How many times have you seen the sprightly chaiwallah, the chirpy autorickshaw driver, the cheerful golawallah and the owl with the enormous eyes embossed on plates, bags and coffee mugs and stopped to admire them? And how often did the images of an old gramophone with a trumpet snout, a happy camel with a multi-coloured hump and a dabbawallah with a hot lunch in tow make you smile?
If quirk sells, so do India-based themes, and it was a unique combination of the two that made Chumbak the legend it is today. From storage tins and tableware, the unique Chumbak designs forayed into the arena of jewellery boxes, laptop sleeves, cushion covers, mobile phone cases, notebooks, magnets, travel pillows, flip flops, apparel and much more. Today, there are over 100 categories of products and a consumer base of over one million.
Founders Vivek Prabhakar and Shubhra Chaddha have taken Chumbak from a house of souvenirs to a home of fashionable products. YS Weekender caught up with Co-founder and CEO Vivek Prabhakar to chat about their brand and his favourite hobbies over the weekends.
“Chumbak was Shubhra’s brainchild,” says Vivek.
“We saw the need for souvenirs designed in a contemporary style for today’s India. What started as an India for tourists, became something young Indians fell in love with. We had a very clear vision for the design and product story. We worked with very talented designers who have consistently understood the vision of the brand.”
The idea was to create a brand that could show India in the right light and to be able to give people a product story that was Indian, and yet modern and fun. “The idea continued to grow as we grew,” remembers Vivek. “It makes the struggles of growing a young retail brand so much easier when you have happy consumers.”
Vivek often says, “Don’t’ tell people your dreams, show them,” and he explains his love for this maxim by saying, “With the brand that Shubhra and I created, I think it was very simple from Day One. It had to be less about the talk and more about what we could create and how different it would be. That has consistently motivated us to create something truly unique.”
When he is not working Vivek enjoys cooking and photography.
“Photography is my perfect downtime over the weekend. While cooking is more an everyday activity now, photography has become an escape from everything else. I have begun to carve time out from my schedule to spend time improving my skills and attending photography retreats across the country.”
Vivek bought a camera in 2010 and within a month of picking it up, it was being used to click catalogue photos for Chumbak to be put on their website. He was curious to try it on landscape photography but couldn’t pursue it because the need of the hour was something else at that time.
“In February last year I picked up my camera again and this time, I was driven towards street photography,” he recalls.
“Since I had attended workshops across the country, I was able to hone my skills and consistently improve. Having a hobby really helps me re-focus at work too.”
Vivek picked up a Leica camera, which has a legendary status among serious photographers. “It is used by a lot of street photographers around the world and I have been using this camera ever since,” he says. “Mine is small and perfect for street photography. It has got one of the finest colour outputs you can hope for in photography.”
Over time, Vivek learnt a lot of important lessons about photography.
“The most important thing is to understand what you’re trying to convey in a photograph. It’s about the story you’re trying to tell. A majority of photographers shoot for their audiences. You might like it because you know the context, but the viewer must feel the same.”
His favourite subject is ‘people’ and he captures folk on the streets in his camera whenever he gets the chance to do so.
“The greatest stories lie in and with them. Capturing those moments involves a lot of patience at times but once you capture that moment, there is nothing greater than that for me. As far as street photography goes, you can shoot good photographs anywhere. There’s never a good background on the streets.”
His advice for budding photographers, which he has gathered over many years now is as follows:
“Ensure your frame is already set so that you are ready for the shot, because that’s how fast things are developing on the streets. Make sure that you are constantly on the search for new angles to mix things up. I have also realised that sometimes showing only selective parts of your subject makes for a great frame. And, finally, never overdo your images with editing. Let them breathe.”
According to Vivek, smartphones haven’t destroyed photography but they have brought a lot of people into the realm of photography. “It sometimes becomes the first step in your journey as a photographer. Honestly, the best camera is the one in your pocket,” he says. “The serious photographers will always continue using cameras.”
Vivek likes to check out photo exhibitions too whenever possible, but he has realised that a lot of content has now shifted online, especially to Instagram.
Photography has also taught him many life lessons that came in handy in entrepreneurship too.
“The biggest lesson that photography has taught me is patience. If two characters are aligned in a frame in your camera and the third is just not moving, you could keep waiting for that decisive moment. I remember waiting for 30-45 minutes for a perfect shot. It has taught me to be more focused.”
As for his love for cooking, he says that it goes back to his childhood days. “I have always been cooking as my dad used to cook. Now, I cook every day. I’m not a fan of eating the same thing every day, so I like to experiment with my food.
“My favourite cuisine is Japanese. I never follow a recipe. It’s always touch and feel rather than following a recipe. My favourite comfort food, however, is hot, steaming idli. Cooking has taught me both discipline and patience.”
As for his future plans for Chumbak, Vivek says. “Our goal is to do a lot more travelling around the country through events such as the Kumbh Mela, and explore the streets of Indian cities. The good thing about Chumbak is that though we constantly do new products, we’re in a phase of expanding too. We are looking forward to opening new stores, which is the focus for this year, while continuing to create great products.”