Coming from the small town of Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh, Parul Agrawal was inclined towards creative subjects since her childhood. SUPW was her favourite subject as it was here that she could show her creative skills.
From an early age, Agrawal was very clear that she didn’t want to get into regular employment or service; but “do something different”. The entrepreneurial seeds in her were sown during an interim project when graduating and specialising in ceramics and glass from Indian Institute of Craft and Design (IICD) in Jaipur.
Being a reserved and shy child, she spent a lot of time with her father, and in the process, received a business tips every now and then. “He taught me a great deal about investment and market. I owe a big thank you to him and my mother for my success,” says Agrawal. In 2018, she set up her own pot jewellery design brand, Kabbish, which champions the cause of Indian handicraft heritage and culture.
How did Azamgarh-born Parul Agrawal reach IICD, Jaipur?
I was always interested in arts and crafts as a kid. Later, studying at Ramswaroop Memorial School in Lucknow, I got valuable exposure to the world of arts and crafts. I used to spend most of my time in art rooms, painting canvases. After I passed from the school, I was clear where my heart and mind were pulling me. When I saw the prospectus of IICD, there was a call from within that I felt. After my selection amongst the 60 craft enthusiast, I got to visit the campus. The more time I spent there, the more I made it mine. It has always been and will always be my second home.
What was the reaction of your parents when you told them about your decision to be a jewellery designer?
I feel blessed to have such supportive parents, who stood by my side through thick and thin. I am a craft designer by profession specialised in ceramics. Knowing this fact my father was doubtful, if I would be able to pull off a successful jewellery collection. This also reminds me of an incident when my father saw my first black pottery prototype. After appreciating my innovative thoughts and efforts, he asked ‘who will buy this pot jewellery?’ The question was valid, but so was my confidence that it will sell! My father accompanied me to all the sampling processes. He was equally part of my initial exploration and struggle. Although he wanted me to work in big cities with big names, he has accepted the fact that I enjoy working with the local artisans more. He is proud to see that I am able to do something for the craftsmen of Azamgarh.
When did the idea to set up Kabbish come? And how did you arrive at this name?
Kabbish started as my diploma project at IICD. Studying the various nuances of designing at Indian Institute of Craft & Designing (IICD), I always aspired to work on the revival of Indian crafts. Growing up in Azamgarh, I was well acquainted with the beauty and the barriers on the way of the craft of Black Pottery. My project brought me close to the craft and problems of the craftsmen.
The journey of Kabbish started, in December 2018, with an initiative to protect the languishing craft of black pottery of Azamgarh. Kabbish is basically a clay slip that is applied on to pots, to give them a sheen finish. This name always fascinated me, and applying Kabbish is an integral part in the process of making black pottery, so I decided to keep it as my brand name.
Tell us about your journey of setting up the business?
To be honest, I was not sure until my jury, if I wanted to start a business with the collection I created for my Diploma Project. The concept of Kabbish was appreciated by my mentors and friends alike. When most of my friends were planning for jobs, I took a leap of faith and got on to this journey. Although I belong to a business family, jewellery was a new concept for them. My father supported me throughout and guided me on all the paper work required to set up a business. It was an uphill journey, as I did not have any experience in the field. I built Kabbish from a scratch, learnt each and everything on my own. From designing, packaging, branding to marketing I worked on each aspect, single handedly.
How much investment went into it?
There is no count as to how much has been invested so far as the Project started during my college days, and it’s been an investment since then. Also I would say, the investment is not always in monetary terms, it is more in terms of your ideas, thoughts, your efforts. Along with my blood and sweat, the efforts of my parents, were invested to make Kabbish what it is today.
Which segment is your jewellery targeted at. How has been the acceptability of the products?
Kabbish is all about fashion jewellery. The concept of this jewellery is very unique. They are completely handcrafted, and there is no competitor as such who is working on the same lines of pot jewellery. The acceptability has been overwhelming. I had realised at my first exhibition that the product is going to do wonders. Our products are for the people who value crafts and understand their worth. I am very glad to say that they are all loving Kabbish.
Where are these craftsmen from and how did you connect with them?
The craftsmen are from Azamgarh. The black pottery is GI craft of the region. The place is my hometown and therefore I almost grew up watching this craft. My design education got me close to the craft sector and my project even closer.
How do the craftsmen you are connected with benefit from this exercise?
Black pottery is a languishing craft. With the advent of machine made products and availability of cheaper substitutes in the market, it has lost its charm and importance. People in Azamgarh did not know much about the craft, let alone our country. With our project, black pottery has gained effective visibility in the market. Art and craft enthusiasts from various parts of the country wants to visit the workshops of craftsmen. The clusters who were shifting to easier means of livelihoods or making normal pottery to make the ends meet are resorting to black pottery now. Through our sales we are able to generate regular work for the craftsmen. The online market has provided them with a wider platform. In short, Azamgarh has regained it’s fame for the craft of black pottery.
The families are happy after associating with Kabbish. We are also planning a project with the UP government to create a display centre for the upliftment and welfare of the craft communities.
What are your future plans?
They say ‘Sky is the limit’ and I believe there is a lot to discover and achieve. Kabbish is a budding brand, we are in the process to make our mark out there. We are yet to do a lot more exhibitions, shows and collaborations. We have plans to expand our wings domestically and internationally. We wish to add more crafts along the product line of Kabbish. The main idea is to support more such crafts and communities. There are a few plans keeping all these objectives in mind. Hoping for them to roll out well when the time is right.