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Meet Suhasini Paul who runs Pink Elefant, India’s first dedicated toy design studio. This is her success story.
When she was growing up in Nagpur, Maharastra, Suhasini Paul didn’t have a lot of toys. She grew up with a single doll and a handful of board games. It wasn’t so much because her parents couldn’t afford it but rather simply because there were only those many toys and games a middle class Indian family in a small town had access to.
There was Business, the local version of Monopoly and there was Snakes and Ladders, the latter she hated because of her snakes phobia. And Business, well there’s only that much of a child’s interest a game of commerce and enterprise could hold.
So for most part Suhasini Paul settled with what she had. When she grew up a bit, she realised that perhaps she could design her own games. That way, she had a lot more options than Business and Snakes and Ladders and she could set her own rules.
About a decade and a half later, Suhasini Paul does those very things for a living — she designs toys and games.
The 26-year-old designer has gone on to set up Pink Elefant the first dedicated toy design studio in India and has been felicitated by Narendra Modi for being the ‘first lady Designprenuer of India’ and more recently has also been one of the finalists at the British Council’s Young Design Entrepreneur Awards.
You used to create games as a child. Could you tell us something about them?
I grew up in Nagpur and as far as I remember I always was an outdoor person and I would almost always be playing something or the other.
As it happened, I was also very creative; I loved drawing and painting. So my friends would ask me if I could draw something (on the ground) and we could play around it. And I did.
I’d use whatever material I had and invent games. It could be something as simple as drawing concentric circles and making a game around it or perhaps using a thrown away piece of ply to make a hexagonal carrom board.
As a child I never played Snakes and Ladders because I have a snake phobia and with that and Business being the only two board games that we had access to, I figured it was more fun inventing some of my own.
My friends enjoyed it too and I got to make the rules!
How did you end up in an engineering college then?
I always wanted to be an architect and I’d even applied for (a degree in architecture) but a severe back ailment made my put my plans on hold. My doctor told me to avoid architecture because it would mean bending over the drawing board for long hours.
Just by chance I’d also filled a form for (an) engineering (degree). Since I’d scored well, I got in. I hated engineering but on the bright side, it was the college where I met the man who’d be my husband!
I believe he is a designer too. Could you tell us something more about what he does?
Paul is a product designer and a cartoonist among many other things. He’s a two-time winner of the prestigious Red Dot Award and has been a great support.
I suppose we got together because neither of us was interested in engineering — he wanted to be a fashion designer — and we were in it more out of compulsion than choice. So we got together and started Dreams Decorations under which we would take up projects that would appeal to our creative side.
During our time in college we designed everything from showrooms, and window displays to decorations for our college festival and birthday theme parties.
Since money wasn’t a prime focus we ended up designing a lot of things. Meanwhile I also freelanced as a journalist while Paul took up freelance assignments for cartooning.
By the time we’d completed our engineering both of us had unknowingly build a very good portfolio that would get us into NID (National Institute of Design).
How did NID come about?
After we were done with engineering, Paul applied for a course in product design at NID. There he discovered that they’d recently started a programme in toy and game designing and suggested I apply for it.
I did and I got through without much difficulty also partly because I had a lot of things to show in my portfolio.
After all these years I finally was doing what I really enjoyed.
What would you say were your learnings at NID that have stood you in good stead?
NID is the Mecca of design in India — it’s the place from where every designer hopes to start out. Needless to say it was a turning point in my life.
The Institute helped me become more focussed and excel in my problem solving capabilities. It also helped me get clarity in what my future plans would be.
A unique feature of NID’s design education programme is the openness of its educational culture and environment where students from different faculties and design domains interact with each other in a seamless manner.
The benefit of learning in such a trans-disciplinary context is immeasurable.
Between the time you graduated and started Pink Elefant, you worked for an educational aids company…
I was a design consultant for Frank Educational Aids Pvt Ltd (in NOIDA). It was a company I had interned with for my graduation project. So after graduation, I joined them as a consultant.
There we’d design games, play them over and over again, note down the pros and cons of it and where we could improve upon etc. Basically that was where I learnt how to come up with an end product.
Since I was a consultant, I’d spend seven hours a day, four days a week there. For the rest of the time, I would design on the side for myself.
During this time, I would also spend time with children at their schools to understand how their minds work. And I discovered that to some extent their teachers were responsible for clipping the creativity of these children.
They would tell children what to do and expected just that from them. There seemed little scope for creativity.
Could you tell us something about what you do at Pink Elefant?
Pink Elefant is the first dedicated toy design studio in India.
Apart from an exclusive line of toys for kids, we also have design learning aids.
We are also involved not only in the discovery of new ideas and concepts but also new associations of talents and businesses, fuelled by sheer creativity.
So we have helped have converted several business requirements into tangible products, which have proved to be growth engines for our clients and have won us appreciation.
What’s the model for Pink Elefant like? How many employees do you have?
Unlike most studios I work out of a home office but I have a very strong network of raw material vendors, designers and workshops. As my clients I have toy companies for which I consult. It’s a fairly simple model that works well for me.
What would you say have been your greatest challenges and most important learnings?
I can’t say I had a lot of challenges because it’s been an interesting journey so far. As for learnings my most important one has been that as a toy designer my client isn’t just the kid who will buy my toy but also the manufacturer who will execute and sell my design as well as the parent who is paying for it. I think it is important keep in mind these three groups of customers while designing any toy.
Could you offer tips to young entrepreneurs?
- You have to learn to be independent and face whatever comes your way.
- Don’t expect people to like what you do. Always, always have a plan B and a plan C and if need be even a plan D.
- Do your homework — when I go to meet a manufacturer with an idea, I research about his company and understand not just what their obvious needs are but also dig out on what their latent needs might be.
- Finally as an entrepreneur it is important to be a silent observer. No amount of teaching and instruction can ever compensate for what you learn from observing.