Two ventures from Delhi-NCR craft new products from upcycled keepsakes
Two ventures from Delhi-NCR have found a solution to safeguard sartorial memorabilia by transforming them into memory quilts.
Published: 04th October 2021 07:35 AM | Last Updated: 04th October 2021 07:35 AM | A+A A-
How many of us have walked into a home we spent our childhood in, only to stumble upon a suitcase (or more) packed with keepsakes and countless other memories reminding us of bygone days? Often, mothers are the official caretakers of such memory chests, forever holding on to baby clothes or even tiny tangible tokens to help them preserve nostalgic moments of their children's yesteryear.
However, despite being associated with vague reminiscences about the past, these unused clothes often have a shortened lifespan and suffer damage on being stuffed in storage. Fortunately for such mothers, two ventures from Delhi-NCR have found a solution to safeguard sartorial memorabilia by transforming them into memory quilts.
A creative process
Manisha Desai (40) and her sister Ayesha Desai (43) are like most other siblings; they kept a trunk full of keepsake clothes - the quintessential university T-shirt, a shirt reminding them of their roommates, among other things.
Manisha recalls, "This was at our home in Belgaum, Karnataka while I was based in Pune. I remember my mother threatening us that she would chuck our old clothes (in 2016), and we created the ruckus protesting her decision. Finally, I decided to transform these clothes so they don’t need to be discarded."
With no prior background in design, Manisha spent her next few months hunching over a sewing machine with an aim to add utility value to these worn clothes. Eventually, through trial and error, she created her first memory quilt.
"It was a hit among friends and family," the former professional social worker says from Pune, adding, "it snowballed from there, and before I knew it, I was busy making a few pieces for friends here". One thing led to another, and in no time, the Desai sisters co-founded Cornucopia Concepts, a venture that upcycles keepsakes into quilts and bed covers.
Manisha notes, "We work with clothes that people don’t want to part with because they have memories attached to it. While we started making memory quilts patching together segments from baby clothes, we have also used everything from adult T-shirts, trousers, and at times fabric waste from boutiques. We also create theme-based embroidery quilts. Three years ago, we introduced sustainable corporate gifting by curating products from fair-trade companies."
With a workshop in Gurugram's Garden Estate (they operated from Pune before 2017), Cornucopia has a pick-up service for residents of Delhi-NCR. A piece by the brand, informs Manisha, is priced at Rs7500 for a 4 x 6 ft quilt, and can increase depending on the size of the blanket.
Having sold about 5,000 pieces ever since their inception, we ask Manisha how she tries to reduce her brand’s carbon footprint. She says, "We do have waste produced from these garments. So we shred this waste and convert it into yarn to make dhurries out of it. With bigger scraps, we make bags that serve as packaging for the dhurrie."
The business of nostalgia has proven to be a marketable one. Manisha reiterates this thought by informing us that while there's not too many inquiries made for quilts and upcycled products from fabric waste, the demand for memory quilts is quite high.
But, another product that consumers seek for are bereavement quilts, and a number of these requests have been received post-COVID. "It is often tough to work on these and it is a lot of responsibility to do justice to these memories. But we feel honoured that families trust us to convert their keepsakes to be used for the rest of their life," he said.
Does she become a part of the stories narrated by families? She agrees, "Yes! Whether it is about a little baby; a spouse or a grandparent who has passed on, we’re a part of these stories. And, we try to represent the memories to the fullest."
A visual craft
A trained fashion designer, Rashi Malik (38) remembers creating the first memory blanket for her sister, "She was in London and I crafted a bespoke blanket for her with her child's baby clothes. I would hear all these stories, and the entire process was extremely visual."
This is when the Faridabad-based Malik decided to launch Mum-entos, creating baby quilts from a small workshop out of her parent's basement in Jangpura. In time, she has expanded her venture over the years; she now creates toys from old garments apart from name buntings, name rings, runners, cushion and pillow covers.
Talking about how these blankets impart tactility to memories, Malik says, "These blankets when layered on a bed often showcase stories of childhood, or other fond memories. It is just another way for a child to read about their own life. It soon becomes a graduation gift or even something for parents to hold on to during their old age."
In order to add a touch of personalisation to these blankets, Malik makes it a point to incorporate everything from the child's first school ID card, first rakhi, escort cards used by family members to see the child after his/her birth in the hospital, and other such memorabilia.
A Mum-entos blanket for a toddler starts at Rs5,900. Malik mentions, "We create tangible souvenirs - unlike an online album - which helps to put together all the tiny bits of lovely memories." One of the many satisfactions of this venture, says Malik, is the fact that she gets to use her design aesthetics to visualise and plan the end product.
She says, "My clients appreciate the fact that they can personally get in touch with me and discuss their requirements. I do all the cutting and layout work myself and ensure that each garment is fused and treated based on its fibre content. The finishing of the final product is important to me. This is where my fashion design degree helps me the most - to not only ensure that the product is visually appealing but also technically sound."
The entire process, says Malik, balances on innovation and emotion, "The part I enjoy most about my work is listening to all the amazing stories that parents share about their children - the first day of school or the time they went on their first vacation...I try to capture these little stories in the details of the garments."
However, there have been a few challenging projects. For instance, two years ago she created a set of blankets for a Hong Kong-based mother who had lost her five-year-old son. Malik recalls, "She had been hanging onto all his clothes for three years trying to process her grief. We met at her place where she finally pulled out the boxes of clothes. Using these, she wanted me to make blankets for her daughter and younger son - a gift from their older brother to them - to remember him."
With a focus on sustainability across sectors on a global scale, how receptive are Indians to upcycled goods? "If anything, sustainability is ingrained in us as part of our cultural values. We just never came up with a fancy term like upcycling for it - the West patented an age-old concept," she says.
There's nothing better than gifting something beautiful and long-lasting, which goes beyond a digital document - we never throw out old things out of respect, nostalgia or sometimes simply because it helps us feel close to the good old times."