When Tullika Bhalla created Boho Homes in London last year, it was as a social enterprise, reinvesting profits back - to support talented artisans across Asia. Colour and craftsmanship are the result, where unique home accessories are linked to the story of the community they helped. From India to Vietnam and Nepal, Tullika is passionate about investing to support disadvantaged communities and bringing out the best of their craft.
We chose Boho Homes for our September theme 'Origins' because of the care and the transparency they provide in sourcing their products. Here's our interview with Tullika:
What does Boho Homes offer?
Boho Homes is a social enterprise working with Fairtrade companies and other social organisations to create boutique home accessories - ranging from home furnishings like bedspreads and cushions to decor pieces like votives and bowls.
The premise is that we believe in solidarity, not charity. We work with disadvantaged communities across the world who need assistance and rehabilitation rather than just handouts. Our profits are re-invested back into their work, to provide them with the materials and the machinery they need.
Through supporting these communities to do what they do best, we get back some incredible handmade products. Our products are ethical home accessories for conscious consumers. Each piece has helped someone and has a back story.
How did it begin?
It pretty much started off as I looked into opportunities for the kind of business I wanted to create. I challenged myself to go out and do it - or else just forget it! When we saw the products these artisans were making, we realised we wanted to work with them and help them access a wider market, as an ethical business.
It all started off part-time for me around a year and a half ago. Boho Homes as a brand began this January. I wanted a sense of being bohemian, being free, to our brand. I like colour and have long been interested in decor. Our range is eclectic because it's made up of all the best products we can find, those we feel are the most unique.
There's been so much learning since then. Most of our ranges are certified by the World Fair Trade Organisation. We pay the artisans fairly and are willing to pay in advance when they need the extra help to procure materials.
A cotton and jute bag in itself may be a simple concept, but the ones we sell have been made in co-operatives across India by organisations who rehabilitate handicapped people. Using the sewing machines and block printing the designs teaches them new skills and gives them the dignity of being employed and earning a living.
Another organisation we work with collects waste paper for their own recycling plant. Run by women, they recycle paper and use it to make and hand stamp our gift bags. Children come to the same complex each day to attend school. Families are taken care of, and we help the parents develop skills so that they could be employed elsewhere if they did want to move.
What's it been like working with organisations across the world?
One of the challenges has been making sure our products are high quality and that the design stays consistent. Another is getting them on time as there's the distance to cover!
The organisations we work with are really good though. I have a counterpart in India who helps me with all the checks now. When we first started working together, I went there to meet the artisans and see their workplaces for myself. If you ever visited, it would stand out to you - you can see these people are cared for. They're respected and have the tools they need. The work environment is flexible, which is important if a person has a disability.
One of the most reassuring things is that it's not just me checking those workplaces. The organisations we work with have been audited and approved as Fairtrade too.
How do you choose your products?
A lot of it is my personal choice! Take our cushion covers - I've always found it such a waste to buy a stuffed cushion each time. Better to change the cover and reuse the cushion you already have. It's more economical too.
I love our mango-wood products. It's a sustainable wood hand painted in India to create beautiful trays, coasters and boxes. Whether it's for you or for someone else, you'll always know each piece is completely unique. My favourite is perhaps the tissue box covers which are brass topped and embossed by hand. We have them around our house and just refill them when needed.
Our products are chosen to be used again and again - perhaps over a lifetime. Even the bedspreads. Ours are hand embroidered with love and care. They're heirloom pieces you could bring out to celebrate a special occasion.
The majority of your products are handmade - what do you think about handmade vs mass-produced?
I'm a convert, maybe a bit over zealous! I used to love buying things on the cheap - my mum still loves Primark for example. What I've learnt over time, though, is to appreciate the products that will last a long time, that are made sustainably and with care. Handmade products are unique and become part of your home's story.
Of course not everything can be handmade. If it's mass-produced, you need to ask yourself - was it made in a way that's ethical and sustainable? It's a long process - I'm still learning.
What advice would you give people who want to live more sustainably?
Take it one step at a time. You can't change your entire lifestyle in one go, but if you make gradual changes and support a cause that means something to you, then you've done your bit for the day.
A handmade item carefully chosen by Boho Homes is featured in our September Home Box - get yours here.