Please tell us about yourself
Less than 10 years ago, Bandana Jain was the first woman in her family who left her hometown in Bihar in pursuit of a career.
Today, the 30-year-old Mumbai-based entrepreneur is well known for her stylish, eco-friendly furniture made from corrugated cardboard that she sells out of her studio in Andheri and through online retail sites.
Born into a joint family of 50 members, Bandana lived in a large house in a small village called Thakurganj in Bihar. “Only men of the family went out of town for studies,” recalls Bandana. “The women remained at home until they married. I was first one to get out of Bihar and that too after my marriage in 2008!”
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and fascinating career?
Bandana went to Project Girls High School in her village, a government school and college, but always wanted to study art. “My love for art and craft started when I was a child,” she explains. “I used to visit Durga Puja pandals and be entranced with all the beautiful decoration and artwork… I wanted to know how they make it but was not allowed to meet any artists.”
As she grew up, she heard of the JJ School of Art in Mumbai and set her mind on getting admission there. “I was very keen on doing an art course but my family told me I could do it after I got married…” says Bandana, who finished her graduation in commerce. “So that’s what I did. I decided that marriage was a way out for me, and a chance to pursue my dreams. My boyfriend (now husband) Manish was studying in IIM Lucknow then and I coaxed him to get a job in Mumbai!”
After her marriage, Bandana applied online to the JJ School of Arts in April 2008 and gave the entrance test in June. “I thought it will be easy but I had only one and a half months to prepare and I knew nothing,” she recalls. “Someone told me about an ex-JJ student who gave tuitions so I studied with him 12 hours a day.”
With the tutor, Javed Mulani, she learnt to think from different perspectives and also learn different types of designs – 2D, 3D, memory design and more. “I worked really hard!” she laughs.
The hard work paid off and Bandana got selected even though there were only eight seats for students from outside Maharashtra.
Manish had a job in a big corporate company and they lived in Kurla. “My husband was very cooperative through this time and encouraged me to do my best,” she says.
How was the experience at JJ School of arts?
In college, Bandana received support and encouragement from her fellow students. “I was surrounded by talented students who knew what they wanted to do in life and were much better than me. They helped me a lot; some even came home to teach me after college… I learnt so much from them.”
Bandana got into illustration and completed her course with excellence. However, after the course she had no idea what to do with her degree.
Tell us about your career path
“Around this time, my husband bought a house. I had free time so I designed a chair for our home,” says Bandana. “I wanted it to be different so I thought of using cardboard.”
But she couldn’t find good quality recycled cardboard anywhere. “I searched for three months, from Dharavi to Crawford Market, I think I went to every spot in Mumbai where I could find kabadi (junk or scrap),” laughs Bandana.
When she finally found it (she doesn’t tell us where), she found that cutting recycled cardboard wasn’t easy.
“I was, like, okay this is not a good idea,” laughs Bandana.
“I watched tutorials online and made a blade that would not destroy the cardboard,” says Bandana. She finally made the chair after spending three months and Rs 4,000.
But it turned out that it was indeed a good idea. She asked her batchmate Rahul Dongre, who is now manager at her studio, to help her with her line of thought.
Rahul supported her idea and she started Sylvn with just Rs 13,000 in 2013. Sylvn is the Roman god of the woods who protects jungles and the name fits perfectly with her eco-friendly recycled furniture.
“Next, we made a five-seater sofa, which I still use at home,” says Bandana.
She went on to experiment with lamps. After completing 10-12 lamps, she held an exhibition in her house, inviting her friends, family and people from the field of art. It was a huge success.
She entered the Bombay Exhibition held at NSE Ground, Goregoan. “We paid Rs 35,000 to enter but had no idea what to do there,” says Bandana. “We had one intern to assist us, and I went to other stalls to learn what they were doing and how they were conducting business.”
It turned out into a good learning experience. After this, they started retailing on furniture sites like Pepperfry and Amazon and started earning decent revenue.
Bandana’s USP is using recycled cardboard. Her lamps are priced between Rs 4,500 and Rs 7,000 while the sofas can up to Rs 5 lakh.
Sylvn now has a factory in Vasai that Rahul looks after, where they employ 10 local ladies. In total, between the factory and studio, Bandana, who is the sole proprietor of the studio, employs 18 people.
Today, the annual turnover of Sylvn Studio is Rs 1 crore and Bandana wants to go international by the year 2020. “I want to take Sylvn to Milan Salone Del Mobile, a big global furniture exhibition,” she says.
For a girl who stepped out of her home in Bihar only 10 years ago, she is sure going places.