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Capturing the aroma of India in a candle

In an interview, Seva Home's Arushi Agrawal talks about the Maison & Objet debut, the idea of luxury, and making a mark in a crowded space of home fragrances

Seva Home's  Ode to India Collection, which launched at Maison & Objet earlier this month.
Seva Home's Ode to India Collection, which launched at Maison & Objet earlier this month. (Courtesy Seva Home)

From printed fabrics that look handpainted to wavelike sculptures made using wood, the 30th edition of Maison & Objet saw latest collections by over 600 design brands from across the world.

Mumbai-based Seva Home was one of them—the only Indian brand showcasing in the home fragrance category. In the past, lifestyle accessory brands like Nappa Dori, Jaipur Rugs, and Ikkis have participated at the bi-annual French trade fair.

Seva Home's collection, “Ode To India”, was inspired by a desire “to represent India to the world”, says Arushi Agrawal, the founder-chief executive of Seva Home. The collection includes six candles, each paying homage to a city in India. Each of these cities—Darjeeling, Goa, Amritsar, Jaipur, Kochi, and Srinagar—has a “rich history so that one’s olfactory memories can be evoked,” she adds.

Following the launch in Maison & Objet, the collection, priced between 2,600- 13,000, went live on their website earlier this week. It will be showcased at the By Tara exhibition in Mumbai on 30 January.

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In an interview, Agrawal talks about the Maison & Objet debut, the idea of luxury, and making a mark in a crowded space of home fragrances in India. Edited excerpts:

What inspired the ‘Ode To India’ collection?

We launched the collection here first in Paris. It was an exciting journey to develop the scents of each city and see how with just one whiff, one is immediately transported to that very city.

Jaipur’s candle captures the regal essence of Jaipur, blending notes of exotic spices like saffron and cardamom, reminiscent of the opulent feasts enjoyed by the Maharajas of Rajasthan. Amritsar’s fragrance captures the divine aura of the city’s Golden Temple, blending notes of sandalwood and soothing jasmine, while notes of warm and earthy spices like cardamom and cinnamon tell the story of Amritsar's culinary heritage.

With Goa, to reflect the unique blend of Indian and Portuguese culture, we’ve brought in the spicy notes of cloves and cinnamon with the sweet undertones of vanilla. We’ve tried to pay homage to Darjeeling’s world-famous teas by blending the delicate notes of the city’s tea leaves with fresh notes to evoke the misty mountains of a tea garden.

With Srinagar, we blended the notes of fresh lotus blossoms and gentle water lilies to evoke the Dal Lake, and as a hat-tip to its famous spice as well the artistic tradition of handcarved wooden artefacts, the candle also combines warm and earthy notes of sandalwood with the subtle sweetness of saffron. Kochi's fragrance blends notes of fresh coconut and tropical flowers, to evoke a coastal paradise but also combines the subtle aroma of spices like cloves and nutmeg, as a reminder of the trade that once thrived in this port city.

You say that a gap in luxury/premium home accessories space in India is what got you to start Seva Home in 2021. What has been your experience with the brand so far?

I started the brand because of my love and passion for home fragrances. I noticed a gap in the market for luxurious high quality home fragrance products…which prioritised using high-quality, premium ingredients to create a truly exceptional product with a visually appealing design, pleasant fragrance and an eco-friendly burn.

Initially, as a start up, we did face challenges right from even finding the right people to join the team in this specialised and niche field of home fragrances. Procurement was another tough area: minimum order quantities from vendors were a struggle at first. Building credibility is a long term process and it has been challenging to penetrate into larger e-commerce websites.

A view of Seva Home's stall at Maison & Objet.
A view of Seva Home's stall at Maison & Objet. (Courtesy Seva Home)

There’s a sense that people are more open to investing in international brands when it comes to home fragrances. Was it hard for you to convince people about your product initially?

I feel Indian consumers are now more open to investing in a good quality product regardless of whether it is an international brand or an Indian brand. Customers are also very intentional with their purchases. They want their gifts to be meaningful and different to the norm and also to be manufactured sustainably.

So while our products have eco-friendly burn, we also ensure our brand is in service of the society in some form or the other. Our products are manufactured with the help of underprivileged women. With every 10 products sold, we conduct an eye cataract surgery for tribal villagers in Maharashtra. In this way, customers feel a sense of belonging to a community and giving back to the society while buying our products.

Who's your customer?

Those from the age of late 20s. People are always looking for time out, to unwind and relax. Lighting a candle gives you a feeling of relaxation and peace, which is really needed in today’s hectic life.

In addition, the larger target market is anyone looking for gifting requirements such as Diwali hampers, birth announcements, wedding favours, or corporate gifting. We have seen a tremendous growth in this category, as there is a move towards individuals are looking for a meaningful and personalized gift for special occasions.

Seva Home's Arushi Agrawal.
Seva Home's Arushi Agrawal.

Several reports suggest health issues stemming from the use of scented candles…

At Seva Home, we ensure we use natural soy wax blends, which is non-toxic. Our fragrances are clean and hypoallergenic. Our wicks are sourced from Germany and they are lead free. The candles are hand poured and made in small batches so that utmost care and dedication is given to each candle.

How does your next exciting idea usually strike you?

My creativity comes from random sparks of inspiration: the beauty and wonders of nature often serve as a rich source of inspiration for our candle fragrances and designs. Sometimes it happens when browsing art and sculptures—this was what sparked the designs of our limited-edition collaborations with artists or designers through prints or textiles. India’s diverse cultural heritage is another source of inspiration—as you can see with the “Ode To India” collection.

I truly believe that fragrance is all about personal attraction. It’s just like Elizabeth Taylor had said, "the beauty of fragrance is that it speaks to your heart and hopefully someone else’s too”.

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