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Showcase 30 Jun 2016

Upcycling for the home

Sharon D’Souza in conversation with Anu Tandon Vieira, founder & creative Director of The ReTyrement Plan.

Anu Tandon Vieira has a Master’s Degree in Design from National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, specializing in Textile Design. Before she started The ReTyrement Plan, she freelanced as a designer & consultant on a wide array of projects ranging from restoration and refurbishing palaces in Udaipur, to art direction for feature films to creating textiles for the international market. She is currently a visiting faculty for Textile Design at NID, Ahmedabad.

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How did The ReTyrement Plan come to be?

I am a designer by profession and four years ago, I had one of those ‘what-have-I-done-with-my-life?’ moments. Also the question, ‘what do I want to do with my life?’ followed. 

Surprisingly, the answer was not that difficult. I decided to make a difference. Not a huge, monumental one but something more manageable to start with—a small difference to at least a few of these urban craftsmen that I had often been in touch with during my several years as a freelance designer. 

I have lived in Mumbai for over 20 years now and call it my home; as do a large number of highly skilled migrant craftsmen from the Indian hinterland, who are attracted to this megacity by the lure of opportunity, and the promise of a better livelihood. Another big issue that always bothered me in Mumbai was the problem of waste. Waste, not the dirtydumpster kind, but from the many small and medium industries that abound in this city.

Tell us about how you put this plan into action.

Most industrial estates that I visited had large quantities of virgin material, such as a sheet of rubber for flip flop soles, or felt paper for bindis discarded after a part of it was used. I always felt the urge to convert this industrial waste into products so that it stops being perceived as waste. 

The obvious place to begin was with my raw material, which would be industrial waste. As it is not economically viable to reuse this waste, it ends up in landfills. Paper, fabric, plastic, used tyres and a lot of other perfectly good material ends up adding to the ever increasing garbage problem, and the consequent environmental repercussions. If you live in Mumbai you cannot miss the mountains of garbage and the scant attention paid to its proper disposal.

I saw in Mumbai the opportunity to address these two issues that I felt passionate about through the creation of products that would turn these realities to my advantage. In my search for materials to work with I chanced upon this beautiful rope made out of textile and tailoring waste, that are handmade in Gujarat and Rajasthan. 

I also found a group of highly skilled cane weavers from Assam, Bengal, Bihar and Karnataka, in the vicinity, and decided to develop a range of products that would showcase their skills. Using materials such as cane, bamboo, and old tyres intricately woven over with waste rope, and a high level of design input, we came out with our first ‘ReTyrement Plan’ product, the first of a line of well-designed and detailed contemporary furniture for the urban market.

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How did you arrive at the name, The ReTyrement Plan’?

On a vacation to a small Greek island, I met a retired accountant who had returned to her native village and set up a handloom as she was passionate about hand woven fabrics. Sitting in a picture perfect studio, atop a hill overlooking the ocean, was her retirement plan! I decided that it couldn’t be more perfect than that. Your retirement should be ideally a period of fulfillment and application of all the years of your journey as a creative individual. That thought was fused with my actual use of old discarded tyres in my furniture, and The ReTyrement Plan was born!

The people you have hired—the skilled migrant craftspeople —did they have to  be trained?

Yes, often there is resistance to trying a new material or a new way of applying traditional knowledge. Over a period of a year we were able to work with a core group of frame makers and weavers, and create our own designs. 

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We have now trained a fair number of weavers and frame makers, and have been constantly developing and refining our line of one-of-a-kind pieces of furniture. If through our efforts even a single weaver is able to regain a sense of pride in traditional skill and would want to train the next generation to carry it forward, we would have, to a large extent, achieved what we set out to do.

Our weavers are able to make Rs 600-700 per day. Earlier their income was meagre and sporadic and many were forced to give up their traditional skills to provide for their families.

Tell us more about the products you make.

The furniture is both outdoor and indoor furniture and includes poufs, cane chairs, planters, mirrors, cat scratch pads, all using recycled materials and traditional weaving skills, married to modern design. Every piece is distinct, giving buyers a sense of unique ownership.

The web has facilitated creation of awareness, finding new markets, and building our brand. We have displayed our furniture in discerning design stores in various cities in India, participated in design exhibitions, melas, and have an online presence. The response has been positive and very encouraging.

However, the greatest and most encouraging compliment is from one of my weavers, when on finishing a piece he says, “Madam, yeh to mast dikhta hai!”

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Truly, that speaks a lot about the passion that they have for their work. So financially, has it worked out?

Our products retail between Rs 6,000 for a pouf to Rs 20,000 for an arm chair. At this point we are trying to use our profits to streamline and consolidate our infrastructure and expand our business. We are now able to hold stocks and have ready ranges for new clients. By investing in bulk buying of raw materials, we are able to reduce our production costs.

The emphasis is on producing beautifully designed and woven pieces of furniture, without compromise, and finding markets that value them, and are willing to integrate these upcycled furniture pieces in their environment. A weaver can take 2-3 days for a pouf and 4-6 days to weave a chair.

We want our products to be appreciated first for their excellent craftsmanship, colour, and design. Only later, do we want to let on that it is a product of sustainable materials and waste.

Your work specifically on the ReTyrement Plan has been covered often, both in print and on online magazines. 

We are getting a lot of attention on print and social media. We are able to reach a world audience and share our vision. We were selected by Godrej Design Lab as finalists for their India-wide design competition and showcased at India Design 2016

What is the way forward for the ReTyrement Plan?

All cities are spewing waste, so we will always have cheap raw material to work with, the challenge lies in how much of this we can utilise. The way forward is to work towards involving industries that create this waste to a large extent, such as auto ancillaries that create tyre-waste, and have them integrate our products into their spaces.

While recycling always receives sympathetic attention, to make a difference, we need numbers. Tying in with corporate (CSR) activities would help in achieving the larger goal.

The goal is to provide a livelihood to as many urban migrant craftsmen, preserving their precious skills, and upcycling as much industrial waste as possible.

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IMAGES

• All images courtesy Anu Tandon Vieira, except;
• Sharon D’Souza’s profile picture, courtesy Sharon D’Souza