News Makers 2017

A paper trail

When Bhintuna started her stationary line, Bhav, she was only trying to fill a void in the Nepali market. But in three short years, she has built a stationary empire

- Abha Dhital, Kathmandu

In 2013, Bhintuna”Jya-poo” quit her job at an animation studio to pursue creative freedom.

“I had already realised that animation was not my cup of tea. And honestly, I had also begun to feel stuck at the job,” she says, implying that when you are a creative person, “it is difficult to tie you down into a routine and a set of dos and don’ts.”

She was at peace, but the question ‘what now’ also loomed large. Bhintuna knew she wanted to start a venture of her own, but knew not what.

As a graphic designer, the first thing that struck her was a business that revolved around printed apparel, but the city already had many local businesses that printed on t-shirts.

“I feel that if you cannot do better than what somebody else is already doing, you have to do different than what everybody else is doing,” she says.

Meanwhile Bhintuna started working as a freelance design and branding specialist. She was also working as the Creative Head at a company that sold quirky goods around the same time.

“After four years of working on computers, this was when I started using pen and paper again,” Bhintuna recalls. “Going to meetings meant taking minutes and notes all the time, and I always carried a notebook with me. When I wrote on paper again, it felt like I had missed using it. It felt like love of some sort had been rekindled once more.”

When Bhintuna started looking for the kind of stationery that she often stumbled upon on the internet, she realised that the choices in the Nepali market were rather limited. The notebooks available in the market were cheap, but they didn’t really cater to a crowd that loved to write, to draw, or both.

“Of course there were notebooks but they didn’t meet my practical or aesthetical needs. As a graphic designer, I was particularly looking for a notebook that came in grid and dot, and had minimal design but high utility value. I was also looking for a planner.”

Bhintuna finally gave up, and started making her own Do-It-Yourself-notebooks, which to her surprise introduced her to a crowd that felt the same as her about stationery.

“When people saw my hand-made notebooks at meetings they first appreciated it and then complained about how there weren’t enough choices in the market. And it just pushed me to think that maybe there are Nepali consumers for a good Nepali stationery line, but nobody has really thought of supplying to them.”

Going against the grain

After contemplating for a good while, Bhintuna decided to try her hand in the notebook business.

The goal was simple: To create neat notebooks with minimal design and high usability. But, the road ahead was anything but simple.

“I hadn’t realised that just finding the paper—the very first step–would be so difficult,” Bhintuna chuckles, remembering how tough it had been to convince paper wholesalers to show her what she was looking for. “From where they stood, I was a young woman who was probably just wasting their time.”

After an exhausting hunt, when she finally found the quality of paper that resonated with her and accommodated her needs, she then realised that printers were not ready for what she was going to ask of them.

“I had a vision which I was having a hard time conveying to them. The men at the printing press had apparently never made anything like this before and they were highly reluctant.”

The printers only started their work when Bhintuna designed and printed mock-up notebooks and handed it over to them saying, “Here, this is what I am looking for.” 

Bhintuna was going against the grain. As far as Nepali consumers and the market was concerned, notebooks were not supposed to come in grid or dot, they were

only supposed to come in blank (for art) or lined (for writing) pages. So, she took it upon herself to design not just the cover but also the pages.

By the end of 2014, and after an extensive test-and-trial process, she was ready to kick start a stationery line with limited but two variations of quality notebooks and one yearly planner, which Bhintuna admits was a ‘huge’ risk and hence a disaster. Since then, her venture has seen an unhurried but a steady rise.

It is never as easy as it seems

Today, Bhintuna has notebooks that come in grid, dot, line, and even blank pages. Her printers are now educated, equipped, and happy to deliver what she asks for. The covers, which initially just flaunted nostalgic brown paper, have now started appearing in various colours and designs. And if 2015 planner was a ‘disaster’ for Bhintuna, today, all Bhav planners get sold out within couple of months from their introduction to the market.

“But it’s never as easy as it seems,” Bhintuna confesses.

Bhav is celebrating three years of its establishment as a brand this New Year, and Bhintuna shares that in this time period she has had her own set of highs and lows.

“For two years, I ran the company on my own. I was everything: from the peon to the boss, from the designer and the marketer to the delivery person.”

It was obviously physically exhausting, but there was also exhaustion on the emotional end. “My parents had a fair share of anxiety when I decided to start this venture.” Bhintuna doesn’t have a commerce background and hence, she shares that even if she wanted to do business, opening up a restaurant or a clothing store would have made more sense to her parents. “The idea of starting a stationery brand struck as both odd and risky to my folks, and so there has always been a pressure to perform.” Bhintuna also admits that adaptation is important. Not all consumers understand what a brand is trying to deliver. “Sometimes a design you have invested so much love, time, and energy on goes unacknowledged, and that hurts,” she adds, “But that’s just how business works. I have learnt that to sustain a business, one needs to find a balance between what you want and what the customers are looking for—because sometimes these are two entirely different things.”

Consumer education is the secret

“Nepal has talented graphic and product designers that often go unnoticed. Before I even started Bhav, I wanted to create something that would bring the potential of Nepali design and aesthetics into attention,” she shares.

So, for Bhintuna, it is very important that her brand also actively educates her consumers about design and usability of her products. She says that the secret to her booming business is educating the consumers about things they don’t realise they need and want yet. “You might need a good chunk of investment, but I always invest in giving choices to my customers so that they can explore the options, make their pick, make our products their own, and then come back for it.” According to Bhintuna, letting the consumers know why your brand exists and introducing to them the process behind how your brand came into being makes a whole lot of difference. 

“Bhav is what it is because I made something I wish existed. And it now resonates to people, because they didn’t know they wished it existed too.”

When Bhintuna started her stationary line, she wasn’t dreaming about building a stationary empire. She was only solving a problem in plain sight and filling a hole in the Nepali market.

Bhav directly translates to ‘emotions’ in English. In Kathmandu though, the word today has become synonymous to notebooks and perhaps, the woman who conceived the brand.

Published: 2017-12-31 13:34:18