Mumbai-based artist Bandana Jain is manufacturing décor products from corrugated cardboard, and ticking off two boxes on her list: sustainability and women empowerment.
Cardboard boxes take number one priority in your life when you need to move home. How else would you pack, move and settle down in a new home? But once used, they’re often left out with the garbage. Isn’t that what happens to all the boxes that find their way to your home, courtesy online shopping?
Now think: what if these boxes could be turned into stylish and durable décor items like furniture and lamps?
Doesn’t seem possible? Mumbai-based artist Bandana Jain is doing it. Bandana designs and sells eco-friendly, handcrafted lamps and furniture through her design label, Sylvn Studio.
The studio is named after Roman god, Sylvanus, who protects the jungle and those living around it.
Bandana says, “At Sylvn Studio, I try to protect the concrete jungle. Being an environment-loving designer, I work with recycled corrugated cardboard and make sustainable products.”
Over the last few years, she has been trying to – and succeeding – in wedding fine craftsmanship and luxury with utility and durability.
“When you buy from us you don't just take home a product. You take home a work of art. And in your own little way, you contribute toward beautifying the earth,” she says.
Apart from being sustainable, the products at Sylvn Studio empower women who live on the outskirts of Mumbai by providing them with financial independence.
Helping women from villages is very close to Bandana’s heart as she herself belongs to Thakurganj village in Bihar.
She says, “I come from a very small town and never got any exposure or a platform to showcase my talent. I feel that gratitude is the only way to succeed in life; so helping women who come from a similar background is close to my heart.”
Knowing the value of an opportunity and coming from a conservative family,
Bandana technically never went to school after Class 8.
“I went to a government school and college; so I didn't go to school formally, just appeared for exams,” she says.
“Moreover in my family, a girl had to do household work. By the time I was 16 years old, my family members started talking about my marriage.”
An introvert at heart, Bandana was keen to do something with her life. She says, “Initially my parents were not happy with idea that I didn't want to get married. However, I convinced them that I wanted to do an interior designing course in Delhi as I had an artist’s instinct, I felt. Even though I was never formally trained in drawing, I could draw, paint and sketch.”
After persuading her parents, Bandana was all set for her new journey.
But, two days before she was to take the train to New Delhi, Bandana’s mother had a brain haemorrhage.
“This hit me hard. A month later, my mother passed away and my life changed. I had to take care of my two younger siblings as my two elder sisters were married and based in Delhi. I took on my mother’s role. From cooking to taking care of everyone, I literally became a homemaker.”
Though Bandana thought the course of her life was charted, destiny had its own plan.
While visiting her elder sister in Delhi, she met the man she would marry. They were married in 2009 and she moved to Mumbai.
“I got married to move out from the village and to get admission into JJ School of Arts in Mumbai. My husband was a great support,” she says.
But getting into the renowned school wasn’t easy.
“I went to various coaching classes in Delhi; they said they could help me get into any college but not this one. Others told me that only one in a thousand artists is successful; others remain dependent their family,” she says.
Three days after her wedding, she went to JJ School of Arts to inquire about admissions.
“Some students asked me to meet Javed Mulani, an ex-student of JJ who could help me out with entrance exams. From that day and for the next one-and-half months, I worked really hard. Javed was an unknown person, but he used to sit with me for two-three hours and help me study drawing. I would practise for 12-14 hours a day,” she recalls.
“My hard work and determination paid off. I cracked the exam and got into the applied arts course,” she says.
Studying at the JJ School opened new doors for Bandana. In her third year, she wanted to work with corrugated cardboard for a project but was a little averse to risk.
After passing out from college in 2012, her husband bought a house. She says, “As an artist, I was keen to decorate the house. I could experiment with different things; I used composite leather for my bed’s upholstery and made some furniture with paper wood.”
Ready to experiment with different materials, Bandana recalled the corrugated cardboard project that she hadn’t started on in college. Finally, after passing out in 2012, she gave it a try.
She recalls, “That was the first time I used corrugated cardboard. I thought of making a chair and seeing how it would come out. It took me three months to the source that recycle cardboard from the packing industry.”
“I thought the cost for one chair would be around Rs 500 but it cost me Rs 4000. I thought of dropping the idea as it was so expensive. My family was very encouraging,” she says.
Bandana spoke to one of her batchmates, who agreed to help out with the project. It took her three months to finish one sofa.
“We used the paper cutter to cut the sheet; it was an extremely difficult process, and we used to get cuts and bruises.”
But the sofa made from cardboard turned out beautiful; it was so durable that she still uses it.
Bandana went on to experiment with lamps. After completing 10-12 lamps, she held an exhibition in her house, inviting her friends, family and people from the field of art.
She says, “People really liked it and asked me to go forward.”
She held her first exhibition at NSE ground.
“People took to this idea almost immediately. From the very first day, my cardboard creations generated a lot of interest. I was flooded with compliments and blessings. People thanked me for introducing beautiful and sustainable creations to the market,” Bandana says.
But the biggest challenge she faced was acceptability of this unconventional product in the market for there were apprehensions regarding pricing, durability, cleaning etc.
A major misconception Bandana had to deal with was regarding durability.
“Corrugated cardboard is used to make shipping boxes and it is most sturdy as it is used to package electronic items. It is different from the normal cardboard box as there is a corrugated sheet in between two flatliners. Though light in weight, it is strong.”
Home decor products at Sylvn Studio are priced between Rs 2,000 and Rs 20,000 and are shipped across India.
“It has been five years since I am working with cardboard. So, for me the biggest success is that I stood tall and made it a sustainable business model. I kept my patience and I believe nobody can stop me now,” she says.
Bandana has created some beautiful piece of furniture, lamps for Raymond, McDonald’s, The Bombay Store, 1 Above, Dhoop and Etsy to name a few.
She says that working with and empowering women is one of the things she enjoys most.
“Workers from rural areas of Maharashtra work out of my Vasai workshop. Empowering rural talent, financially and creatively, and giving them the opportunity to explore their talent gives me immense satisfaction,” Bandana ends.