Recycling can help you turn waste into something valuable. Find out how a woman from Kerala used coconut shells to create bowls and other products which she now plans to launch overseas.
Using waste to create something with which you can set up a small business is a great idea. A young woman who lives in Thrissur, Kerala, Maria Kuriakose, is a remarkable example of this.
The 26-year-old started a small business, called Thenga, where she uses coconut shells to make bowls and other products. Maria sells these products on Amazon, and other online marketplaces. She also plans to launch the products overseas in countries like Germany through Amazon.
Maria wanted to launch her own business since she was a child. However, she did not know what the business could be. She completed her MBA in 2017, before working for a corporate company. Maria left her job within a year as she desired to work for an organization that empowered the underprivileged. This led her to join a Mumbai social enterprise that worked with poor women and made sustainable sanitary pads.
But, she got the business idea she was looking for when she visited a Thrissur coconut oil mill.
Maria says she did more research to find that some businesses use coconut shells to manufacture activated charcoal, while others burn them as fuel. Previously, various artists in Kerala used the shells to create ladles for serving food. Today, these products have little value, and the number of artists practising the technique has likewise decreased.”
This resulted in the creation of an indigenous brand called Thenga, which translates to “coconut,” which has sold over 8,000 coconut shell-based items.
Making something valuable to sell from waste
When Maria planned to market coconut-shell-based products in 2019, she consulted with artisans and professionals who were producing its byproducts. She spent several months learning how the shells are sorted and how the finished product is manufactured.
Maria says, “I discovered that specialised gear was necessary to produce items from coconut shells. The purpose of this is to scrape the outside and interior parts of the shell to give it a nice finish.”
She did not, however, want to make a huge investment in purchasing machinery merely to undertake a trial run. Maria’s father, Kuriakose Varoo, came to her help. As a veteran mechanical engineer, he knew exactly what was required to create a low-cost version of the machine.
Maria built a couple of bowls at home after selecting a few firms that disappointed her. She also printed business logos on the bowls.
She received tremendously positive feedback after the orders were delivered. If a client complains about a broken item, Maria will replace it right away, free of charge.
Thenga products to be launched in Germany
In addition to selling to businesses, the bowls are offered directly to people through e-commerce platforms and her social media profiles. Maria struggled to acquire the correct size shells and create the bowls as her orders increased.
Though her parents assisted with order fulfilment, she felt it was inconvenient to produce all of the products at home and preferred to focus her efforts on marketing the company and developing new products.
Maria says she then got in touch with a few artists in Kottayam, Thrissur, and Wayanad who created coconut shell ladles.
She says, “These craftsmen earn a living mostly through odd occupations such as construction, but they continue to practise their skill on the side.”
The artisans already had the machinery and simply needed to be trained on what kind of shells to use to keep the size of the bowls consistent and to avoid using any chemical-based products to create the glossy finish.
Maria was able to take on more orders and extend her product line with their assistance.
By the end of 2020, Thenga had four bowl sizes, the lowest being 150ml and priced at Rs 250, and the largest being 900 ml and priced at Rs 950.
Candles, teacups, silverware, and hanging planters were also introduced.
Maria says people can use the bowls for soups and cold foods. She herself makes coconut-flavored candles.
She added that Thenga has sold over 8,000 goods and is still receiving orders from Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka.
Speaking about her plans to go global with her products, Maria concluded, “The products will be launched in Germany through Amazon in a few months.”