For a long time now, the main aim of the commercial spaces has been profit making. Entrepreneurs no longer belong to communities and hubs solely aimed at encouraging free flow of ideas and concepts, geared towards taking the economy and the country to greater heights. This has been a receding factor standing against society’s development.
Thankfully, there are still a handful of entrepreneurs whose passion for social growth is the driving force of their ventures. Subhasish Borah and Bidisha Das belong to those determined to facilitate change and bring a revised perspective to the minds of fellow entrepreneurs lost in the profit making frenzy.
Borah doesn’t consider profit making a bad thing. However, he considers constant growth a more profitable result. His plans are very clear. “I have this dream of creating a space which is not confined only to the commercial realm but as a social space of communication and exchange, where we indulge ourselves in constructive dialogues with new people in the urge of always exploring and learning something new,” he begins.
To achieve this, he and Bidisha recently introduced an initiative called Kohuwa Collective, with one very simple aim in mind. While Subhasish is an urbanist with a background in urban planning and design, Bidisha on the other hand is an MBA graduate armed with extensive experience in business management. “Our primary aim is to build a community of creatives and makers, so that we can grow together in this contested, fast-changing world.
We want Kohuwa Collective to be a social space where strangers feel comfortable to exchange dialogues and turn into known strangers and then become friends, and finally a community to share and care for. There are so many amazing people out here in Northeast India doing amazing things. One of our objectives is to connect with producers, educators, and entrepreneurs to create a community where we exchange ideas and engage in mindful collaborations,” says Subhasish.
Kohuwa Collective was opened to the public on 1st of August 2021, and in this short period, they’re gaining immense popularity. A mixed space with multiple revenue streams, Kohuwa is composed of a collaborative space (events + workshops), a small cafe (focusing on slow food and zero kitchen waste), in-house made Kohuwa condiments, an in-house clothing line, and a pottery home-studio.
“Since the day we revealed Kohuwa’s identity and did a soft launch on 18th of July 2021, we have been getting amazing responses from all the people who visited us. We think we are already in the stage of building the Kohuwa community which we envisioned for”, says Bidisha.
In addition to the collective the duo runs for public benefit, they also own Folklore Tea, which is a venture geared towards providing quality tea products. This venture has since grown beyond the shores of the country, exporting tea to countries like Canada, Australia, UK, USA and China.
Despite the country having one of the highest number of tea ventures in the world, they have been able to stand out with Folklore Tea. Subhasish attributes this success to having a focus that goes far beyond tea sale and stacking up profits.
“If we have to mention some of the differences that folklore has compared to other tea ventures, they would be the following; first is tea research, second is tea experimentation and the most important is supporting fair trade and grower identity. Since the inception of Folklore Tea, we have been working with three small tea farmers from Naharkatia – Biman, Birinchi, and Tarun.”
“Our engagement and collaboration with them are primarily on knowledge sharing, experimentation, branding and marketing. We are engaged in research of tea cultivars, followed by experimenting with the cultivars in making speciality teas, mostly oolong and orthodox,” he enlightens.
One of the most important aspects of the duo’s engagement with the grower’s is their identity and hard workmanship. They write the grower’s name in all their experimental tea packs. This not only motivates the growers in crafting good quality teas but also the clients get to know from where their tea is coming in and who is growing and processing them. This approach gives a personalised experience to the clients, and when growers see their name on the pack, it brings joy and pride to them.
“We have been helping our associated tea growers in developing brand identity and packaging design of their everyday production teas for the local markets. Ideally for a grower to step into branding and marketing is already a lost battle, as they cannot keep their foot in both the areas, in production as well as in branding the produce. Possibly everyone would agree that these days branding is the key parameter for sales, and good packaging design is out of reach for small tea growers.”
“We have done multiple branding exercises for our growers in collaboration with design students as part of their semester studio projects. We strongly believe in community entrepreneurship, and this is the reason we are supporting our growers in all possible ways we can. We are also working on a crowd-funding project so that we can help the small tea grower community in upgrading their unit and bring amazing hand-rolled teas to the market. Currently, we are engaged in conducting social activities in Naharkatia, in Tarun’s (one of the Folklore growers) village,” informs Bidisha.
Sharing more on the starting and implementation process, Subhasish says, “Bidisha and I met each other in Ahmedabad in the year of 2017. We would enjoy long conversations on food, culture, spaces, and cities. Once we were on a date in a cafe in Ahmedabad, and we initiated a discussion on our homebrew ‘Laal Saah’, while sipping on some fancy Roselle Tea. The conversations didn’t last long; as we realised that our knowledge about tea and its associated culture is very limited. We both felt weird that we almost knew nothing about the revered tea region we were born in.”
“Our tea horizons were not confined during our early days, however, we never really tried to delve deeper into it. This posed a bigger question and we realised how this living heritage that has been backing the families of the people who grow it: the villagers, the local grocery store, the wholesale, and all the stakeholders is so lesser-known. It is known worldwide as the highest tea producing region. However, for someone living within India and even from a region like us, how much does one know about it? Tea – has been discredited to just the alphabet. If locals like us fail to oblige by the leaf, there will be a major fragment in the society that has been detached from the diverseness and complexities of this divine plant.”
“So, that was our moment when we both thought of doing something with this amazing brew that holds a majestic history and has helped in the formation and transformation of a prominent cultural aspect of Assam. It took more than a year to study and gain knowledge about types of tea, cultivars, processing and post-production handling and issues. We commercially launched the brand on January 21, 2020. The initial months went amazing for us as we displayed our teas in Art Book Depot Jaipur, Jaipur Literature Festival, Bikaner House Delhi, and Farmer’s Market Pune”, he adds.
Subhasish prides himself in the natural tea Folklore produces. The growers of this tea refrain from using any type of fertiliser in growing the tea leaves. This has resulted in a large acceptance of their product both within the country and internationally. He tells us some of his best selling products. “In classic single-origin teas, they include Prithvi Classic Oolong, Petrichor – an experimental batch dark oolong, Rajgarh Golden Tips, Misty Highland Peony, and Winter Tea Blossoms. We also make three flavoured teas using natural fruit extracts, out of which Vanilla Coconut Black Tea and Mango Passion Fruit Black Tea are the best sellers in the flavoured section,” Subhasish reveals.
Despite the many challenges and difficulties Subhasish and Bidisha had faced while establishing both ventures, the impact they have managed to have on the lives of individuals in his community has been well worth it. Although Subhasish believes these businesses have a long way to go before they can truly find their true potential and impact, they have set out on the right path. Speaking on the near plans, the social entrepreneurs say building a community of mindful people whom they call the Kohuwa family is the only plan on the table at the moment.
“Also, we are working on creating an extended calendar to conduct a series of events and workshops around themes like environment, food and culture, creative-making and pottery,” he adds.
For Folklore Tea, there are other plans to introduce one or two new teas by autumn this year. This will be an experimental batch of tea and will be listed on the Grower’s Club section of their website.
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