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Vasudha Bachchan

IWB Blogger

Bandana Jain Uses Cardboard To Create Sturdy, Sustainable Furniture And Empower Women

  • IWB Post
  •  January 3, 2018

Bandana Jain, the founder of Sylvn Studio, is no less than a hero without a cape. Her unique designs of sustainable furniture are a huge leap forward, and so is her mission to empower and employ women from rural areas. Bandana’s creativity is not only an aesthetic delight, but also a unique way to bring about change.

Excerpts from an interview:

Let’s start at the beginning. What was your childhood like?

I come from a Marwari family in a small village in Bihar. As a young child, I was extremely introverted and hardly ever went out or conversed with people. However, I think I always had an unconventional personality. My thought process was never influenced by others and I just never conformed to popular opinion.

I was good at studies, especially art. But in my village, there was no scope of creativity – I mean, I had never even seen normal crayons or watercolors or acrylic paints. So, I just used to draw pencil sketches to hone my skills. Because of conservative thought in the village, my male cousins were allowed to go to other cities for studies, but the women never got this opportunity. Somehow, I managed to convince my mother to let me leave and pursue my dream of getting into JJ School of Arts in Mumbai. But my mother suddenly passed away and I lost the opportunity I had created.

Did you eventually get to study in JJ School of Arts?

Yes, I did. It all happened when I met my husband. He was from the same village but he was going to go to Mumbai for a job opportunity. And I knew that the only way to leave my hometown was to get married, and so, I did. I guess even my marriage was pretty unconventional. Now I began preparing for entrances but it was extremely difficult for outstation students to get into JJ, as it only had eight seats for people outside Maharashtra. Finally, I got a great tutor in Mumbai, who was amazing and sat with me for five hours every day. He was a huge help and because of him, I cleared the entrance and got to fulfill my dream of studying in JJ.

What led to the idea of using cardboard to create furniture?

It started as an assignment for my college curriculum. You could say that I was always fascinated with the use of corrugated cardboard – its unique quality and texture. And as a student of Applied Arts, I was taught how to visualise and take inspiration from things around me.

My husband and I got our own house and I was in the process of designing new furniture for it. I tried a lot of other materials as well – composite leather in vintage colors, made furniture out of bicycle parts, used paper wood to make an almirah. I finally decided to make a chair out of cardboard as well, which turned out to be sturdy and beautiful, but much more expensive than I had anticipated. However, once I had made that chair, I finally began making more things and with the help of a batchmate, also made a sofa.

Bandana

I have heard that the name Sylvn is inspired by the Roman god Sylvanus – what made you keep such a unique name?

When I began my work of making furniture with sustainable materials, I knew that preserving the environment and proper use of waste was a big part of it. I wanted to create something that was eco-friendly and sustainable. So, when I had to name my venture, I wanted a name that spoke about my creation – something beautiful, creative and environment-friendly. The Roman god Sylvanus was the protector of the jungle and its inhabitants and therefore, his ideals fit perfectly into my business identity.

What were some of the biggest challenges while selling your designs of recycled furniture?

Sylvn was an accidental venture – I did not create my furniture with the aim of starting a business. I explored with cardboard for the purposes of designing my own house and it turned out so well that I decided to take it forward as a vocation.

One of the challenges was to handle the cardboard material. It is not a simple medium to create out of. I faced a lot of problems while sourcing it in large quantities and it was more expensive than I had previously anticipated. Moreover, during exhibitions, audiences were just as skeptical about it as they were surprised and awestruck. They questioned the durability of the products or the problem of dust accumulation and it was a difficult process to justify the prices because people just assumed that corrugated cardboard was cheap.

What is one item of furniture that you created that ended up being your favourite and why?

While I was exploring cardboard, I ended up making a range of 150 lamps. These lamps ended up being my personal favourite, because of the beautiful textures of light that they created.

It is impossible to achieve anything without emotional support – who in your life has played that role?

My husband has been tremendously supportive. He told me to think of my venture as a baby – you have to work hard and take care of it. He has been so encouraging and so have my friends and family. They have always been there to lend me support, whether it is for exhibitions or write-ups, to come up with names or suggestions and to forge connections. I wouldn’t have achieved anything without the support of these people.

What are your future plans for Sylvn?

I am now planning to launch Bandana Jain as a brand. I will create a new bespoke range of products – sculpture, muses, furniture, and artwork. Sylvn will remain a separate entity with standardised products, but this new line will have customized and unique pieces.

Bandana

You employ women from rural backgrounds – what was the thought process behind that idea?

I was from a small village and in this environment, I always observed that women were extremely talented, but they were never allowed the opportunity to work. They were, more often than not, restricted to housework and being wives and mothers. Seeing this, I knew that I wanted to do something to empower women. I knew that I was lucky to have gotten out and made something of myself. And therefore, I wanted to give back and provide other women with the chance to be something more and achieve their career aspirations.

We hope that Bandana continues to create and adorn the homes of countless people, while also managing to empower women and provide them with a steady career of their own.

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