Recycled paper, scrap leather, reclaimed teakwood and industrial waste would never be luxury items in the normal course. However, they can now only be items of desire, but also make it to your jewellery box, thanks to homegrown brands such as Satat, Baka Jewelry and Papermelon. These innovative jewellers are making waves in the field of sustainable jewellery using upcycled materials. In conversation with Devi Chand, Founder of Papermelon, Radhika Malhotra, the Founder and Designer of Satat and Rebecca Reubens, Founder-Principal Designer at Baka, LuxeBook decodes the meaning of sustainability and how these hard-working entrepreneurs are using their art to pursue it.
Journey towards sustainability
Devi Chand began Papermelon back in 2009, after studying design at NIFT, Chennai. She was working in a corporate job for less than a year before quitting in order to put her creative abilities to good use. Chand initially experimented with paper, mirror and other scraps from household items to make jewellery, prior to settling with a medium she was truly happy with — paper.
Using simple hand-tools — without any machinery — Chand cuts the paper into strips and meticulously rolls it into perfectly shaped beads. The jewellery is then given a coat of sealant to make it water-resistant. When asked about the durability of the products in question, Chand says its life depends on how you treat it, “Paper jewellery is not fragile. If you treat it like you treat any fine jewellery, it should last.” Chand has one caveat — she recommends avoiding the pool, or getting it completely drenched in water. The intricacy of the vibrant jewellery from the Chennai-based brand is evident in designs such as a mini-abacus necklace, woodland cottage earrings, and the colourful spirals of a candy-striped neckpiece.
Satat is another brand using alternative materials to make jewellery. It was founded 3.5 years ago by Radhika Malhotra. Satat uses reclaimed teakwood to make earrings, neckpieces, rings, bracelets and hair accessories that stand out for their unusual texture and subdued hues. Striving to navigate the murky waters of the jewellery industry when it comes to sustainability, Malhotra laments the way gold and diamonds are sourced, and the short lifespan of plastic jewellery from fast-fashion brands that quickly crowd landfills. The brand’s jewellery incorporates a 200-year-old craft that is inspired from block printing. The designs are based on contemporary Indian art-and-craft and inspired from tribal geometric patterns. Malhotra believes in two main aspects of sustainability — low carbon emissions and wastage — in addition to longevity. The Nagpur-based company’s jewellery is made through an elaborate process involving 15-20 steps.
Baka, founded by Rebecca Reubens is a brand that believes in the principle of slow-design, where designers take their time to make a significant piece of value. The contemporary, sustainable, ethically-crafted jewellery brand is by the label Rhizome in Ahmedabad. The whimsical name is derived from the founder Rebecca’s pet name, and the name has stuck. Baka is also a typical Gujarati slang word for ‘dear’, which is perfect for a brand grounded in Ahmedabad. Reubens strives to consider social sustainability, which includes fair wages, good work environment, collaborative framework for innovation, economic sustainability, providing inclusive livelihoods and cultural sustainability, which draws on traditional sustainable practices alongside ecological factors. The pieces use traditional methods in contemporary ways to create the brand’s distinctive pieces.Since Rhizome is a learning studio, even non-traditional aspiring craftsman who want to learn the process and crafts are taught in an apprentice-mode. Kite-shaped quartz earrings, bamboo and recycled brass earrings, silver nose accessories, and long dangling Art Deco style necklaces define Baka Jewelry’s eclectic yet wearable aesthetic.
Chand of Papermelon credits her friends, family and well-wishers for endlessly supplying her with discarded magazines, newspapers, paper bags, gift-wraps, calendars and pamphlets and other scraps that she turns into beautiful jewellery. All supportive beads, cords and silver findings are sourced locally from small, home-run businesses. The artist acknowledges variables with design, as two sheets of newspaper or pages of a magazines are never going to look alike. However, Chand explains her design process, wherein she maintains certain colour palettes, to avoid huge differences in shades. This makes each piece unique, while practicing upcycling in its purest form.
Satat also maintains its ethos of upcycling by using pieces of teakwood that are left over from the construction of old houses in Gujarat and Rajasthan. Since India maintains a second-hand scrap market, these small pieces that are not even viable for block printing, are bought by Malhotra in bulk. Satat works with karigars based in Jaipur. It took Malhotra almost a year to innovate the process of manufacturing along with the craftsmen. She also brought in sustainable raw materials such as the dyes used to give the jewellery its colours. The pigments for Satat’s jewellery is extracted from natural colours such as indigo. Yellow is extracted from haldi, black from kohl.
Reubens of Baka Jewelry ensures ethical sourcing of its materials, via industrial waste, local small-scale vendors and clean gemstone suppliers. Materials such as recycled silver, brass and aluminium, even renewable bamboo is also frequently used in Baka’s jewellery.
In times when jewellery is also bought online, packaging is an important consideration. Considering Papermelon makes its jewellery from recycled paper, it’s no surprise their packaging is recycled as well. Their boxes are made by a local artisan from waste cardboard, filled with recycled crinkle paper and wrapped in fabric bows made using scraps from a local tailoring shop. A personal flourish is added by handwritten addresses on envelopes.
Malhotra of Satat admits it’s very difficult to eliminate plastic packaging. However, the brand has gone old-school with its packaging, wrapping the jewellery in pink paper, popular in old jewellery shops over the years. The teakwood pieces are then placed in cotton pouches made out of waste scraps that are sourced from the scrap market.
Baka’s focus on packaging is meticulous in its approach. The jewellery is wrapped in reused carbon paper. In Ahmedabad alone, the railways generate approximately 2-5 tons of carbon paper waste which cannot be recycled due to the presence of carbon. The boxes the pieces are packed in are crafted by women for whom the job is a source of livelihood and empowerment. The adhesive used in the boxes is also sustainable, and made from flour, blue vitriol and water. Baka’s shopping bags are also made from waste; flex sheets which are otherwise dumped into landfills.
Next in sustainability
Papermelon releases one new collection every month, and Chand has recently even started her own home décor line. “This is something that I am really looking forward to expand on, as well as having my products sold in shops internationally in the future,” said Chand.
Reubens is planning to launch a contemporary range of modern heirlooms made in 9ct gold. The edit will be centred around quaint themes such as Indian flowers and childhood games. “These are going to be nostalgic everyday pieces featuring carved stones with very little actual metal,” says Baka’s founder.
Satat focuses on a slow and sustainable process, and only launches one or two collections a year. In the near future, Malhotra also hopes to expand Satat into different fields, including fashion, to offer conscious consumers real sustainable products. Consumer affordability is also something they are trying to factor into their products. Their new collection is in hues of pink and peach, for which Malhotra has experimented with ingredients such as rose petals, beetroot, Indian Madder and geru mitti or red clay. With a vision of the bigger picture, Malhotra says “Our jewellery is 100 per cent hand-made, but not 100 per cent natural.” There are certain varnishes that are needed to increase longevity that are not completely natural, something that Malhotra is striving to change.