Thought up, and made in India

Updated: Nov 03, 2019, 09:13 IST | Nasrin Modak Siddiqi | Mumbai

The manufacturing sector is a mess, realised two young women with no training but with a bunch of bright ideas, as they braved to build a stationery brand based on ethos.

Yoshita Sengupta and Shazia Merchant work with vendors in Dharavi and Mazagaon to produce sustainable stationary. Pic/ Ashish Raje
Yoshita Sengupta and Shazia Merchant work with vendors in Dharavi and Mazagaon to produce sustainable stationary. Pic/ Ashish Raje

When Shazia Merchant and Yoshita Sengupta were reminiscing about the stores that sell stationery with stunning designs, in South Africa, they thought of building a brand that does the same here. "The easy way out was to curate, but it bothered me to think we'd be sourcing without a name and face. So we chose the difficult route of creating the products, based on our ethics: no leather or plastic," says Sengupta.

That's when the perils of India's manufacturing sector were revealed to the young entrepreneurs. Finding craftsmen who understood the ethos, would produce in small volumes and not overcharge was a challenge. Sourcing material that looks, behaves and ages like leather was the other. After months of scouting, when they found something their vendor—who deals with leather every day—couldn't tell apart from hide, "we knew we were home," she says.

"In the manufacturing sector, if you have 2,000 pieces of the same design, they'll make it; but if you need small volumes in multiple designs, no one takes it up. Too much effort. Our work gets done only when the machine is free, and we can't put pressure on the workers because finding vendors isn't easy. Also, when they think they are doing you a favour, they assume we'll make do with whatever they give. Once a vendor procured copper with holes, went ahead and cut it for the dreamcatcher metal bookmark design we gave him. We lost nine months and Rs 40,000 in the process. For us, mediocre just won't do," says Merchant.

A complete lack of training in manufacturing made things tougher. "Things we assumed they'd know, in fact, needed to be explained with finer details. For them, it's technical and we learnt it the hard way after losing plenty of time and money. I started going to Dharavi every day, with food and chai. I'd sit down, have a meal with the craftsmen, explain what we wanted. There is no such thing as product development for them," says Sengupta.

Holder
Fabric and vegan-leather journal

Each of HappyLittleStore's products goes through at least three vendors—sometimes in different parts of the city including Dharavi and Mazgaon. "In Mumbai, even as a woman, you can walk into a karkhana and get things done. Once we went over a year's threshold with regards to timelines, I didn't want to compromise one bit. If I wanted a vintage copper rose gold finish, and it had to go through three electroplating levels, I'd do it. Of course, not having a day job helps," she adds.

Holder
Metal pen holder clips

Their minimalist designs with pastel hues—on envelopes, refillable journals, sketchbooks, and bookmarks—look Scandinavian and cater largely to women. "It happened without us realising it. But, the second set of designs will be with darker, earthy colours. More unisex or friendlier to men. We want everyone to use good stationery on a daily basis," says Sengupta, who ensures they are zero-plastic, even when shipping. "The staff at Fed Ex are fed up of us, but I don't let them use plastic tapes on our parcels. It's about being the change you want to see."

Price: Rs 250 onwards
Available at: HappyLittleStore.in

Back to the origin

OrigionOne is a new sustainable and conscious stationery brand by Pushkar Thakur, who makes a growing collection of planners, diaries, journals, social stationery, curated gift boxes, pencils, and thread stitched notebooks. Made with artisanal and machine techniques, the design-led products are perfect for the stationery geek.

Price: Rs 250 onwards
Available at: originone.in

Tools matter

The guys behind Chapter & Ink believe that choosing stationery is a personal experience. We heart their Harry Potter and Marvel series. The handsomely designed greeting cards, notebooks and diaries, writing sets and desk tools in frosted shades display a strong sense of focus on quality and craft.

Price: Rs 125 onwards
Available at: chapterandink.com

Notes to self

Their minimalist design and typeface is what we love but Letternote has some seriously good stationery including Kraft notebooks, metal bookmarks, journals, magnets and coasters. Their products are inspired by the joyous life, especially their frames which spell out positive quotes or just ask you to go out and Love.

Price: Rs 195 onwards
Available at: letternote.in

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