Promoting sustainable products in Uttarakhand

Joshua Hishey of Alaya Design Studio, is a designer who believes in using renewable or eco-friendly raw materials, to build products that are not only sustainable but also promote the growth of the local economy and community

Joshua Paljor Hishey, is an entrepreneur and designer, who uses eco-friendly natural materials, to design contemporary furniture and interior décor items. Hishey is a graduate in Industrial Design, from the Kendall College of Art and Design, in Michigan, USA. He worked as a product designer in the US, before returning to his home in Uttarakhand. In India, he set up a consultancy firm, providing sustainable design solutions to corporates, government agencies and non-government organisations.

Inspired by his parents who were social workers, he wanted to contribute towards the local economy and build an ecosystem of skill and craft-based artisans and informal sector producers in the region. “Therefore, nine years ago, I quit my job in the USA and returned to my roots in the Himalayas. Along with my wife Richa Ghansiyal (who holds a Masters in Rural Development from the University of Sussex, UK), I started Alaya Design Studio in Dehradun, Uttarakhand, in 2008,” he recounts.

Alaya Design Studio makes a range of furniture (beds, lounge furniture, dining and study solutions and children’s furniture), unique lighting and contemporary craft home décor products. Hishey works with artisans and informal sector workers, across seven districts of Uttarakhand and also partners with independent designers and architects from the region, on products and designs. His firm uses natural, sustainable raw materials and resources that are sourced locally. “Our location, at the foothills of the Himalayas, gives us access to raw materials from the hills, such as indigenous natural fibres, hill bamboo, seasonal grasses, local wool, etc. Being the state capital, Dehradun has a well-established market for materials, such as bamboo and timber, originating from within and outside the region,” he states.

 

Responsible waste management

While processing these materials into final products, Hishey tries to ensure minimal impact on the environment. “Bamboo is a sustainable resource, as its regeneration is rapid. It can be harvested within 3-4 years of plantation. For processing bamboo, we use methods that are least harmful to the environment. We also recycle wood and bamboo waste pieces, left from the furniture production. Some of our signature pieces, are entirely made from recycled waste elements,” he elaborates.

Word-of-mouth recommendations and features in several design magazines, have helped his company to grow. “Our designs are popular among customers who want natural materials and traditional techniques, used in contemporary interpretations in their living or work spaces. Customers are now aware of environmental responsibility and sustainability and prefer materials that are least harmful to nature. We work a lot with institutional clients, especially from the hospitality sector. We have witnessed a rise in requests, regarding the use of certified sustainable timber products, as even large corporations gear up to adopt green building norms,” Hishey adds.

See also: Dining goes green, with eco-friendly tableware made from plant fiber

 

Working for the welfare of the community

“Richa and I, share a common interest in our commitment towards the local community. Although we are a for-profit enterprise, catering to consumer markets, we are equally committed to avenues for developing the local community, in terms of creating jobs, safeguarding the environment, waste management, skill development, inculcating responsible citizenship, etc. We also dedicate one day in the week, for pro-bono activities related to local community development, such as engaging with local school students on issues related to conservation or working with local NGOs on streamlining waste management in the area,” he maintains.

Since 2014, Hishey has also been collaborating with local institutions, to curate and host the Rajpur Nature Festival. The aim, is to encourage locals to find ways to integrate economic issues with conservation, through ecotourism, home stays, local enterprises, etc., he explains.

Alaya Design Studio has also joined hands with the Forest Corporation in Uttarakhand, to develop value-added products out of waste timber. The current practice of harvesting wood yields a substantial amount of timber considered as logging residue, such as cross-cut residues, branches, stumps, etc. “Due to the awkward shape of such timber residue, the traditional markets for wood work/carpentry, etc., consider this kind of wood as having no commercial value. It is thus, stockpiled as waste. We use such waste timber to design functional products and will soon be launching new products, in collaboration with the Uttarakhand Forest Corporation,” Hishey informs.

“As designers we are at the cusp of bringing about change and developing potential, where there is none visible. If we can employ our skills in this area, it will definitely have a positive impact on our lives,” he concludes.

 

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