Tiipoi: Breaking Indian stereotypes with durable design

The first pop album I ever owned, Made in India, was one of the best selling of its generation. In my living room in London, I played that cassette tape to death, singing and dancing along, even accidentally twisting an ankle once. As an eight-year-old second-generation immigrant I had the pick of both cultures, idolising Indian pop star Alisha Chinai while at the same time discovering the Spice Girls’ brand of girl power.

Spandana GopalAs I got older, growing up between two worlds—each asserting its own expectations of who I should be—things got more confusing. I didn’t want to submit to stereotypes, but I wanted to belong.

It’s a desire shared by Tiipoi, a design studio that creates kitchenware inspired by, and made in, India but not as you might think. Its collection includes sleek and sturdy brass trays, simple heavy copper bowls, and nifty drip-free pourers—a common-sense design with a 90-degree lip that I’m familiar with from the massive pots my mum uses to cook dhal at family events.

These products are inspired by a culture where resources are limited, and things are created in response to scarcity rather than excess. Spandana Gopal, Tiipoi’s founder, recalls the hefty steel boxes her grandmother used to store rice in the kitchen, solidly made because buying a replacement isn’t an option. Tiipoi’s trays and bowls are made of those same hard-wearing materials found in everyday Indian households, with just as much desire to avoid waste.

No elephant in the room

Non-Indians might see the simplicity and utilitarian nature of Tiipoi’s products as a step away from typical Indian design. But for Spandana, it’s just as much part of everyday life as rangoli patterns or garlands. And she thinks it’s time to showcase this different, yet equally as established, side to Indian craftsmanship: “It’s not about putting paisley print on a chair any more. The elephant has become big fat symbol of Indianness. So I’m just not allowing it.”

This flies in the face of commonly held perceptions about India—all bindis, coloured powder and sensory overload—and of Indian-made goods as mass-manufactured and cheaply available to the rest of the world. Tiipoi’s processes don’t allow for machine-driven uniformity and corner-cutting; the company chooses instead to work with small scale workshops, semi-industrial units and independent craftsmen.

tiipoi“As a design studio, we want to keep the human element in the making process, and not replace it with a factory line production system,” says Spandana. So while machines are used to spin the metal, for example, the end result is impossible without real people being involved throughout.

By focusing on heavy brass and copper, Spandana wants to build a relationship between Tiipoi’s products and their owners. The materials change over time, developing a patina unique to the way they’re used and looked after. “I want people to see it’s a great material, with the marks of the making process. Hopefully they’ll want to be around it more,” she says. And hopefully pass it on.

Twenty years after Alisha Chinai captured my heart, the term ‘made in India’ is taking on a deeper meaning, blending traditional and modern, industrial and handcrafted. It’s proof we don’t have to rely on stereotypes, that we can happily bridge the gap between cultures without having to choose one over the other.

Londoners can get up close and personal with Tiipoi’s kitchenware at Design Junction, part of the London Design Festival, this weekend.


Photo credit (header): Adam Cohn