Over the course of her career, Neha Kaul has always been struck by the amount of waste that goes on in the office environment. Having lived in Dubai for 14 years and been employed as a marketing professional across a range of industries, she has often witnessed first-hand how resources are routinely squandered. "Paper waste is one of the largest areas of waste I have encountered in my professional career," she says. "It really used to irk me."
So she was always the first to offer to run office recycling campaigns and, in fits of frustration, used to staple sheets of used paper together to create recycled notepads for herself and her colleagues.
Then, a year ago, she decided to take things one step further by launching Paper Spice, a company that sells stationery, home accessories and jewellery made out of recycled paper and other natural materials. In addition to its eco-credentials, the venture is also a socially responsible one, since all of its products are sourced in India and made by women living in rural communities.
With Paper Spice's colourful and quirky creations, Neha is hoping to challenge commonly held misconceptions about sustainable products. "Our aim is to change the perception of eco-friendly as either crude and rustic or super-expensive. We are bringing products to the region that are handmade, created out of waste paper, cotton, herbs and leaves, but are still extremely chic, fashionable, user-friendly, durable and affordable.
"I feel that over the years we have all been exposed to enough truths and have become more aware about where the planet is headed. Sensitivity to ecological depletion and conservation has been heightened. There is definitely a growing market for such products as more and more people realise that going green is becoming less an option and more a necessity. My partner and I aim to promote a variety of eco-friendly lifestyle products in the region, while also balancing our goal of supporting employment, especially for rural women," she explains.
These women are playing a fundamental role in the evolution of the concept - as crafters and budding designers, but also as an invaluable source of information about locally available materials. "Working with these rural women has actually been an eye-opening experience," says Neha. "Their enthusiasm for working with something new and their knowledge of nature is awe-inspiring. Since our project only uses leaves that fall naturally, these women create teams that know when and how to gather leaves and what colours to pick, from the rusty browns to the pale greens.
"They quickly rattle off the botanical names of the various trees and shrubs which are used in creating our leaf imprint range, from the large teak leaves to the tall and slender cypress. Many of them now head the various divisions, including quality check, where the reject pile demonstrates their keen eye for detail."
Today, the portfolio of products offered by Paper Spice contains everything from eco-art, bowls and pots to earrings, necklaces and stools. But the story started with stationery. The first products to be created out of recycled paper were notebooks, cards and gift tags - simple creations that were bound and sewed together by hand using cotton threads.
"Interestingly, since the workshop follows a zero-waste philosophy, the girls involved in making the notebooks started innovating with cuts of paper that were waste from the notebooks. That is how our first earring was born. Since then, every new innovation, including that first earring, is named after the woman who created it."
There are now more than 70 jewellery designs on offer, ranging from chunky bracelets in striking shades of orange, purple and turquoise to dainty earrings in a similarly arresting palette of colours. They come in all shapes, sizes and designs, but are all bright, unique and beautifully made.
Next came the home accessories, which actually meant taking a step back, says Neha. "It involved looking beyond recycled paper sheets to creating something with the pulp. This is when the coojas, pots, bowls and urns were born, over an extended period of design, trial and development, of course. The larger home decor and art items have been a result of this process of using paper and cotton pulp, adding colour and glue, and pasting it on top of varied moulds to create exotic crafts. In this decor series, a stunning culmination of art and utility comes in the form of our paper stools, which are reinforced to take 150 kilograms of weight and are available in a stunning range of 40 shades and suitable both for office and home use."
Coming up next are jewellery, bowls, trays, table mats and purses made out of newspaper, as well as jewellery made out of natural seeds and table mats created from leaves. Because paper is such a malleable material and can be shaped into so many different forms, the potential for recycled paper goods is unlimited, says Neha. The only challenge is the amount of time that it takes to create each item.
"Like anything handmade and anything creative, it requires patience, time, a diligent eye for detail and nimble finger work. To produce a sheet of paper, from collecting leaves to final calendaring, takes three days. And since the objects are intricate with a very high quality finish, the process of creation cannot be hurried to mass-produce in high numbers. But we take this challenge in our stride.
"We are in no hurry to get anywhere, and we believe that something which is created with patience and time and love is truly a masterpiece that stands out from its mass-produced counterparts."
Paper Spice products will be showcased as part of an Indian art exhibition taking place at Pro Art Gallery, Palm Strip Mall, Jumeirah Beach Road, from May 15 to June 15
Where to buy it
O’de Rose Al Wasl Road
Majlis Gallery Bastakiya
Wud Events and Flowers Al Wasl Road
Art House Dubai Al Wasl Road
Private home showings Visit www.paper-spice.com for more details and to make arrangements.