Urusha Maher is a final year architecture student in Chennai and says that people automatically assume you're creative when you tell them your choice of degree. Perhaps, that is why one of her friends handed her a pair of worn out jeans last year and asked Urusha to make something out of it. The result was a cool denim jacketed notebook, complete with a pocket to carry your phone, pens and other trinkets, just like your jeans!
When her classmates at college flooded her with requests after seeing the notebook, 21-year-old Urusha decided to launch “Paper Dolphin”. She customises notebooks and decorative items like mason jars and also designs twine-wrapped bottles and “bucket 3D art”.
The name of her initiative is an ode to her aunt who passed away when Urusha was six and loved all things which had dolphins on them. "And the word paper, because I majorly deal with customised notebooks," explains Urusha.
Most of her customers are architecture students who want to get handy notebooks with a certain type of paper. "The notebooks available in the market with these papers are too expensive or too big. So they tell me the size they want and the customisation, like wanting their name on the cover and I make it for them at a cheaper price," Urusha says.
But one needs to know where to get the raw material at a reasonable price and how. For this, Urusha has her 'urban study' module to thank. Under this module, she and her classmates were required to study and explore one area of the city thoroughly. Urusha discovered a few wholesale shops and a paper godown in the process, where she goes material-hunting now for her customised orders.
The bucket art, mason jars and twine-bound bottles are a more recent experiment, says Urusha. "I was just strolling through a street one day when I found this shop selling materials and wholesale for restaurants. I saw a steel bucket there and bought it on a whim," she recounts.
A lot of her products come out of unplanned detours and keen observation. The denim notebooks, which are a hot favourite still, come from the jeans Urusha buys in bulk from thrift sales she finds in the city. "But you need to contact the right people and follow a lot of social media pages or you'll miss these places," she says.
But as a student and intern, time is a little short for Urusha. "But I manage by making the products in the night or if I have to source materials, over the weekend," she says.
Urusha has displayed her products at three exhibitions in Chennai and at her last exhibition, Urusha even got a corporate bulk order for 15-20 customised notebooks. "It's a huge order and I've never done something like this before. But it's exciting because people are noticing me," she says.
While the demin notebooks with pockets are priced at Rs 250, the ones without it start from Rs 100 and go up to Rs 200 depending on the size and specifics. Other notebooks start from Rs 80 and can go up to Rs 250.
Usually, Urusha gets 7-8 orders in a month and works through word of mouth and the messages she gets on her Instagram page.