The Handmade Paper Trail: A Fascinating New Journey

Drying Handmade Plantable Paper

Once upon a time, roughly in the late ’60s America, if you bought a dress and met with some post-purchase dissonance or dropped sauce all over the front, you could just tear it up. Because that particular dress was made of paper! In the 1920s London, one could buy a ‘Paper Suit’ for a tiny fraction of the cost of a suit made of fabric and end up wearing a new suit every week; both of these ‘ready-to-tear’ trends died young, mercifully, but perhaps left a little ember glowing on the wider design landscape. Because paper, specifically, handmade paper is showing up in design everywhere now. Artists are using it create home décor, disposable inner-wear and even to grow plants! Paper arts like origami and decoupage have been around for years but this new, innovative use of handmade paper is refreshing and hopeful.

Noida based Xylem Paper craft, which manufactures and exports handmade paper and paper products was one of the first movers in this space and won the UNESCO seal of Excellence in 2006 for their innovative handmade paper floor coverings and cushions. Energized by the response to its handmade home décor products and mindful of the waste generated in their manufacturing process, Xylem decided to put it good use and ‘Rickshaw Recycle’, their retail initiative was born. Rickshaw Recycle uses paper waste generated by the parent company, Xylem as well as other types of manufacturing jetsam like fabric, glass and metal to create home décor, lifestyle accessories, stationery products etc. And it has been a very rewarding experience according to the partners at Xylem Paper craft.

However, on the larger narrative of handmade paper use as an element of design in home and lifestyle products Anuradha Patni, Partner, Xylem says, “ It is still a niche market and the biggest challenge is in selling these products. The durability of functional products made with handmade paper is an issue and it is uphill justifying costs on the basis of the design, craft, and aesthetics, especially in the domestic market although there is tremendous growth in other geographies. The way ahead is in experimenting with different products and we have tried furniture, wall art, dhurries, wall hangings, rakhis, Diwali decorations and gifting ideas, and even jewelry. The positive response is encouraging and I believe there is untapped potential, design-wise.”

Others are exploring the space too and making headway; like the Bengaluru based ‘The Purple Turtles’ that offers, among other products, handmade Banana fiber lights. Inspired by nature and the chaotic urban landscapes, The Purple Turtles’ designs are artisanal, contemporary and made with paper that they manufacture themselves.

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Jaipur based Tomato & Co. manufactures and markets plantable paper in interesting forms like coffee cup sleeves, product tags and branding solutions and is a double bottom line organization that aims to not only be profitable but also to reduce waste and get more people to plant more trees. Kritika Parwal the founder and the originator of this innovative idea, says, “ Paper is a beautiful medium! Each time I look at the paper being made in our workshop, I marvel at the power of this simple paper… less litter plus more trees packed in a fun innovative product.” The paper is a type of the famous Sanganeri handmade paper and can be planted straight into the soil.

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The invention of paper by the Egyptians and the Chinese, in different forms though, meant that humans now had a canvas for transferring ideas. And paper is still doing that job; giving design professionals a platform for new expressions and aesthetics. Who knows, that Little Paper Dress just might make a comeback!

Image Credits: Xylem Papercraft Pvt. Ltd., Tomato & Co., Purple Turtles Lighting Ideas Pvt. Ltd. & Kurma

This article was first published in POOL Magazine.

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