These days I come across a lot of stories on recycling, environment friendly products, sustainable businesses, etc. What a money spinner it has become. Its like adding another dimension to a product or maybe a good marketing opportunity and its definitely good for the future of humanity.
I have been using 100% recycled paper in all my work, by choice, since the year 1999. I made a conscious decision to stay with this choice as my upbringing in the hills of Mussoorie has made me realise the importance of nature. Now based in New Delhi, I pine for the hills, I miss the greenery, the weather, the streams and the low level of noise.
My tryst with recycled handmade paper
It was the year 1999, the time when I made-up my mind to follow my heart which was in art and design. I started with my favorite “chart paper” from school. While in college, one day a friend told me about handmade paper and its availability at the Khadi Gramudyog Bhawan (Connaught Place) New Delhi. I made my way there to find a wide variety of papers that I had never seen earlier. I was fascinated and I quickly bought a bunch to use. Experiment was the key word then as it was not my profession, I tried new designs and techniques(that I read in books). As I discovered more about the techniques, composition, ingredients, manufacturing processes and raw materials used in making them; I fell in love and instantly connected to it, maybe it was my love for nature! Since then I have remained in love with Handmade Paper. I think I should make use of words like “recycled, environmentally responsible and sustainable materials” in all my product descriptions and packaging as it is the new marketing mantra!
Design wise I believe in the power to create beautiful objects out of nothing. I started out by creating art from trash and moved on to finer things. My heart still lies there, I often look for ways and means to incorporate more eco-friendly materials and practices in my work. Nothing goes to waste at my unit, we save every inch of paper for future use. I started sourcing from dealers in Delhi and gradually as my work grew I got in touch with manufacturers directly, today I design my own paper and closely work with many of them across the country. My future plans are to start my own small scale unit to make exclusive and designer paper that we can use internally and also sell from boutique stores.
One needs the knack to first visually imagine a product keeping in mind the target group of customers, its end use, the value that it would bring and its USP. Since I did not have the opportunity of formal training, I look at a design, if it pleases the eye it is then sent for production. A product needs a USP, branding that stands out and creative packaging to be a best seller. At times the packaging is more expensive than the product itself, this happens when you are trying to create a product for the purpose of gifting. I also need to keep the price right as every individual has a limit or threshold to what they can spend for a certain product. I do not want my work to be elitist therefore I always have certain products that are priced much below than what they usually should be. Passion always comes before profitability.
Handmade paper is a layer of entwined fibres held together by the natural internal bonding properties of cellulose fibres. The beauty of this paper lies in its texture, composition and making. In India the main raw material is cotton rags sourced from textile units in cities like Trichy, etc. Cotton fibre bonds well to form paper. A variety of raw materials are added to give it texture, colour and smell. For example, jute, mica, straw, banana fibre, metallic yarn, spices, newspaper cuttings, cow dung, silk, a multitude of natural fibres, flowers, leaves, tree moss, potatoes, old ropes, canvas, linen, etc. In fact, anything can be used as long as it has fibres capable of forming a continuous sheet. Handmade paper by its character shall always have minor variation in shade, thickness and density of embellishments in each lot.
Handmade paper is very strong and cloth like as it contains recycled cotton fibres; I primarily use this. There is also a variety of handmade paper that is made from recycling trash paper from offices, homes, etc. Generally paper can be recycled 4-5 times and after this the fibers become too weak to bond and form paper. Handmade paper manufacturing is scattered across the length and breadth of the country. Each region has its specialty, someone is making papers from waste jute and later on pressing silk fibres onto them, Some coat these papers with metallic paint to give it sheen, some are using local grasses and shrubs to create paper, some use mulberry, etc. The list is endless. In Nepal the locals use the lokta plant to create a very distinct and successful paper. In Thailand, the mulberry plant is used in abundance. I have always admired the Thais and the Nepalese for the way they have marketed their distinct papers globally and created a very profitable business for themselves. India still is way behind due to a lot of factors, even though the diversity and local factors are in our favor, we have failed to become a global player. Obviously comparing ourselves to Nepal and Thailand will show us to be a larger player but the business in terms of design and reach, we are still way behind. Khadi and Village Industries(a government institution) is trying its best to promote handmade paper and doling out subsidies and a variety of schemes to help in its growth, these hardly reach the right people.
Today a hub like Kalpi(in Uttar Pradesh) is reeling under low demand because they have not cared to innovate, making the same thing for years and years will definitely have an adverse effect on the demand. The customer demands new designs and products and its the survival of the fittest. I have been in this field for 10 years now and my growth trajectory has been ever rising only due to the fact that my products are "different" and they have made a market for themselves. Today Anand Prakash is a brand. Coming back to Kalpi, this place has over 100 factories making the same old handmade paper, there are exceptions too. The major supply was to Chawri Bazaar in New Delhi, the hub for paper and wedding cards. It is said that four trucks of paper arrived daily from Kalpi to be used in wedding cards. The paper itself was made from the cheapest raw material that could be found and then given a metallic coating, the paper looked beautiful from the outside even though the material inside was rotten. A wedding card there can be bought for a measly sum of Rs2. Today the chawri bazaar merchants have found a cheaper recycled paper from abroad; they are coating them with metallic paints and making good money. Due to this atleast 25-30 factories in Kalpi have shut down and many more are on the verge of closure. A lot of these manufacturers are scouting the country trying to find new markets and even offering a credit period of 12 months! Thats the story!
Jaipur has always been known for its good quality papers, the cotton rags used are of the best quality. Many say paper-making in India was started by the kagzis here. Today they have made good businesses out of it. Jaipur has one of the highest exports of handmade paper from India. Most of the times the innovations that happen in our industry is due to the demands or designs of the overseas customer. Products are designed there and handmade in India. Lately there has been a new crop of indigenous designers doing good work. Lets hope this catches on into a larger movement. A lot of designers are getting experimental, this eventually pays in the long-run even though being unfeasible in the short-run. Perseverance pays.
A few of the beautiful papers that I use:
1:A very fine paper with straw and banana fibre sandwiched between two layers. 2:Paper with raised pulp on cloth. 3:Paper with blocks sprinkled with tea leaves. 4:Paper with long fibre sandwiched between pulp. 5:Paper with real wood shavings pulped and held onto a cloth. 6:Paper with dense coir held together with pulp. 7:Water Hyacinth Paper. 8:Spice paper comprising of cardamom, bay-leaf & cinnamon.
The main raw materials used in handmade paper making are cotton rags and waste paper which are rich in cellulose – an essential ingredient for paper making.
Handmade paper production has low capital investment, thereby promoting local entrepreneurship; it can be established in decentralised and rural areas; it generates more local employment and it is an environmentally sound technology, depleting less resources and causing less pollution.
Sorting & Dusting: The cotton rag (raw material) is sorted by hand to remove unwanted materials, variation in color and dust.
Rag Chopping: The sorted material is chopped into small uniform sized pieces for making the pulp.
Beating: The raw material is mixed with water and inert chemicals and beaten in a Hollander Beater. This is a U-shaped trough, with a drum, on the outer side of which are iron blades that cut the raw material to make pulp. There is also a washing drum which cleans the pulp and removes the dirty water. The quality of the paper to be made determines the consistency of the pulp.
Option 1 Dipping(for thin/fine paper): The pulp is diluted with water and put into a masonry trough or vat. The lifting mould is then dipped into the trough, shaken evenly and lifted out with the pulp on it.
Option 2 Lifting: A fixed measure of pulp is poured evenly onto a mould, which is clamped between two wooden deckles (frames) in a water tank. The mould is then raised mechanically to drain excess water.
Couching: The wet paper is transferred on a cloth/felt sheet, building up a stack of interleaved sheets.
Pressing: A hydraulic press is used to squeeze out excess water from the sheets. This improves the physical properties of the paper and facilitates drying.
Drying: The sheets are hang dried to remove moisture.
Cleaning & Sizing: Small dirt particles are removed manually with pincers. The cleaned sheets are coated with starch to further improve the physical properties of the paper.
Calendaring: The sheets are placed between metallic plates and passed through spring loaded rollers in a calendaring machine. This smoothens them and enhances the gloss. This process is also used to get different surface textures.
Cutting: The sheet till this point has the natural deckle edge. To make the paper workable it is cut in standard size of 22"x30" and then packed for delivery.
(The above pictures of the manufacturing process were randomly picked up from the world wide web)