Fancy buying jewellery made of breast milk?
Say aww or eww, but there's a growing market in India for pendants and keepsakes made of breast milk
A breast milk pendant in gold casing created by Prajakta Salia
Say the words "breastmilk jewellery" and you will be met with raised eyebrows. Yet, we were surprised to find that new mothers are finding the idea of processed breast milk tied around their necks as a pendant, extremely appealing. It's, as they see it, a way of preserving a part of the first bond they share with their child. While one cannot pin-point the exact year breast milk jewellery came into being globally, the first news reports date it to 2012 (see box). Closer home, however, the trend started gaining traction around a year ago.
Mumbai-based Prajakta Salia first came across the term "breast milk jewellery" on a Facebook group called Breastfeeding Support For Indian Mothers in 2016. Salia, who was still nursing her infant daughter, was immediately taken in. "I wanted one for myself, but soon realised that no one in India was making them. Which is when I decided to give it a shot myself. I was feeding my baby, so raw material was aplenty for me to experiment with," says the former air-hostess who had been dabbling in jewellery making. The 33-year-old now has her own brand Dearly Beloved, under which she retails not just breast milk jewellery but also showpieces made of the dried stump of umbilical cord. Salia has been retailing these for the last one year and has a strong customer base, not just in Mumbai but across India as well.
Preethy Vijay's signature pendant with the design of baby's feet
Only a few months before Salia's venture kicked off, down South in Chennai, Preethy Vijay had already pioneered the craft. Like Salia, Vijay, who had her own crafts business, came across the term on a mothers' group on Facebook called Smart Mommies. Her son at that time was five, so Vijay sourced the milk from a friend with an infant. "It was a novel idea here, as nobody was doing it. I was already into polymer clay jewellery when I thought of trying my hand at this," says the 30-year-old, who now retails under her brand Momma's Milky Love. Both Vijay and Salia offer a similar product range - pendants, rings, key chains etc incorporating breast milk, umbilical cords, and baby's lock of hair.
Babita Joshi got a pendant made with her son's lock of hair
A closely guarded trade secret
The obvious question - how can breast milk be fashioned into a rock - doesn't get answers. Neither Salia or Vijay will tell us. Having spent close to a year trying to get it right, they don't want to give away the formulae. Understanding the chemistry of it was challenging, as milk "spoils easily and changes colour". While Salia took guidance from her father, a chemistry major, Vijay turned to friends with expertise on the subject. "The fact that one needed high quality resin for the process is something I learnt after months of research," Vijay tells us, when we probe her. "Initially, the final product would either not look good, or continue to change colour and turn brown. I tried encasing the milk in a wax or soap base - neither worked. The trials itself took six months, for me to ensure that it was not changing colour. It was nearly a year before I achieved my 'eureka' moment," Salia says. The key art lies in solidifying the milk to arrive at a hard plastic like texture; the appearance can resemble that of a pearl or moonstone. "I had to experiment with several preservatives before arriving on the look I wanted."
Meet the takers
In January this year, Thane-based Babita Joshi gifted herself a breast milk pendant, done with a lock of her elder son's hair. It was on social media that she'd heard of Salia's venture and she instantly "knew I had to have one made". "It's very emotional for a mother to have her child grow out of her. Preserving the breast milk is preserving a portion of that first bond." Not everyone would agree though. Joshi's sister-in-law's reaction was "a straight eww". "I have seen mixed reactions to the concept, but mostly they have been extreme - you either love it or hate it, there is no in-between," Joshi says, adding "Among all my jewellery, this is my most precious piece. It's encased in white gold and cost me Rs 17,000."
A chunk of Vijay's patrons are in Pune, where a Facebook group PuLa (Pune Ladies) is spreading the word on her venture. Devika Sagar Ghogare, 27, heard of it on the group and placed an order. "I have preserved every precious moment of my daughter's childhood in a diary. I have got made a pendant shaped like her feet with a lock of her hair in it. It will always remain a symbol of the close bond between mother-daughter," she says.
While Vijay's range is priced between Rs 650 to Rs 5,000, Salia's products go from Rs 2,500 to Rs 25,000. Their modus operandi requires customers to supply the breast milk. Salia has a team of collectors to do the job within Mumbai. Others courier it to her in air-tight containers. "Since I am just starting out, I create six pieces a month. I usually ask for 30 ml, so that I have a reserve in case I need to redo. But for one piece, I require 10-15 ml," she says. Vijay makes four pendants from 20 ml and gets around 40 orders per month. "But I can manage only about 20 - each piece takes me five to 10 days," she says, adding, "Earlier it would just be moms wanting the jewellery but now their husbands too are approaching me for the jewllery either for themselves or their wives."
The first venture
It's not known exactly when and where the first piece of breast milk jewellery was created, but, a 2012 article published in Daily Mail UK talks of Allicia Mogavero's online venture that instructs buyers to send two tablespoons of their milk in a zip-lock bag, so that she can preserve it in resin, a binding agent. It's also referred to as "DNA jewellery". The jewellery is known to be popular in US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and China.
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