Vibha Singh speaks to entrepreneur Nina Roy, whose The Cottage, a lifestyle store-cum-cafeteria offers hand embroidered clothes, accessories, home décor, and more with a cuppa of masala tea and Bengali delicacies
Essentially a place to relax, rejuvenate and seek some solace, this colourful and artistically designed café is more of a lifestyle store with everything that it has to offer.
As a child, Nina inherited the art of hand embroidery (Kantha) from her mother, who is at present 85 years old, and still keeps on sending her hand-embroidered goods to the store. For long she did not realise that her childhood passion would help in future to keep this dying art alive. The challenge before her was to display the products so that people not only buy them, but have an enjoyable shopping experience. It was then the idea of Nina’s Cottage came to the couple. “Since my husband is passionate about food and his dream was to open a restaurant so we planned out a wholesome offering,” she said.
The first look!
The Cottage ideated and designed by Kaushik Roy, her husband, is bright, attractive and the materials used in interiors can be recycled. The café has visually stunning décor and offers some amazing pieces of handicrafts, textiles and pottery from different corners of India. Nina said, “My dream was to have a little retail outlet of my own. Now, 15 years later, this dream has come true. All the products in store are hand embroidered with my personal touch and are one of a kind. At present, there is a collection of airy koras and muslins, perfect for summer.”
While shopping, one can also enjoy a delectable Bengali menu comprising of dishes like the Kolkatta roll, cutlets, jhal muri, momos and a variety of Darjeeling teas and spend some peaceful moments in the colourful ambience surrounded by paintings. Plans are to develop the place into a hub, which would help in empowerment of women artisans and promoting other dying arts like pottery and handicraft items.
Campaigning to save livelihoods
For many like Archana Majhi from Bolpur, Shantiniketan the work orders given by Nina are not only a source of income, but are a means to revive the traditional art. The women are given the material and specifications about the design, who then work on sarees, dupattas, pillow covers, bags, table runners and many more items.
Her journey of an individual to a social entrepreneur started 16 years ago, in 2002 when she received an order for a young couple in the United States. The order was for table linens for a 16-seater with 24 matching table napkins and 24 cocktail napkins that had to be completed in a month. Being her first order, she did all the hand embroidery herself, but soon fell sick. She had fever, and weakness made it difficult for her to complete the work on time. During this challenging phase of her life, when she was contemplating what her next step should be, a friend introduced her to the NGO, Fellowship of the Physically Handicapped at Haji Ali.
From then, there was no stopping her and Nina trained seven hearing impaired girls, and soon her home became an office for them. Working for eight hours in a week, these girls were taught all kinds of embroidery. The products made by them were sold through exhibitions after she became a life member of the Ladies Wing of the Indian Merchants Chamber of Commerce. Some of the girls who knew embroidery took a keen interest in the work and as a team together they always managed to finish the job before the deadline, and started gaining appreciation from people.
“Due to the excellent quality work done we received orders and that is how my little business grew. The success of our story lies behind these girls who were all hearing impaired but extremely talented and intelligent otherwise. Together we have been able to show that how traditional craft can be revived and transformed into an enterprise that enables rural women artisans to earn a dignified and sustainable livelihood,” Nina concludes.
How do you locate it?
Where: Unit G-15, Laxmi Woolen Mills, Dr E Moses Road, Mahalaxmi, Mumbai
Open: Monday to Saturday, 11.00 am -7.00 pm
What is Kantha?
- It is perhaps the oldest forms of Indian embroidery as it can be traced back to the first and second A.D. The thought behind this needlework was to reuse old clothes and materials and turn them into something new.
- A centuries-old Bengali art tradition in Bangladesh and West Bengal.
- Traditionally women would take four to five sarees, layer them together and create different running stitches on them which they then used as blankets to cover their children with. However, what started as a way to make life more comfortable went on to become a big trend in clothes and furniture as well.