‘Thenga’, Malayalam’s unparalleled storyteller, is what Vaikom Muhammad Basheer said in his stories: ‘The moral of the story’. When Maria Kuriakose was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug three years ago, she turned to tenga (meaning coconut in Malayalam).
She runs a small company in Palkad that transforms humble coconut shells into kitchen utensils, tableware and decorative items. And three years after her success in India, Tenga made her way to the world. International customers can now order their favorite products directly from the company’s website.
“When I decided to quit my well-paid job in Mumbai and start a business in Kerala, a lot of uncertainty weighed on me,” Maria told Onmanorama.
“However, I am happy and proud of Tenga’s success. I can now say that I have fulfilled my dream of becoming an entrepreneur with eco-friendly products. This journey has given me the confidence to fight against all adversity. “I did,” Maria said.
Tenga’s great appeal is that it is an environmentally friendly product that does not contain any harmful substances. The products are completely handmade and our team of 12 artisans is the soul of ‘Thenga’.
In pursuing her dream of becoming an entrepreneur, Maria faced many challenges.
“I received too many questions from people about quitting my job. But I focused on my job because my parents gave me full support. My parents encouraged me to try my luck in business. “He encouraged me to try it,” she said.
“Still, it wasn’t easy. Producing completely handmade products was a complex process. Initially, customers rejected us due to size variations, and products such as kitchen utensils and tableware didn’t fit. “It was according to specifications.” However, we managed to solve the problem with proper planning and a lot of effort,” Maria explained.
Tenga’s entry into the export sector was a major move and signaled the company’s growth.
In addition to exports, Thenga also expanded its online sales through major e-commerce marketplaces such as Amazon, Jio Mart, and First Cry.
“The positive response from customers is a big boost. Most of the customers are foreigners from Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, etc. We are interested in purchasing. In fact, the response from our customers has exceeded our expectations,” Maria said.
Recently, Thenga exported 40,000 pieces to Denmark. The small company, based in Sultanpet, Palakkad, has received inquiries from the Netherlands and Switzerland.
“Right now, our focus is on exports. Most of our revenue still comes from the domestic market. During festive seasons like Diwali, we get orders from Bengaluru, Mumbai and Delhi. Last year, our annual turnover was Rs 1,000 crore. I am very happy that my efforts have paid off,” said the young entrepreneur.
Impact on vision
While most young people aim to emigrate from India, Maria vowed to return after completing her studies and start a business here. Her passion for promoting indigenous products of Kerala combined with her sense of responsibility to protect nature led to the birth of ‘Thenga’.
Since coconut is the identity of Kerala, Maria wanted to explore a range of value-added products from coconut. Her research revealed the great potential of tableware made from coconut shells.
“After I quit my job as an office worker, I poured all my energy into ‘Thenga.’ However, the transition from being an office worker to a businesswoman was not easy. I had too many questions. But I was focused on my passion of starting a business that does not harm nature. At the same time, it was important to promote products made in Kerala and generate revenue. Promote indigenous products. By creating value, our economy can benefit from business. So I’m very happy to have achieved our goal with ‘Thenga’,” she added.
‘Thenga’ stands for a movement towards environmental sustainability.
“I wasn’t satisfied with my corporate life in Mumbai. I wanted to return to Kerala. I really wanted to run a business that was responsible for protecting nature. The manufacturing process was simple and eco-friendly. “We have around 40 products in the categories of kitchenware, tableware, garden and decorative items. None of these products pose a threat to the environment. Even if the customer replaces the product with a new one, it will also damage the soil. The air will also not be polluted,” Maria said.
“No one is 100 percent environmentally friendly, but by taking the step of purchasing coconut shell products, you are making a significant contribution to nature conservation,” she pointed out.
Health conscious people place emphasis on eating organically produced foods. However, they ignore the effects of toxins we ingest when using plastic and aluminum tableware. However, products made from coconut shells never harm nature.
“Our products are completely toxin-free. No colorants or chemical varnishes are used in our products. The deep brown color is maintained through a sanding and buffing process.” Only coconut oil is used to add shine to the skin. Over time, it will lose its natural shine, but a swipe of coconut oil will restore the color,” Maria said.
She pointed out that the health benefits of eating products made with coconut shells have not been scientifically proven. However, compared to other materials containing plastics and chemicals, “Thenga” products are safe.
Why coconut shell?
Although all parts of the coconut tree can be used to make multiple by-products, companies focus on coconut oil and milk. And antiques made from coconut shells can only be found in craft stores or at fairs. Observing this fact, Maria researched products that could be made from coconut shells. Coconut shells are often used as firewood and a natural disposable cup alternative.
This research helped her envision the perfect plan to make kitchen utensils from the Malayalam word ‘chillatta’, which means coconut shell.
Maria said that products made from coconut shells are very strong compared to other natural materials and therefore last for a very long time. “This means it’s a great alternative to plastic, steel and glass. If you want to dispose of the product, you can simply crush it into small pieces and mix it with the soil. Then it goes back into the soil without creating anything.”Environmentally. impact,” she added.
Another highlight of this business venture is our strong team of female employees. Seven of the 12 craftsmen are women. Our operations, social media, and customer relations departments are all run by women.
“Most of our staff are women who have had to interrupt their careers due to family commitments.We offer flexible working hours to accommodate their multiple roles as mothers, wives, and daughters.Most of our employees bring their children with them. “The office is a support system for female employees,” said Maria, who is also the mother of 11-month-old Rahel.
Although initially rejected, “Thenga” made great strides. Currently, the refinery supplies coconut shells to ‘Tenga’. “Each product has different sizes, so the factory cuts the shells according to our requirements and supplies them to us,” Maria said.
“We are trying to attract foreign customers, so we have to deal with many complex formalities. Since ‘Thenga’ is a small company, we are only at the first stage of learning the paperwork and procedures related to exporting. ” she added.
The ‘Thenga’ team has envisioned many plans including the launch of toys to replace plastic toys.
“Plastic toys are dangerous for babies, so I’m thinking of making toys using coconut shells. Another thing I’m focusing on is jewelry. I also have designs for exhibitions. I will continue to do so in the future. I want to work harder to create more interesting products, such as toys, jewelry, packaging boxes, etc.,” Maria said.
For Maria, “Tenga” is a philosophy that encourages everyone to take small steps to protect nature, as well as contribute to the growth of the country’s economy.
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