FOr anyone who visits eight-year-old Midushi Kochhar’s bedroom in Delhi, a strange but beautiful sight will welcome them – shells bound together, pebbles in pebbles, dried flowers turned into potpourri, vibrant snake skins collected on a hike. Gone and the list goes on.
While other kids his age would have rooms filled with toys, why was Midushi’s collectible idea so different?
“The love for weird things came naturally to me,” the now 27-year-old tells better india on a call. “I would weave and display a story in my mind around these unique objects. It doesn’t matter if others find them beautiful. What matters is that they were beautiful to me. ,
During her growing up years, this passion remained and she trained as an industrial designer at Central St Martins, University of the Arts London in the year 2017 where she was constantly on the lookout for innovative designs. So when it came time for the final graduation project, he decided to test his ‘Agware’ idea. Here he used eggshells to make plates and spoons.
“I had no idea that this project of mine would one day be the precursor to my venture – YLEM,” she says.
make the best out of useless things
With an undergraduate project that astonished his professors, Midushi decided to take his skills to the real world and started a venture in the Netherlands in 2020. Manufacturers on the move aimed to collect local waste from manufacturing sectors and build a physical bank. The materials will then be delivered to schools in the area for the kids to use in their art projects.
Inspired by the take-off of the project, she returned to India when the COVID pandemic struck in an attempt to be closer to home. In June 2021 it launched YLEM, a brand that will focus on creating items from innovative materials that others would consider useless.
Interestingly, the name YLEM means ‘a hypothetical elementary substance of the universe from which all matter is derived.’ This, she says, aligns with her design philosophy.
Over time, it was realized that while eggshells were a waste item that came from chickens, how could other bird waste items be recycled? “I started thinking in the feathered direction and wanted to come up with a design and methodology aimed at reconstructing symbiotic connections. Everything in nature has value but humans have lost this cyclicity,” she says.
Today, as part of YLEM, two products are focused on – egg pots and leaf slippers called ‘Hasiru,
An ‘egg’ excellent idea paves the way for a business
Elaborating on these products, Midushi says that egg pots are a ‘ceramic and concrete-like material made of eggshells with a biobinder’.
These are a bespoke luxury product made for decoration and hence produced on the basis of 20 to 30 orders per batch. Unique items have made their way to the coasts of China and Milan.
“They were exhibited at the Sustainable Design Materials Museum, Guangzhou, China and were also part of Milan Design Week 2021, London Design Festival 2019.”
Another product in the works is home decor made from upcycled feathers from chickens. “Because of the tremendous binding strength they have, we combined them with bioplastics and created a long-lasting, flexible and wet-mouldable material,” says Midushi.
One would imagine that making ceramics out of eggshells would be a messy affair and fashion designers don’t deny it.
“When egg pots were in an experimental stage, waste eggshells were collected from busy breakfast cafes, street vendors and food stalls,” she says. “Daily collection was a hassle but met our requirement at that time. We will collect the shells, clean them, clean them to remove the smell. ,
However, it has now partnered with an innovative egg processing company in Delhi and they supply egg shell powder and flakes.
“It works both ways,” Midushi says. “One is that it reduces their waste while providing us with raw materials. This creates a wasteful circular system for resources that would otherwise end up in landfills or be burned.
The second hit product is ‘Hasiru‘ Slippers made of fallen leaves. These natural fiber leather products were the brainchild of his mother Sakshi Kochhar, who has a fashion background and has worked for export houses.
In the words of Sakshi, “It is refreshing to be a part of fashion again after being a teacher for years”. The mother-daughter duo have contrasting ideas when it comes to design and Sakshi says that makes the journey even more appealing. “It allows us to explore different perspectives beyond the lens of our mother-daughter dynamic.”
Midushi says that the slippers have been a huge influence at YLEM and have seen an influx of orders of over 400 pairs per month. She emphasizes that while the idea of converting waste into products is daunting, the real challenge is execution. “In the case of slippers, the leaves are seasonal and so we plan to produce at particular times of the year.”
The mother-daughter duo works to collect and wash the leaves. The manufacturing process is then outsourced to units in Delhi.
Has it been easy to build an enterprise out of content that many would consider useless?
Her laugh answers my question.
“People’s first reaction is surprise and wonder. They are amazed at how something ‘disgusting’ can be turned into something beautiful.”
But, as the child inside her has always believed, the strangest things in life often turn out to be more beautiful. “I want my audience to understand the implications of their lifestyle. I want them to change, but at the same time I don’t want to publicize,” she says, adding that her quest for sustainability has always been inspired by a quote from Kate Krebs is – ‘Waste is a design flaw’.
Midushi says the process of making these products from waste takes a long time. “It takes years to go from testing workshops to scalable solutions. In addition, the sourcing and processing of raw materials depends on the project and its scale.”
But she adds that she is positive that her circular model is meant to last and is always experimenting with new sources of waste. “We’ll find a way to grow.”
While footwear sells for Rs 500 per pair, egg accessories go for a few thousand as it is bespoke and luxury. Products are also shipped internationally to the US, UK and Europe.
Aishwarya Kaur, a customer who has bought the slippers and wears them everyday, says that they are lightweight and the perfect break for her feet on long walks. “I carried slippers for my trip to Italy. They fit easily into my heavy luggage and are so comfy and travel friendly and more importantly, you can wear them on any outfit. ,
As for Midushi, he is well on his way to discovering more such ideas for converting waste products into valuables. “while keeping Hasiru And egg pots pave the way for us, we want to connect a lot of sporadic industries and connect them with one stream in a way that becomes a resource for the next. ,
She says that as a designer, she has always been encouraged to solve problems and create attractive products. “But it goes against my mindset of consuming less. So I decided to find a balance.”
In a world that has seen ruin for itself, Midushi decides to change the story.
Today she has made her eight-year-old boy proud, she says. “I’ve always loved finding beauty in things that others don’t.” And on the bedside table another feather has been added to their collection.
Edited by Yoshita Rao