Three young entrepreneurs who are blending luxury with utility for a trip down memory lane
When was the last time you wrote a letter to a loved one – not on the computer, but by hand? Or took the trouble to buy a birthday or anniversary card, and were disappointed by the trite old messages in the omnipresent Archies cards? The 70s & 80s kids will remember writing long letters to friends, and later sending postcards – not just from London or Florence, but also from good old Manali. Now, all we do is click and share a picture on Facebook or Instagram.
Eager to revive the almost-lost art of hand written communication, Ambika Kaul, Adil Bhatia and Yasmin Kaura started The Secret Ink, a boutique for personalized hand crafted stationery. A brief history of the three musketeers:
Ambika Kaul is a woman who is hard to peg into a single slot. A management postgraduate and an amateur painter, she abandoned her strategy days in New York, UK and Hong Kong to focus on her artistic sensibilities and entrepreneurial spirit. With a penchant for vintage style, she is obsessive about art, books, music and traveling and is often found rummaging through Excel sheets.
With a degree from the Parsons School of Design, Adil Bhatia is a graphic designer who has been working in India for the last fifteen years. Quirky by nature and an incurable movie buff, Adil is constantly on the lookout for the latest gadget and the newest design challenge. With an absolute passion for paper and graphic design, he runs YNot Design, his own studio.
With a background in fashion, Yasmin Kaura developed an interest in corporate communications since her days in Dubai. Crazy keen on fashion and lifestyle products, she is frequently found trawling the internet, shopping for thingymabobs and doodads. She recently published her first book The Smart Merchant and is busy working on her next one.
All three share a common passion: to create beautifully crafted stationery that is loved, treasured and passed on down the ages, just like Granny’s wedding chest of drawers. Now the MBRB Editors can successfully resist the funky bag and the blueberry cheesecake (umm, sometimes!), but we lose the battle when it comes to hand written notes, hand crafted notebooks and unique bookmarks. We’ve spent many a pleasurable afternoon invading stationery stores all over the world – from Beirut to Bangalore – so it goes without saying that we had to know the story behind The Secret Ink. My Big Red Bag in conversation with the lively team.
How it began and the journey so far
The idea was born three years ago, over a cup of coffee (or wine – our memory fails us on this point!). The three of us have a shared love for design, humour, travel and the other good things in life, and we wanted to bring our unique perspective to a range of products that were utilitarian but distinctive – something that evoked a forgotten memory or simply made you laugh out loud.
It was pure serendipity that while we have similar design sensibilities, our skills are diverse and complimentary. We had all the ingredients for our magical broth, and we launched The Secret Ink in March 2012 with the Wish Trunk. This is a complete stationery set with over 150 items – from A5 notelettes and thank you cards with matching envelopes to gift “compliments” cards, gift envelopes and wine tags – all personalized and packed in an exquisitely handcrafted, refillable keepsake box.
Currently our portfolio includes boxed personalized stationery sets in three different sizes, sophisticated personalized notelettes and tchotchkes such as wine and gift tags. This summer, upon repeated requests from our customers, we have also launched exclusive wrapping papers and nested storage boxes in a variety of patterns and colours. We also have a popular kids line called “Little Secrets” which includes birthday cards, party invites, gift tags and thank you cards for the young pranksters.
Finally, given the popularity of our prêt line (ready designs as opposed to customized ones), our website is being revamped to include an e-boutique which should be up and running in time for the festive season.
The art of hand crafted stationery and The Secret Ink’s design philosophy & inspirations
For us, the design comes first and everything else must follow suit. Our patrons can choose to create a bespoke set of stationery or they can select something from our wide range of prêt designs.
For our bespoke line, we believe that your stationery is a reflection of your unique personality. So as the artisan stationer, we interact closely with our customers to truly understand their idea and style preferences. We are very flexible in terms of choice of message, colors and lettering style.
We work with a variety of techniques, blending both traditional handcraftsmanship and a modern industrial approach. The designs are brought to life leveraging traditional practices like screen printing, letterpressing, hot hand-stamped foiling, or hand embossing (another dying art); or by employing modern digital and offset printing methods. We select the technique based upon what works best for the design.
As with most creative pursuits, inspiration strikes at odd hours and is rooted in the strangest of things – from places we have visited to esoteric ideas, from childhood nostalgia to mythological characters. From the manly “Chetak” which is inspired by the brave and loyal warrior-steed of Maharaja Rana Pratap to the colourful “Bento Box” which is a fresh twist on the quintessential Japanese icons of koi fish, bamboo, umbrellas, chrysanthemums and fans – you will find a delightful story behind each of our designs.
What we can expect from The Secret Ink in the months ahead
Given the enthusiastic response and increasing demand, we are working on expanding our line of gifting and storage products, and also prototyping hand made scribble pads with a touch of whim. Our kids line continues to inspire us, and we’re in the final stages of designing personalized nursery posters and unique gifts for baby showers – so Mums and Mums-to-be have a lot of exciting stuff to choose from!
Most of modern correspondence today takes place via text messages, emails and instachats. At The Secret Ink, we’re keen on reviving the art of letter writing, particularly with children and young adults. Letters are not only a form of thoughtful and meaningful conversation but also a lovely memory to treasure when those loved ones are no longer near us. We are discussing a letter writing project at the school level with some potential partners – stay tuned to our website for more details.
Where can we buy your products and how much do they cost
We have patrons from around the world – New York, Dublin, Dibrugarh, Dubai, Hyderabad and Hong Kong – the list is growing steadily. Most of our clients come to us through word of mouth or when they have received one of our cards, so it feels very much like we are creating a community of people who are in on our secret.
You can buy our products online, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or via FB. In Delhi, a small capsule collection is featured at the Full Circle book stores in both Khan Market and GK; we expect all our products to be available in upscale lifestyle stores in select cities by Fall 2014. Our products are also available for a limited duration through pop-up shops organized by leading e-tailers.
The personalized range starts from 1,250 for a set of 20 small folding cards with matching envelopes to 12,000 for a fully customized Wish Trunk with loads of beautiful stationery. The price of the nested boxes ranges from 800 – 2,000 (all prices in Indian Rupee). We also take larger custom orders, the prices for which are provided upon request.
We love The Secret Ink’s passion for traditional craftsmanship and exceptional quality, but what we like best about their products is that they have something for everyone – from the eccentric fashionista to the poised royalty . Here are some of our favorites:
For the sophisticated Sex n City Girl: Step On It, for the fashionista who, like Cinderella, believes that a pair of shoes can change her life
For the Happy Hippie: Retro celebrates our childhood (especially for those in their 30-40’s) with the ‘no signal’ on TV!
For the Complete Man: Chetak, an embossed symbol of valour and leadership
For the Luxury Connoisseur: Fanous (a blank embossed lantern inviting light into darkness)
For the Wordsmith: Ask the TSI team to add your favourite quote to Vine, an elegant card with a beautiful gold embossed frame
All images are the property of The Secret Ink, please do not reuse without prior written permission