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Jhunjhun Jain: Stories in cork

Design studio Outlin'd is taking its intricate corkware to The India Story in Kolkata

Designer Jhunjhun Jain. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint.
Designer Jhunjhun Jain. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint.

Kile Aur Kahaniyaan, a selection of placemats handcrafted in cork, takes the silhouette of India’s magnificent forts. Aiyana Kaari is a compact wine stand, cork with mirror inlay, which has been inspired by cutwork and Mughal architecture. It features six smooth grooves to hold your wine glasses upright. Mehraab is a set of six coasters fitted on a tea tray, which slide out of their grooves to double up as saucers for your teacup. The collection is reminiscent of a time when cups and saucers were an inseparable duo.

For designer Jhunjhun Jain, it was a chance encounter with cork, while she was studying 3D design at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in Singapore in 2014, that laid the foundation for her Delhi-based design label Outlin’d. “At the workshop, we would put on our overalls and play around with every possible material. That’s how I stumbled upon this material," says Jain, as we converse over several cups of Americanos at a café in Gurugram.

She shows me the initial coasters, inspired by traditional jharokhas (overhanging balconies). The coasters were first shown publicly at the Red Dot Design Museum in Singapore, after which they were exhibited at the Alsisar Haveli in Jaipur.

A unique aesthetic and material got Jain selected for the prestigious London Design Festival in September. “I had visited the London Design Festival in 2015 as a viewer and was overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of it. That’s when I realized this is where I wanted to be. So I applied and went through the lengthy process, and got to exhibit this year," says Jain, who displayed a collection of 10 products at the event.

Now, she is all set to take Outlin’d to The India Story, a curated event which brings together the best of Indian design and craft practices, and will be held in Kolkata from 21-24 December. Anahita Kayan, who is curating the section called Sanctuary, finds Jain’s process with cork quite interesting. “She doesn’t print the design, but burns it on to the material, thus lending a permanence to it. It is a product that will last for generations," she says.

The cork placemat from the ‘Kile Aur Kahaniyaan’ series.

Cork lends itself as a tactile and malleable material to Jain’s ideas. According to her, all the applications that one can try with wood can be tried with cork as well—depending on the density and grain. “Also, it is far more sustainable than wood. Since it is sourced from the renewable outer bark of the tree, it doesn’t require as much environmental interference," she says.

However, working with an unusual material comes with its own set of challenges. Since cork is not manufactured in India, Jain has to import the raw material from Portugal and Spain. Also, craftsmen here have no idea of how to work with it, so her own carpentry skills had to be put to use initially to create a blueprint they could then work off. Jain is now planning to launch a retail collaboration in London with two partners, besides looking for the right channels for distribution in India.

Outlin’d is available at; prices range from Rs450-15,550.

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