BEADS: A Story of Homecoming to Embracing the Odia culture

The aesthetics of BEADS pay a due homage to the rich art and craft of Odisha and its tribal culture, which the founder was unaware of for most of the time while living in Odisha.

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In the zest of returning to one's own culture - a phenomenon widely visible in the consuming patterns of the Indians in the last few years - a lot of artistic heritage seems to have been booming or at least, emerging in the Indian start-ups' landscape. Located in Eastern India, Odisha is another such culturally-rich state. It is also considered as the 'land of handicrafts', whose natives have been on the journey to embrace their culture and Sandeep Hota is one of them. 

The co-founder of B.E.A.D.S or the Bhubaneswar-based Experimental Art and Design Studio, Hota is aiming to uphold the art and the crafts of his state. It is done by working with traditional artisans of Odisha to create tableware products - all of which display Odisha's heritage through designs and intricate patterns. One of the renowned maestros in the sphere of sculptural art, Jagannath Panda is an artist and art curator who leads the designs inspired by the Odia culture for BEADS.


The designs and the patterns used on the products take inspiration from the tribal motifs and culture.

For instance, the debut collection of the brand is inspired by the Dongriakonda tribals or the tribals from South Odisha hills and their culture, their motives that the team came up with after a lot of research. "We aim to harness the rich, creative, create objects and tell stories about Odisha and different things that are in Odisha through the medium of its crafts", Hota says. 

However, even belonging to an artistically rich place, Hota was unaware of the state's richness. "The understanding of art and culture in Odisha was very minimal when I was growing up. It was like listening to Indian classical music as a kid", he says.  

A voyage back to the roots

After leaving India in 2002, Hota worked as an engineer and lived in the US before moving to Canada to pursue an MBA and later, shifted to the UK. However, after coming back to India in 2016, he met Mr. Panda who ran a foundation called the 'Utsha Foundation for Contemporary Art' which was a very large space given by the government but was not in use as the artist lived in Gurugram.


Sandeep Hota (left) with the design mentor Jagannath Panda (right).

"He tested me out and asked if I wanted to do something and help out in utilising the space", Hota recounts. While living outside, Hota used to visit museums and galleries all over the world and was always interested in art but never had formal training. He volunteered for the organisation for two years. "I learnt more about the arts and crafts culture of not only Odisha but also of India and also collaborated with many national and international artists", Hota says.

In the past, the smart city program was being launched in the capital city of Odisha. During this time, Hota, along with two others, co-authored a paper titled "Art in the Smart City," which highlighted the significance of public art and its impact on citizens. This paper led to the approval of three projects by the local municipality, one of which was the Bhubaneswar Art Trail, attracting participation from several renowned artists.


Hota decided to stay in India in 2019. "I had already become passionate about the arts, and that's where the idea of BEADS originated," he says, adding that he utilized the time during the pandemic to develop the commercial venture, which he launched as Beads in 2022. "There was an incredible philosophical and creative depth to many things around me that I had taken for granted. However, while working with the foundation, I learned about roughly 120 different kinds of handicrafts, as per a survey conducted in the 1980s and 1990s," Hota says.

Speaking to Local Samosa, Sandeep Hota mentioned that Odisha boasts crafts ranging from stone, metal, lacquer, cloth, hornwork, and various other forms. Another study, Hota says, conducted in the early 2000s, reduced the number to around 85. "The decline in the number is due to artisans passing away or families abandoning crafts because they were not lucrative enough to sustain their livelihoods or were not seen as attractive professions," he highlights. "Jagannath and I wanted to introduce local craftspeople to the concept of design thinking," he says, adding that the concept of design thinking began gaining popularity from around 2011 onwards.

Upholding Odisha's ethnicity


Team BEADS with local artisans who are involved in the conceptualisation of the designs.

Hota and Jagannath Panda were determined to involve craftspeople in conceptualizing the brand they envisioned for the future. Hota explains, "The fundamental issue with craftsmen is that despite having thousands of years of practice, they often end up reproducing the same popular items, like similar silver filigree from Odisha." Therefore, the founders spent three months collaborating with three to four artists on conceptualisation before selecting subjects, with the Dongriakonda tribals being the first, leading to the brand's inaugural collection.

Jagannath Panda and Sandeep Hota also arranged for artisans to receive training in producing finished products at the Piramal Foundation in Thane. "We began with ceramics because we already had experience working with a ceramist who was well-trained by then," Hota explains. Regarding designs inspired by culture, Hota emphasizes that one must avoid "cultural appropriation." "We cannot simply take the drawings of the tribals and apply them to an object, claiming it as a new design," he asserts.


BEADS' 'Parijat collection' is inspired by the flora and fauna of Odisha.  

With that in mind, the brand incorporated elements such as geometric forms, particularly the triangle, derived from tribal artwork. "The tribals in South Odisha worship the mountain, so the triangle is a prominent geometric pattern in much of their work. We integrate the triangle into various items and tableware," he explains. Additionally, the artists incorporated the lines found on the shawls worn by tribals and tattoos inspired by tribal women from the region into their tableware designs. However, the recent series of products draws inspiration from nature and the indigenous flora and fauna of Odisha. The brand has also introduced a new product line: jewelry.

Furthermore, Hota aims to expand the brand beyond just Odia craftspeople. "We collaborate with artists from Pune, Jamshedpur, and Bhopal, who have worked alongside our artisans and incorporated what they've learned from Odia crafts into their work," Hota adds.

How Heritage turned Luxury?


Handicrafts in Ubud market of Bali find their origin in Odisha, Sandeep Hota says. Source

As heritage-inspired products evolve and gain prominence in the Indian market, they increasingly position themselves as luxury items, moving further away from affordability. For BEADS, this evolution stems from the changing dynamics and demands for Odia products abroad. "There are numerous craft stores in Ubud, Bali, where people purchase luxury items. Interestingly, many of these crafts originate from Odisha," says Hota.

As Hota recounts, there used to be a thriving trade route between Odisha and Bali, with many craft items bearing testament to this historical connection. "They have now elevated these products to luxury status," he remarks. Initially, Hota and his team debated whether to position BEADS as a luxury, sustainable brand or one focused on artisans while ensuring they contribute to their families' welfare and overall growth. "We realized that there is inadequate documentation of different craft practices, hence branding it as a research-oriented brand," he explains, elaborating on why it is also positioned on the premium front.

While maintaining the designs, which Hota speaks highly of, admitting how even the aesthetics of cups garner admiration from customers who vow to save money to purchase them later, BEADS also endeavors to minimise its environmental footprint through sustainable packaging. "We spent around seven months designing a box for an eight-piece dining set, which is prone to breakage, without using any plastic nuts, bubble wrap, or similar materials," the founder reveals.

With the aim of establishing BEADS as a luxury brand, Hota currently pays commissions to artisans on every product sold and employs them. However, he believes that encouraging them to create or experiment with new ideas requires daily effort. "If you want to keep artisans and creative spirits engaged, you have to show them the possibilities where they can apply their creative spirit," he asserts, proud of the collective effort of the artists and the team in revitalizing traditions that span thousands of years. However, he also emphasizes how the brand is "modernized to fit contemporary lifestyles.


Studio BEADS Beads Bhubhneshwar