JThanksgiving (2015), Iceland. Mayura Davda-Shah, who was on a break and touring the country with her friends, was strolling through local markets. In one store, in particular, something caught his eye: a bracelet.
Upon inspection, she discovered that it was no ordinary piece of jewelry. She didn’t know it then, but what she would learn next would one day turn into an idea for a business empire.
Inspired by that exact moment, Mayura, originally from Solapur, now runs MAYU, which creates stylish and durable accessories that have made their way to the ramps of Paris and Hungary.
Navigating a slippery slope in the business world
Mayura recalls that when she first saw the bracelet, she thought it might be made of an exotic material. The store owner told him that it was actually made of discarded fish skin.
“I learned from the locals that the ‘leather’ for the strap was sustainably made from salmon skin. The skin came from nearby fish processing units,” she says. The best India.
Although new to Mayura, the use of fish skin as leather has been commonplace in Norse culture for centuries. The 30-year-old aims to bring this concept to India, where animal skin is usually the most popular option for bags and accessories.
Mayura quit her job in the engineering industry to launch MAYU in 2018, with salmon and wolf skin handbags as her goal.
Explaining her transition from her roles as an engineer to that of creative director of the company, she says: “Although I continued my studies and had an early career in science and engineering, which helped set me apart, it’s my passion for the outdoors. Thinking creatively and applying it to even the most technical work at hand. »
She adds that at MAYU, they don’t feel pressured to design and create with every change of fashion season. “We have chosen accessories and handbags as our main product category so that our offers are not limited to seasons or sizes.”
MAYU faces two main challenges in using discarded fish skin in its product line. One is the dimensions of the skin of the fish, while the other is the consistency, she explains.
“Animal hide leather generally comes from large-size processing units. These are given to brands, who then have plenty of room to play around with the designs. With fish skin, however, the sleek dimensions of 15cm x 10cm are a limitation.
That’s when the entrepreneur thought of gathering lots of fish skins and sewing them into panels. This in turn would create a large canvas that would give her room to play with the designs.
The second, Mayura says, was figuring out how to work with the consistency of fish skin.
For this, she came up with a plan to reuse the loose edges and by-products obtained during the sewing process into filler panels. These would be inserted into the bags to give them shape.
Mayura says some of the fish leather they use is hydrophobic and is therefore used to make waterproof bags. However, she adds, fish leather ages the same way as animal leather and needs to be cared for the same way.
The processing of fish skin into viable strips is carried out by a supplier in Europe. Meanwhile, artisans in Chennai sew these strips into panels and then the final product.
A company rooted in sustainability
Mahak Chaudhary, who manages marketing for MAYU, says, “We focus on sustainability not only in our products but also in our operations. We operate in a zero waste certified facility in Chennai, which is also a Pollution Control Board of India certified ‘white’ grade factory. This essentially means that our operations do not pollute the air, water or environment in any way.
She adds that biodegradable waste from the factory is converted into fertilizer through a bioprocess.
Along with sustainability, the brand also believes in uplifting women through their work. “Our production team is over 90% women from underrepresented and disadvantaged backgrounds,” says Mayura.
“The leather industry has a majority male workforce, and as a female-led brand, we aim to change that,” she adds.
The main idea on which MAYU concentrates its efforts is to offer products that are not only good from a durable point of view, but also look premium and elegant. “Gone are the days when you had to compromise between durability and beauty and functionality or vice versa,” she notes.
MAYU’s handbags have even hit the international fashion catwalks, including Global Sustainable Fashion Week in Budapest, Hungary (February 2020) and Tranoi Paris (September 2019). The brand also retails internationally, with its main markets being Europe and North America, Mayura says.
While their flagship products are the Laia crossbody bag, the Aurora on chain wallet and the Liva clutch, you can browse a wide selection, which retails for Rs 500 all the way up to Rs 90,000.
The business is self-funded and has seen 10% year-over-year growth since its inception, Mayura says.
True to its original idea, MAYU is constantly looking for waste from the food industry that it can channel into materials for accessories.
The brand also offers a vegan line of bags, pouches and phone cases made from Piñatex™, an innovative natural textile made from the by-product of pineapple leaf fibers. They are also set to release an alternate leather using a certain type of fruit (which they do not wish to indulge in at this point) in the next quarter.
To discover the range of products they sell or to order your handbag, click on here.
(Editing by Divya Sethu)