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Saturday , November 13 , 2010
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Down to earth
Neelam Chibber


Walls clad with red sal wood slats and contrasting white panels set the tone at Mother Earth. The entrance to the flagship store of the design brand in Bangalore promises an eco-friendly shopping experience from the moment you set eyes upon the tree motif above the doorway. Natural finishes — rough stone flooring — and solid furniture in acacia and sheesham wood, along with windows allowing ventilation and plenty of natural light complete the experience.

Owners Neelam Chhiber and Gita Ram keep the accent on a back to nature lifestyle through three lines including Earth Home, Earth Fashion and Earth Food. These are spread out over the three floors of their 11,000-sq ft store. If the ground floor is home to organic food and personal care products, the first floor is about eco-friendly clothes and accessories for women, and the second floor is the home décor space.

“There is no imported furniture once you step into the doors of our store. We are all for ethical trade and sourcing products from local communities. Once the products reach us, our designer team tweaks them for a contemporary touch,” says Chhiber.

Chhiber, an NID-trained designer, and Ram, a craft activist, opened Mother Earth as a home store brand in April 2009, after several years of running their own non-profit crafts foundation, Industree. In order to help expand their range to apparel and food, the duo roped in Kishore Biyani’s Future Ventures as investors. And they believe in giving back to the rural community too, so they have partnered with NGOs and fair trade partners.

The two have also spread their brand across cities such as Delhi, Calcutta and Mumbai. Notes Chhiber: “The plan is to open two new stores in Mumbai and Bangalore by the end of this year and three more in Mysore, Chennai and Cochin.” Their ultimate plan is to build up to a 40-store network.


Global trends are important in the designers’ scheme of things but they focus on giving it all an ethnic twist that will appeal to an Indian audience. “After all Indians have a very distinct sensibility,” reasons Chhiber. At Mother Earth therefore they try to host traditional crafts. Read: hand-painted pottery from Khurja, glass work from Firozabad and sanjhi (paper cutwork) craft of Uttar Pradesh.

Chhiber says that there’s a movement that’s growing in strength against chemical products and chemically-treated furniture.

“The idea is to go green. And this trend is growing every year to return to nature,” adds Chhiber who therefore makes sure they go low on their carbon footprint by using only natural and recyclable fibres in their products. That means they are high on products like bags and cushion covers among others, crafted out of river grass, banana bark, sisal, bamboo and water hyacinth.

The focus at the end of the day is to lead an ecological lifestyle. And for Chhiber the attempt is to convert others to the green way of life by making organic products available to them in attractive designs.


The wide variety of products sourced from traditional artisans makes it a perfect place to browse, especially when you are buying for the home. You’ll find appliqué work, block prints and kantha work on the furnishings and hand-painted ceramic tableware. The furniture includes bookshelves and cube-shaped stools that start at Rs 500 and also wooden dining tables that are priced around Rs 30,000 and sofas for Rs 50,000.

You can go eco-friendly with the mats, baskets and bags woven out of natural fibres and papier mâché photo frames in attractive colours starting at Rs 299. They have even used discarded potato chips packets and made pouches out of them. The home décor and little giftables are pegged as low as Rs 125 but can go up to Rs 2,000 for a solar lamp.

There are even puppets based on characters from the epics for Rs 299 and upwards. Add a few lacquer toys and some quirky products from the Happily Unmarried label and you are all set for a fun look to your home.

The Earth Fashion line is all about kurtas, dupattas and tops woven in handloom cotton, silks and knits. For a dupatta or a stole, you have to shell out Rs 199 and kurtas come for around Rs 2,000. One unique offering is a pair of smart jeans made from 100 per cent organic cotton that starts at Rs 2,000. Also young girls should appreciate the funky range of jewellery that screams boho-chic.

Are you worried about the food you eat? Head for the Earth Food section which stocks 16 organic food brands from women’s co-operatives and self-help groups. There’s organic rice, flour, ragi mix and Kancheepuram idlis and there’s organic baby food on the shelves too.

Coming soon is a new line of cosmetics called Earth Soul. Says Chhiber: “The idea is to pull in new customers, not to preach to the converts. So we make design our key driver.”

Photographs by Rashbehari Das

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