and pencils can be planted to yield a variety of vegetables, herbs and flowers.
“I was always interested in eco-friendly ideas,” says Renuka who is an interior stylist by profession. Following her maternity break after the birth of her first child, she began to explore other initiatives. “We researched and came up with the idea of seed paper.”
Renuka sought out manufacturing options, starting with an exporter of seed paper. However, export-quality seed paper had its own pitfalls, including weather — after all, plants can only grow in the right weather. “India is a tropical country, while the paper was meant for cold countries. We also had to keep the price range in mind,” she says.
Renuka gradually found a more cost-effective unit to cater to her specific needs, and also expanded the product line to include pencils made from newspapers with seed bombs at the bottom.
“The idea behind the brand is to reach the masses,” she says. “Everyone uses paper and pencils. I wanted to start a brand that would offer an eco-friendly alternative to such basic essentials.”
Jalebi was founded in 2014 and is available online through the brand’s website and other e-commerce platforms.
Eschewing exotic plants and herbs, Renuka focuses on practical, everyday plant seeds for her products.
“We initially tried exotic seeds, but realised that people preferred more practical plants,” she says. Jalebi products incorporate a variety of everyday herbs and produce, including tomatoes, fennel, brinjal, lettuce, tulsi, marigold, coriander and mustard among other plants. The pencils come in sets of 10, with an assortment of seeds.
Jalebi offers an assortment of paper products, including calendars, bookmarks, notebooks and cards. Renuka also takes custom orders, crafting wedding cards and personalised items, as well as kits for brands like Rustomjee, Mahindra and GVK.
Plantable paper products have generated interest since they came to the forefront a few years ago. It is both an advantage and challenge, according to Renuka.
“We sometimes receive requests asking for paper with strawberry, mulberry or even neem seeds,” she says. “But plantable paper can’t be made with every seed, and we have on many occasions refused customers demanding such products. Many are willing to pay higher prices, but we are unwilling to promise products that are inferior or will not translate into plants.”
While Renuka recommends simpler vegetables and herbs for personal use, she has also created products for rural areas with banyan seeds embedded in paper. While she is currently focused on increasing awareness and expanding the market for her current products, she also hopes to create files, organising units and other stationery items in the future.
Paper comes from trees. With Jalebi, Renuka hopes to do her bit and give back to nature in the form of paper that turn to plants.
Jalebi’s paper products are made by a single manufacturer dedicated to producing eco-friendly products for the brand. Keeping a small manufacturing unit not only keep carbon emission low, but also enables Renuka to deliver fresh paper for her clients with the maximum possible shelf life.
The pencils are handmade by a group of underprivileged women. “It’s a small group of women, with only basic literacy skills. Earlier, they could only read/write in Hindi or Marathi, but now they are also learning English starting with the names of the seeds they add to the pencils.”
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For a small, independent brand, outreach remains Renuka’s major concern. “We want to cater to everyone, and take a pan-Indian approach to the brand.” Despite the interest they generate, plantable products are quite niche and this mompreneur hopes to make her products available at reasonable costs.
Dividing her time between two children and developing Jalebi, Renuka hopes to take a similar eco-friendly approach when she returns to interior styling again. “I’ve always wondered what I would answer if my children grew up and asked what I’d done for the environment. Things have improved for us since last year and this is a start. A change is afoot, so not be a part of it and support it myself.”