For 36-year-old Avila Juliet, the lockdown has been busier than ever. She is the founder of Thengu Kalaikoodam, a firm that manufactures handicrafts out of coconut shells in Kalikkanaikenpalayam, Coimbatore. “I just finished making a batch of earrings and I still have a few more pending orders to finish. I usually work for eight hours every day,” she says.
Avila started the business three and a half years ago. “I worked as an assistant professor at DKT College of Education, Tiruppur where I took classes on upcycling. I taught my students to make simple show-pieces by painting coconut shells.” Avila loved working with it and started to experiment with the shells after work. “First I checked online tutorials, but couldn’t find one that explained the process of preparing, cutting and polishing in detail. So I developed a method by trial and error. I later quit my job to focus on the craft,” she says.
She buys coconuts in bulk from farmers at the local market and soaks them in water for two weeks. “This makes the shells harder and reduces the chances of them developing cracks while design,” she explains. Then the coconut is de-husked and broken. “We sell the coconut meat inside to make oil. The shells are later immersed in coconut oil for two days before they are polished and cut into desired shapes. The treatment with oil gives them the shine.”
Avila uses both tender and mature coconuts to make pendants, earrings, bangles, key chains and show-pieces. “The tender shells give a white finish and the mature ones give a darker shade,” she says. Her family helps her in the process. “They cut the pieces. It is a team effort now,” she says. One of the toughest challenges she had was designing an idol of Nataraja. “It was intricate and only at my third attempt did it come out right. It took me almost two weeks to complete the six-inch piece,” she recollects.
The lockdown has not affected her business much, she says. “I have a stock of raw materials. I continue to take up new orders.” Her products are priced between ₹50 and ₹3000 based on the design. Avila ships across the country. “I have also tied up with exporters who send my creations to Japan and the US. I will resume the exports once the situation is favourable,” she says.
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