Since past 12 years, Kolkata-based Smita Bhatter has been on the look out for gifting ideas that are sustainable. She realised that people didn’t have much choices except gifting a plant or two.
Then in January 2018, she planted the seed, quite literally, of her own venture, BySmita - a startup that provides sustainable gift solutions for individuals, corporates, educational institutions, hotels and NGOs like Caring Heart India. BySmita is a bootstrapped company aiming to provide zero waste, environment friendly gifting options that are meaningful, made locally and does not pollute the landfills further.
BySmita uses ‘Seed Paper’ to make stationery products like notebooks, envelopes, gift bags, and even plantable pencils and pens that can be upcycled and are bio degradable. Instead of dumping them after their use is over, you can place them in soil and watch them grow into plants!
The brand also has Seed Tags that grow, offering retailers an eco-friendly alternative to paper tags on gifts. They can also be used by apparel retailers to tag their clothing brands. Smita has made seed ‘flags’ for Independence Day and Republic day as well. Then there are Seed Rakhis and seed embedded Diyas for festive gifts.
“You name it and we can work it out for you. Wedding cards, visiting cards, flags, cloth tags, notepads, envelopes, paper bags.. all these and more plantables are being made by us. We want every individual to make it their responsibility to choose gifts wisely, keeping in mind that this Planet is our only home,” she shares.
Choosing the right seeds
BySmita believes in quality and authenticity hence the seeds are procured from different sources keeping in mind quality and ensuring that the seeds are all non-GMO (genetically modified organisms). “After we have procured the seeds, we run a basic test called the Water Test. We do it every 3-4 months to make sure we deliver seeds that will germinate,” says Smita.
The brand’s handmade papers were initially being manufactured locally inhouse but due to high demand and increase in corporate orders, the brand is now outsourcing them to meet customised specifications.
The paper pulp is made in the mixer machine where old paper and cloth scraps are churned and the pulp is prepared. Then the pulp is spread out on paper trays for the excess water to drain out. Once the sheets are semi dry, the seeds are sprinkled out evenly and the sheet is hung up to dry.
Smita points out, “The most important part is the timing when the seeds are spread out. It cannot be too moist or the seeds will germinate and it cannot be too dry, else they won't cling to the pulp. Once dried, the sheets are taken for cutting and the sides are evenly cut out.”
She soon realised that making handmade paper is a very laborious process and needed the correct temperature. “Being based in West Bengal where the humidity level is very high, the conditions sometimes are not favourable. Hence now that the orders are mostly in bulk, we outsource the sheets from our trusted vendors. We have different vendors for different paper quality, colour and sizes. Making the final product is still done in-house,” she adds.
The response from the corporate sector has been very encouraging for BySmita. The brand has successfully met impossible time lines set by companies, at the same time delivering quality gifts. Even during the lockdown phase, the brand delivered its commitments. Smita is excited, “Last year, the lockdown did impact the business, but 2021 has brought exponential growth. It has been one of our finest years.” BySmita has come a long way and has served more than 5000 clients so far - both individuals and corporates.
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A growing product line
BySmita has recently introduced lifestyle products made from bamboo and neemwood as well. They call it Little Earth Box. Both the materials are natural, good for health and easy to degrade. Smita says, “This sustainable gift concept is an extension of our passion to give back to the Earth. To reduce carbon footprint and help others achieve it too - in a fun way.”
The brand also has Grow it Yourself Microgreen Kits which are very popular. Then there are Jute Grow Bags, that can used indoors as well as outdoors. Made from natural porous jute fabric, these bags cum pots provide for great air circulation & moisture retention - supporting a healthy root structure and oxygenated soil throughout the year. There is also the Jute Vertical Pockets that are ideal for smaller spaces like city homes and offices. These products are available on several e-commerce sites. The brand is also looking for more tie-ups with corporate houses and hotel chains.
You reap what you sow
BySmita has also been providing training and jobs to the underprivileged. Even during the lockdown and when Kolkata was hit by Cyclone Amphan, Smita and her team supported local artisans with jobs so that they could cover their losses.
The brand has also been working very closely with the potter community in the city and have trained them in making a few of their products.
Smita firmly believes, that it is in giving that you receive. “As we sow abundantly, we reap abundantly,” she sums up.