Something magical, mystical and irresistible always happens when two or more cultures coexist in the experience of a person who can elaborate them, make them his own and give expression to something unique and unrepeatable. A mixture of inspirations that, if accompanied by the commitment of wanting to enhance little-known secular traditions, to give voice to a land that, due to geographical disparities and therefore also different development, has been left behind more than others and, last but not least, to support the rights of women so little yet protected in some parts of the world, takes on the tones of a humanitarian enterprise of immense value hand in hand with the sustainable development goals. Usha Bora, Indian by origin, Parisian by adoption, has been able to give life to all this. With the splendid creations of Jamini, a brand of accessories and household items she founded, she wanted to tell her love for India, the land of lotus flowers, colors that you will never forget, spirituality and merge it with the Parisian charm and elegance. An example of how the wealth that a human being holds in the heart can, through creativity, become a common heritage that inspires, enchants, envelops and gives joie de vivre to everyone’s everyday life
When was the idea of the Jamini brand born and how did it develop?
I worked for a few years as Product Manager at L’Oréal in Paris but I missed terribly India, my country of origin, and wanted to create a work situation that would lead me there often. So I started to have some ideas and finally decided that I would look for beautiful things and that I would use my wilder and extremely creative side to adapt them to French tastes. So voila! In 2007 I started producing fabrics, embroideries and textures for big brands such as Agnès B, Dior kids, Bonton and BA&SH. I have been doing this for a few years and it has gone very well. In 2010 I therefore decided to create my own line of accessories and then I launched a line of scarves. In 2013 we opened our flagship store in the 10th arrondissement and launched the home line. Now, Jamini is a high-end accessories and lifestyle brand that combines Indian craftsmanship with a strong touch of Parisian chic. All my products are handmade. I want to show the wonderful Indian textile techniques and most importantly, invite everyone through my work to travel with me to different regions of India! I collaborate with expert craftsmen with the hope that showing and promoting their work is a way to pass on their skills to future generations. Jamini is also a family story. My father, after retirement, started a small business to produce paper made from rhino and elephant droppings: and this is exactly what I use for our adorable notebooks. Our products are bought by customers who are looking for authentic products with a history.
On your site you tell us that Jamini In Hindi is a word that describes the purple color that dyes the petals of the lotus flowers found in large numbers in the wetlands of Assam. Why did you choose this name?
Growing up in Assam was wonderful, surrounded by the fragrance of fresh tea from the plantations around the house, jasmine flowers, lush greenery. Observe deer, rare birds like hornbills from my porch and spend a lot of time in the Kaziranga forest home to many endangered species of animals such as the horned rhino. I have had so many adventures in this beautiful part of India. Once I was chased, almost risking my life, by a wild elephant, and despite the risks I pushed myself to follow a tiger to observe it. For all these reasons Assam has a great influence in my life, and therefore it is also very present in Jamini’s DNA. Our logo is inspired by the hundreds of lotus flowers that grow in the swamps all around my home. The line of fabrics, scarves and household items comes from tribal influences, from the embroidery present in the garments worn by the women of the region. When I launched Jamini, I made the decision that I would be committed to promoting the arts and crafts of this lesser-known region of India than many others. This spirit will always continue to be the driving force of the brand.
Besides the luxuriant vegetation, what are the characteristics of this region?
Assam is extremely rich in natural resources such as tea, wood and coal. It also has a thriving textile industry, as in most of India. But this land, due to its geographical position, has also suffered a delay in economic development as well as political instability due to violent clashes between people of different tribes and ethnic groups. On the other hand, however, it was precisely this mélange of people and tribes that was one of the main causes of the proliferation of different weaving techniques for which the region is known. For me an immense source of inspiration and experimentation.
What does it mean for you to create by enhancing your roots?
Using secular techniques to highlight how the cultural heritage of a country carries within it the keys of modernity is the philosophy of Jamini. We offer a window on Indian culture and its skilled craftsmen, capable of effortlessly communicating with contemporary French elegance to create a modern and quality aesthetic. This creates a harmony of colors and patterns that becomes even more beautiful with the commitment to highlight the ingenuity of men and women who are passionate about their land and their craft. I smoothly move effortlessly between these two worlds, Indian and French culture, and I understand them both. With the inventiveness of an alchemist, I want to identify and isolate, cure and mix, and ultimately accelerate and transform. Jamini is much more than a lifestyle brand, it is an intriguing journey where reality is transformed into poetic elegance.
What materials are your fabrics made of?
Mainly in cotton using some traditional Indian techniques: hand weaving, block printing and handmade paper. Hand weaving of cotton and silk yarns is very popular in Assam. Almost every house has a manual spinning wheel and loom with which women weave their own fabrics, thus gaining a kind of economic freedom. Each tribe has its own code which is identified in motifs depicting humans, animals or purely graphics. Jamini works with different weaving groups focusing mainly on Eri silk, also called peace silk, or a soft, pure quality of cotton. Eri silk is a rare and exceptional quality. It is made with a yarn produced by the Eri bug and collected without killing it (Its casing has a hole that allows it to come out of its cocoon without breaking it. The breeder therefore waits for the chrysalis, which has become a butterfly, to fly away and then begin the process of unraveling the silk filament, ed). It is a warm, heavy silk quality that is simple, yet extremely elegant. As far as coloring and patterns are concerned, block printing is used, or Dabu, a hand printing technique that uses wooden blocks. It is often associated with Rajasthan, but is now quite commonly used in different parts of India. We also make beautiful notebooks with 100% natural and handmade paper. The brand collaborates with my father’s small workshop that has found a way to make paper from elephant and rhino waste without ruining the precious forests of Assam. She is a person who is determined to protect the environment and provide a source of income for the women of the villages surrounding the forests. My family has also created a fund that helps protect forests from poachers and deforestation, environmental issues that aren’t commonly discussed. Behind every method and material used by Jamini, there is a strong determination to preserve centuries-old traditions in full respect of the human and natural environment, integrating them harmoniously with a contemporary aesthetic.
What kind of supply chain do you follow?
We work directly with artisan groups and NGOs to stay close to our ateliers. We do not work with agents and intermediaries and we try to have a constant communication chain with our weavers and printers. This is really the driving force behind our offer and our vision: to be close to the artists to make our beautiful pieces.
What is your goal as a sustainable brand?
We continue to promote savoir faire and tradition to help economically disadvantaged artisans continue their craft. We are looking for more and more organic sources to create fabrics and dyes, eco-friendly paper and handmade finishes as we expand our range. We will continue to support women and girls associated with various NGOs we work with to help them in their training so that they can have a successful career future.
Your commitment is truly precious. You are an example of a woman who has achieved a brilliant career. Like you, many other women today are making wonderful projects by taking their place in the business world. What challenges did you personally encounter in order to fulfill yourself?
I have been extremely fortunate to have met wonderful people who have supported and encouraged me. I think it’s very important to have a very positive attitude and not necessarily take things for granted. The French like to play by the rules, but when pushed, they’re actually quite open to new ideas. For example, the space I wanted to rent for my first shop initially seemed not to accept proposals from business ideas like mine. This space is owned by an offshoot of the Mairie de Paris, (SEMAEST) whose goal is to change a number of neighborhoods in Paris. In the 10th arrondissement, they specifically wanted to avoid textile companies because, among other reasons, this area is overrun with T-shirt wholesalers. In the end I decided to send my application for Jamini anyway and, as expected, they refused it. No fabrics. I persisted and sent them the story of the brand, a link to my website, development plans for the future and much more. They came back, they changed their minds and they said a big yes! Not only. To date they help me, they encourage me every day and try their best to talk about me with the media. So my advice to all aspiring entrepreneurs especially women is: don’t take the first no as an answer. Overcome limits and borders. With a little bit of tenacity and a little luck, you can do many things! The challenges I encountered were mainly financial such as taxes and hiring policies. France really isn’t an easy place to hire people. The rules are really complicated and extremely disadvantageous for entrepreneurs. At the same time, however, there is a lot of creativity and inspiration everywhere! Ideas are born easily, creatives are so easy to find, a million projects could be born every day. My favorite thing about being an entrepreneur is having the freedom to try new ideas. I can trust my instincts and take the plunge.
How much has your reality accused of the economic crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and how did you react?
Our customers have been very supportive during COVID. Having stayed at home they chose this moment to redecorate their homes thus supporting small businesses that make unique and meaningful products. We are thankful and grateful for this and encouraged to make even more of the beautiful pieces in the future.
Your plans for the future?
I am a desperate dreamer! I always push myself beyond my limits in terms of creativity and challenges. This year we will be launching a very special range of table linen made from 100% organic cotton and we have interesting collaborations coming up with artists and people from various continents.