Devi, when and how did you realize your calling was to become a designer? Where does that drive to be your own boss come from? Ever since I was a little kid, I have enjoyed making things with my hands. My favorite things to make were glittery balls from candy wrappers and tiny gift boxes from match boxes. I hung them on the Christmas tree, and then it felt like Christmas. My parents were super supportive in my crafty adventures and ignored the mess.
And I grew up in a household where we constantly found new ways to use to old things. My mom used to stitch pillow covers from our old school uniforms. So upcycling (though the word was not popular back then) come naturally to me.
I grew up and studied design at NIFT. After graduation, I worked in a design firm. I yawned most of the time there. I just knew I was not made for this. It took me only nine months to say goodbye to corporate life. I combined my passion for creating and upcycling, and started ‘Papermelon’ and have been happily crafting thereafter.
Tell us, how did you come up with an idea to create jewelry out of paper? Why did you choose paper in particular? The first time I made paper beads, I did so with no intension of selling them. I made them just because I already had a lot of paper bits available with me, thanks to my design education. I was just trying to put them to some good use. When I started making paper beads, I really go addicted to it. However, I must say the first batches of paper beads I made were a disaster, almost like an earthquake. It took many months of practice before they started looking like real beads.
I got a lot of positive feedback for the work from friends and family, and I was inspired to make real products out of them. What followed was a thorough market research for varieties of glue, and sealants that could make the beads water resistant. After a lot of trial and error, I made the first batch of earrings and necklaces that I thought were sale worthy. I listed them in Etsy, and I realized that people found it amusing.
What is your brand philosophy? Is there anything people find characteristically original about your designs? Why can your works be called unique and unusual? I believe you don’t need much in life to be happy. The joy is in the small things. My brand philosophy is no different. My jewelry is made from the simplest of materials (paper), using the simplest of tools (toothpicks). The extra ingredients that really make them special are creativity and patience. I believe this is how they stand apart. My customers have told me that my jewelry makes great conversation starters, mainly because they are made from something so humble, that it’s hard to imagine the transformation into a wearable piece of art.
How durable are your products and is it possible to increase their longevity? Could you offer an upgrading and/or a repair service to your customer? All my paper jewelry is protected using a sealant that allows the jewelry to be sweat and splash proof. However, they should not be immersed in water. When unused, I recommend storing the jewelry in its original box to keep away dirt and accidental wear and tear. If you take care of this as you would any fine jewelry, I can guarantee that it will last for years to come. I still own a few pairs of my earrings that are as old as my shop (9 years) and they still look brand new.
In case a customer needs my help with maintenance of her jewelry, I would be happy to be of help.
How did you discover a need for this type of product in the marketplace? I had a few realizations in the early stages of my business – there is a need for sustainable fashion because there is only one earth, there is an audience that appreciates the value of craftsmanship over the cost of raw materials, there are women who doesn’t want to wear what everyone else is wearing. My work has evolved over the years based on these factors.
What is the timeline from having an idea to actually creating the product? Shortly describe your design process from mood boards to picking out fabrics to production. This is a difficult question because I do not work on a concrete timeline. I have these moments of inspiration when all I want to do is snuggle on the sofa and sketch, sketch and sketch more ideas. The sketches will remain in my notebook till I find the right paper one day, and I usually know when it’s a perfect match. Then I get to work on it, make several prototypes before I’m happy with the final outcome. I usually like to make a complete collection of necklace, earrings and bracelet, just because they feel like a family. Currently, I have scheduled myself to release one collection every month.
Do you have particular pieces you enjoy designing and making more than others? The first time I am creating a product is always an exciting time. However, when I work with papers that have irregular patterns and colors, like newspapers, it’s hard to predict the patterns the beads will decide to have. So when they are finished, I am as surprised as anybody else. And I love that suspense.
What does sustainable fashion mean to you? Why it is important to you? Do you incorporate sustainable living in other areas of your life? The use of an object is never limited to what it was originally created for, everything deserves a second chance, may be a third and a fourth too. And every time something is reused, the earth gets to have a sigh of relief. I believe fashion is something that gets to wonderfully incorporate this concept. The thought that goes into making a sustainable piece of clothing can make it incredibly valuable, fashionable and soul satisfying.
I find it so hard to throw away things – cardboard boxes, bottles, broken toys – you name it, I collect them all. I can’t tell you how many times they have come of use in my craft projects, or my daughter’s school projects. I’m completely convinced that we don’t need more things to create, all we need are ideas.
All storage in my studio is upcycled – chocolate boxes for the beads and fittings, shoe boxes for finished jewelry projects, cardboard boxes for book racks, egg cartons to arrange beads during the making process, and many more.
What are the biggest challenges you face as a sustainable/eco-friendly designer? Here is India, sustainability is still a relatively new concept, but yes, something that has been picking up well. However it’s confined to a very small segment of the population, and it may take many more years of education and awareness before it becomes a strong decision making factor for the majority.
Upcycled does not mean cheap. The time and patience that went into each product (that includes procuring the materials, designing, making, and publishing) is usually incomparable to mass produced goods. Sustainable products deserve a higher price.
What kind of feedback did you get your collections/designs? My customers have helped in the evolution of my work over the period of nine years. I have gone a long way in improving the quality and durability of the products, ever since I started. Every time I get an appreciation email, I feel so grateful for the energy they are sending me. My jewelry making process is incredibly time consuming and tedious, however, the final result always makes me smile. It feels great to know that my jewelry has the power to transfer that smile to the wearer.
What are you fascinated by at the moment and how does it feed into your work? I am thrilled by the fact that I get to live at this time, when the internet has shrunk the globe. Through my website, I get to connect with an international audience. I get to be informed and be a part of this global green movement. And it blows my mind to realize that my jewelry has travelled to 26 countries. I couldn’t have asked for more.
Where do you see the future of sustainable fashion industry going? Have you seen more interest from consumers lately? Sustainability has become the new fashion statement, for good. Fashion is a powerful tool. I believe sustainable fashion can inspire eco friendliness at all walks of life.
There has definitely been a hike in the interest for sustainable fashion goods. Eco fashion is not boring any more, it is a genuine reflection of a environmentally aware self.
What is the biggest lesson that you have learned since you started your company? Don’t sell a product. Give an experience. When something is so lovingly handcrafted, make sure all that love is passed on to the buyer. I make every box of jewelry a precious gift to open, all using eco friendly materials. And a hand-written thank you note goes with it. My customers have often commented about how happy they felt when they saw my packet. Hence I know it’s invaluable.
Should we educate people more about the terrible impact of fast fashion? We definitely should. It can be enlightening to learn the story behind the making of a garment or accessory you own. Also where they end up once they are discarded. Many of us are programmed to want more, while we can actually live with a lot less, of better quality and meaning.
Is there anything you would like to do in the future? Someone you would like to work with or something you would like to accomplish? Many mothers like me regularly drop and pick up children from our nearby school. The daily chit-chats have built a great relationship between us. Many of them are curious and inspired to learn about my work, that I’m running a business from home, working the 3 1/2 hours that my daughter is in school. Some of them are interested in joining me. I would love to employ some of them, so we have a group of like-minded women, working hard on something exciting, while the children are away at school. I believe this will be a fulfilling experience for all of us. I really look forward to doing this.
Where can our readers find out more about, or follow, your work?
What is your favourite part about being a designer? Do you have a favorite moment in your design process? When people learn that I am a designer, they usually tell me – ahhh you should be so good at drawing. But that’s not the case. My sketches are difficult to decode for anyone but me. And that is just the beginning of my design process. What happens next is the part that I am most fond of – the prototyping. That moment when I know I finally got it right, just the way I want it, when a sketch in the book can sit next to its real life counterpart – that moment is the best of all.
In your opinion, how has being a designer changed your life? Being a designer has made creativity a spontaneous part of my life. I have learned to appreciate art better. Now, when I see a piece of art in any form, I can’t help thinking of the artist and all the effort that would’ve gone into it.
What superpower do you wish you had and why? One of the aspects that I really miss about my online business is that I don’t get to see my customers. When someone orders, if I could just appear before them and hand over the package with a smile, and watch them unbox the jewelry – oh I’m already getting excited.
What do you do to recharge your artistic side? I play with my little 4 year old daughter. It’s amazing to watch the amount of creativity children apply to their daily activities. They see everything with new eyes, there are no rules. They need nothing fancy to play with, just any household object and loads of creativity. After our playtime, I’m usually pumped up to get back to my work table.
What is your wildest work story? I once had a design in my mind, that I was very keen on making. I tried to make it, again and again for a whole day, but I just couldn’t get the technique right. It just didn’t happen. I finally went to sleep, cranky and tired. And then I got the wildest dream ever – it was like a tutorial video that made exactly what I want. It was a new technique discovery! When I woke up, I sprang out of the bed and executed my dream. And hurray! The discovery was put to use in no time and I had made my new design a reality. I just can’t get over that day.