Not gold, but it shines
In My Experience… Rebecca Reubens, founder, Rhizome and Baka
After studying sustainability and extensively travelling across the globe, Rebecca Reubens started Rhizome.
She believed sustainability begins at a local level by sustaining those in the social segment.
While experimenting with bamboo in her studio, she created some pieces with it that were loved which helped the idea of Baka take form.
The name Baka means ‘fool’ in Japanese and it is also her nickname at home.
Despite the homogeneity in the world, she wants culture to be preserved.
Courage comes from knowing what’s gonna go wrong and deciding to do it anyway, advises budding entrepreneurs.
“Sustainably sourced, sustainable, 100% sustainable,” are words
often used by many brands, but they’re mostly just words that are added on to a large banner along with an elaborate PR drive without much substance.
The overused word may draw people but brands often miss the real point of it: sustainability begins at home. This is what Rebecca Reubens had this in mind when she started Rhizome, India’s first multidisciplinary sustainability design studio, from where Baka Jewellery was born. A true master in the field, in this interview, she takes us through how she started the brand, the importance of cultural sustainability and giving craftspeople their due.
Q: Can you take us through your journey of launching the brand
A: I have a PhD in sustainable design. I had been globetrotting because
of my experience in the international development sector but I quit
because I realised for sustainability to work you have to do something
Rhizome was founded because unless the incomes of entrepreneurs
and sustainability units are tied up with those they’re looking to sustain in
the social segment, it won’t be a sustainable venture. I studied what
sustainability means to the global south.
After I started my design studio while trying things out with the waste, we came up with a collection of earrings with bamboo and the response to them was overwhelming. We kept it up and created the brand.
Q: Baka is a slow-designed, contemporary, sustainable, ethically-
handcrafted jewellery brand by Rhizome. Can you please us more
A: When I was studying sustainability, everybody was talking about
sustainable designs, which sounded like sustaining designs. Your objective should be to create a sustainable world. For that, you have to go beyond the product and study the process thoroughly. Every decision has an impact on sustainability.
During my research, I found that people don’t design sustainably and use it as an add-on. Either they think that sustainability will cost more than a normal product or if it costs the same, it will underperform.
I really wanted to explore the space of a mainstream design space where sustainability is integral to the design process.
Q: What’s the story behind the name “Baka”?
A: When we decided to create jewellery as a standalone venture, I was
really tempted to put it under Rhizome. But the feedback I got was that it
was so established in the decor space that I didn’t want to endanger the
brand value by putting Baka into that. Then I thought of naming it after
me, but I dropped that idea too. Baka is what I’m called at home. The
word means ‘fool’ in Japanese. The word really resonated with my
Q: Can you tell us more about interpreting Indian designs and making
them suitable for modern luxury?
A: It’s challenging as a designer, even though you’re trained to be
empathetic, to understand what someone elsewhere would want. The
distance helps but we can learn best through our surroundings. As an
Indian designer, I would be best positioned to speak about what is in India.
If I make a generic product that could be from anywhere, then that means
I’m opening up competition from manufacturers who can create the same
thing at a lower price. It’s really important to do something in your region.
Culturally, the general homogeneity of the world scares me. It’s important
to keep originality alive. Cultural sustainability is really important to me. Culture needs to be dynamic so it is not forgotten. I take inspiration from Indian systems to use them as a conversation starter about sustainability. That will eventually change the culture of consumption.
Q: Can you please throw some light on how we can raise the value of
crafts in India?
A: Craft was the main method of producing things before industrialisation
happened. In the global north, even before industrialisation, things were
handmade. Post industrialisation, there were many movements against
industrialisation. When you transfer things, earlier produced by people to
machines, it is detrimental to the general economy. Now you see people in
the global north trying to recreate their craft heritage. We should learn
We have somehow sustained our craft traditions only because
industrialisation couldn’t penetrate smaller cities. Also, here, the craft is
tightly bound to religion and rituals. We need to credit our makers. In the
global north, they have aligned the maker with the artist through the studio
craft movement. We need to stop looking at the craft as a homogenous
category. There is a need for a space for craft to become low-volume high-
Q: What would you advise an entrepreneur wanting to start a
sustainable premium brand?
A: Number one: be honest, number two: be fearless and number three:
pick yourself up if you fall. Just keep on picking yourself up. Courage
comes from knowing what’s gonna go wrong and deciding to do it
Baka has only seen growth since its inception and educating people
about what sustainability truly means. If you’re looking for jewellery that
is truly guilt-free and green, Baka may be the answer you’re looking for.
To watch the full conversation, check out the video on our YouTube channel here.