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The Unconventional Career Path of Ranjan Bordoloi


The Unconventional Career Path of Ranjan Bordoloi

For people who's not yet familiar with young Indian designer Ranjan Bordoloi here's a quick recap: After graduating in 2014, his student project was selected by none other than the talent maestro of design himself, Giulio Cappellini, and was put on the Cappellini Next collection/stage the next year in Milan's Salone del Mobile.

One might think that this would be a major leap in Bordoloi's career, but it didn't pan out as he wanted. As he explained to us the reasons why the Pitoloi chair was not quite the mass-producible design, it occured to us that at that point, he's just at the age of 25!

So the road ahead might still be a long, winding one, but his career is heading towards a great direction. With back to back wins at Red Dot Design Award ('Best of the Best' for Pitoloi Collection and 'Red dot' for Kaathfula Chair ) and EDIDA India (Joint Winner for Best Funiture), what interests us the most now is the way he coped with difficulties and disappointment, while playing the system strategically. In a way, it's kind of like The Hunger Games, without the killing part, that is.

Pitoloi Chair (T) debuted on the international stage of Cappellini Next (B) in 2015.

You've been winning quite a number of awards, back to back, without actually having your designs mass-produced. How did that happen? Is it what you imagined your design career to be at this point?

I never imagined to win back-to-back awards. But, I really wanted to win a Red Dot.

Sadly, the design industry in India is still at a very nascent stage after more than 50 years of starting its formal design education. Unlike in developed countries, we don't have many brands and design galleries supporting young designers with production. Most designers here need to do their manufacturing, marketing and retailing etc..

I realised this situation very early on and started participating in competitions/awards as a student. It seemed like that was the only way to showcase, to promote my works and to get feedback at the same time. I am still struggling with the business of design; i.e. production, marketing, selling. Winning awards certainly helps a lot and make the process easier.


You've started off with Cappellini introducing your Pitoloi chair, and I've come to understand it's not a chair that can be easily produced. So what's the latest about this chair?

That chair was a 1st rough prototype. It was a student project and never intended to be mass produced. I won an award called “The Park Elle Deco Student Award” for the best use of traditional materials. The chair was showcased at India Design ID where Giulio (Cappellini) spotted it and made it a part of Capellini Next 2015.

Yes, it's very hard to produce. It's entirely handmade using basic hand tools. Currently, I have been working on another version of that chair and hoped to launch it through a design gallery.

The evolution of the Pitoloi collection: from chair to barstool/stool.

The making of Pitoloi barstool in Assam.

The Pitoloi chair has since then evolved into different pieces but with the same material. What's your fascination with brass?

It's not only due to my fascination for brass. It all started with my graduation project where I was trying to explore possibilities of creating contemporary products in collaboration with local artisans of Assam (which is my hometown). It was just an experiment. Initially, I didn't take it very seriously. But, I did receive good response for that work from the design community and therefore decided to continue working with them.

The North-Eastern part of India is very under-developed compared to other parts of India. There aren't many industries with manufacturing facilities. But, hand-making techniques are still practised in small workshops and craft communities. Their livelihood is fully dependent on it. Most of these crafts are dying out due to several issues. One of the primary issues is lack of innovation. They have been making traditional artefacts for local markets. With my work with a brass utensil-making community, I have been trying to revive their craft through designing products for a wider audience and generate sustainable employment opportunities within the community.


You then came up with the Kaathfula Chair which is quite different regarding material. How did that design come about? Why did you choose to work with this material?

It was again a competition that I took part in called “Godrej Design Lab” by Indian furniture brand Godrej Interio in collaboration with Elle Decor India. Annually, they shortlist eight designers and help them prototype their products. I submitted a basic mock-up of the chair. Luckily, it got selected, and I worked at their prototype workshop in Mumbai for a month to get the final product made. It was my first experience of working in an industrial manufacturing facility.

Kaathfula means Mushroom in the Assamese language. Its design takes inspiration from imagining how it would feel to sit on a large mushroom. Individual layers of foam are joined together by thin metal rods within the chair. The density and flexibility of EVA (ethylene-vinyl acetate) foam help to create a perfectly ergonomic and dynamic silhouette.

Kaathfula Chair, made with EVA (ethylene-vinyl acetate) foam. The name means Mushroom in the Assamese language.

You mentioned that you're from Assam. Are you still based there now? What made you want to be based there? What are the advantages?

Yes, I'm currently based in Guwahati (Assam), a North-Eastern city of India. The primary reason was that my hometown is nearby, and so is the village where I work with the brass metal artisans. I would eventually move to a bigger city. But, at the moment working from a small town is convenient in terms of operational costs.


How do you describe your design aesthetics?

It's too early for me to talk about my aesthetics. I don't have any particular style/aesthetics at the moment. I am aware of the fact that developing a particular style helps in many ways. But I would rather let it grow it organically than me trying too hard to set aesthetic boundaries.


Where do you find your inspirations?

Works of great artists, architects and fashion designers. My interest areas change from time to time.


Where will we see you next?

Most probably building small-scale Architectural Pavilions and setting up a brand to support artisans working from remote villages in India. I am not sure though.


Design is important, because...

It impacts the way we live now and will live in the future.


Studio Bordoloi's website is still in the works but you can check out his winning works here (Kaathfula Chair) and here (Pitoloi Collection). 

Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.

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