KOCHI: For Thrissur native Maria Kuriakose, starting a business that would also aid those working behind it has always been a goal. This culminated in ‘Thenga’, a homegrown brand that upcycles coconut shells and makes them into sustainable products like bowls, handled teacups, cups, cutlery, candles, and hanging planters. Maria is helping local artisans and the environment through this venture.“I started working on Thenga full-time last year. I took up social entrepreneurship as I wanted my venture to boost the farming economy while also generating income,” says Maria, who quit her corporate job in Mumbai to focus on the brand.
“Every part of a coconut can be utilised. Before deciding on shells, I thought of using the husk and water. Shells are mostly burnt in mills to be used as fuel,” adds Maria. “My father, who is an engineer, helped me create low-cost machinery that transforms coconut shells into bowls.
We sourced raw materials from our backyard and nearby mills. We sold the produce to eco-friendly restaurants and cafes after engraving their brand name onto it. After thoroughly analysing demand, we appointed the artisans. We did so to ensure their consistent work,” explains Maria
Artisans under the brand’s umbrella hail from Thrissur, Kottayam, Wayanad, Kodungallur and Alappuzha. They are skilled at making traditional coconut shell-based kitchenware, but now they make sustainable jewellery and home decor items.
“Lack of regular income and dropping demand for their products had driven most of these artisans to work other odd jobs for livelihood. With Thenga, they have better reach and we help them earn,” says Maria. The minimal sustainable bowls, cutlery, candles, are sold on Instagram and other e-commerce platforms, including Amazon, Flipkart. @thenga_coco on Instagram
NEEDLE IN HAYSTACK
Sorting the right shell from the heap is the trickiest part. Maria, along with the artisans, picks the right shells for creating a batch of similar-sized products. “Coconut bowls are available in three sizes - mini which holds 150ml, medium-sized, 200ml, and Kerala Jumbo coconut shells being the largest can hold 500-600ml. We import Vietnam coconut shells which can contain up to 900ml for those who need bigger containers,” says Maria.
The handmade eco-friendly bowls can withstand room and cool temperatures, though Maria suggests avoiding serving hot temperature food. Chemical, inorganic compounds that deteriorate the natural quality have been excluded from all Thenga coco products. The final coating is given using coconut oil instead of varnish. “After washing several times, if the exterior becomes dull, you can regain it by applying coconut oil. The shell can soak in the oil, and help the shell product last for decades,” says Maria.