Whether it’s Raja Kumari effortlessly pulling off a maang tikka or Beyonce clad in a heavily-sequined dress in Coldplay’s Hymn For The Weekend, India’s stereotyped perception has somehow been limited to the bling (apart from the cows, snake-charmers, and poverty, of course). But just because we go all-out with our colours once every year, doesn’t mean that’s all there is to our aesthetic. As a country abound with culture, heritage and architecture, our regional motifs often seep into the work of our creatives. But while some of it may consciously steer away from an unabashed overuse of colours, it doesn’t always reach the kind of international audience it should.
Almost a year ago, an unusual feat was witnessed at the London Design Festival 2017 where Jhunjhun Jain launched Outlin’d – a design house that would focus on showcasing Indian architecture and heritage through functional products made entirely out of natural cork. A brand that was not only exploring intricacies of Indian design sans the colour and glitter but also adamant on using sustainable materials to create long-lasting homeware. Outlin’d broke new ground both in the international as well as domestic design space.
But regardless of its official launch, the seeds for Outlin’d had been sown way back in 2014 itself when Jhunjhun first conceptualised a simple set of coasters crafted in cork – which was further developed into a cohesive collection of 10 products sometime last year, prior to its launch in London.
A graduate of Nayang Academy of Fine Arts in Singapore and Loughborough University, where she studied 3D design and Product Design, respectively, Jhunjhun’s vision took a while to materialise. “With my wine glass stand, the functionality of the product was compromised because I couldn’t get the balance right. However, lucky for me, I soon teamed up with Saahil Mendiratta, an ex-colleague and a confidant, who with his background in physics and an IIT degree, helped build better functionality into the products”, she tells us.
From coasters and placemats to bookshelves and laptop sleeves, Outlin’d has evolved into an inspiring collection of products. These are unspoken tales of Indian heritage carved in raw cork, reflecting India’s regal past through its timeless architecture and outstanding craftsmanship. Even Jhunjhun’s choice of material was a careful decision. “Since no one in India works with cork, the process of R&D was really put to the test; my own carpentry skills were put to use in order to create a blueprint for the labourers, which they then worked off, and learned about the product on the go.”
Despite its usefulness and durability, cork is not manufactured anywhere in India. In fact, Jhunjhun has to import it all the way from Spain and Portugal. But having discovered the world of cork’s different densities and grains that allowed the designer to pick and choose the quality of her products, there was absolutely no going back.
“What is especially attractive about the material is that it is far more sustainable than wood since it is sourced from the renewable, outer bark of the tree and doesn’t require as much environmental interference. As I played around with the material, I realised that cork was also quite versatile; like when I burnt it, the colour, and the smell, was very enticing to me. It took me a good two to three months to develop this technique of burning cork”, she tells Homegrown.
Jhunjun’s personal favourites from her collection are Aiyana Kari (the aforementioned wine glass stand) and Meharaab (the tea tray) — mostly because of the beautiful stories that emanate from the products themselves. “I like Meharaab because it’s functional and harks back to the olden days when cups and saucers were an inseparable duo. This tea tray features grooves to hold coasters that also double up as saucers – that’s my connect to the culture of Indian past. And Aiyana Kaari for its intricate cutwork. Moreover, wine is a luxurious drink, which I wanted to serve in an equally opulent way”, she says.
With Outlin’d, Jhunjun has tapped into a previously undiscovered market of stunning homeware that is meant for more than just pleasing the eyes of the beholder. It is long-lasting, sustainable, elegant and can easily be put to use in our daily life.
From the Red Dot Museum in Singapore and the Alsisar Haveli in Jaipur to its launch in London and a subsequent national launch at The India Story, Jhunjhun has grand plans for her up-and-coming design house. And honestly, we can’t wait to welcome these products into the ecosystem of our own homes.
You can find more about Outlin’d on its website.
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