The fire element – the term that comes to mind when Reshmi Dey begins to speak. Dressed in yellow when eShe meets her on a hot, sunny summer day, handling the bright yellow-orange flame in her pioneering glass-art studio, Glass Sutra, animatedly shaking her head of curls or railing at the delivery man who is several hours late and will set her entire workday behind schedule, Reshmi’s feisty personality looms larger than life.
It is apparent that the designer and entrepreneur has channeled all her feminine energy and passion into creating a business concept that celebrates creativity. Born to Bengali parents in Assam, Reshmi was always a rebel. She never combed her hair, fought bullies back, and was defiant in the face of authority.
Her teachers and relatives lost no opportunity to taunt her parents about Reshmi not “acting like a girl”. But her mother told Reshmi, “As long as you are good in studies, I can face the complaints.” Determined to do her parents proud, Reshmi scored well in academics.
After her Bachelor’s from Cotton College, Guwahati – concerned that her father, a railway officer, would push her to become a professor – Reshmi practically ran away to Delhi and took up a job in a travel agency to support herself while she prepared for MBA.
She got admission in two private colleges but the fee was prohibitive. Not wanting to be a financial burden on her parents, Reshmi tearfully gave it up. “I decided that there was something else waiting for me, something creative,” she says.
Having come across beautiful glass products in luxury stores in Delhi, Reshmi’s interest in glassware was piqued. She took a train to Firozabad, Uttar Pradesh, in 1999 (“I had to stand four and a half hours in the unreserved category; there was no reserved compartment”), India’s epicenter for glass and glass products.
The idea was to learn more about glassmaking, while also producing her own glassware for retail from the luxury chain of stores, Good Earth.
But, after spending several hard months in Firozabad learning to brave the 55°C furnace heat, blending into the community, winning the trust and respect of male workers who had never had a woman in their midst, she came to an dismaying realization.
“Most of the glass was being exported or being used for architectural purposes. The craftsmen were either lacking in aesthetic sense or did not understand the reason for certain steps in the production process,” she says, explaining why she decided to go abroad to study the nuances of glass art.
As if the universe was manifesting her desires, over the next few years, she got several opportunities to study from the top centres for Europe’s glass industry (“I am destiny’s child,” she says with a bright smile), from the International Glass Centre in Dudley UK to Murano in Italy, Austria, Germany, Sweden and the Czech Republic.
She ventured into both glassware retail and installation art, with her work representing India at prestigious museums around the world including New York. The International Labour Organisation also consulted her for their skill development programme.
In 2015, driven by a bug to take India’s glass industry from function to design to art, she began procuring state-of-the-art equipment and set up a large 5000 sq ft studio in Delhi’s Chhattarpur. In 2017, her visionary Glass Sutra was launched. The only centre of its kind in India, it is open to the public to learn, explore and study glassmaking and glass art.
Workshops are held and artists are invited from abroad. Classes of up to 10 people at a time can study five to six types of glassmaking – from kiln-formed glass to flame-work – and she often hosts events for 70 to 100 people at a time.
She has also developed a mobile studio that can go to various colleges and schools across India. One of her most popular offerings is the corporate ‘team building’ workshop, and she has held ‘Glassperience’ events for teams from Ikea, Google, Grey Goose and LG, among several others.
With prices ranging from Rs 2000 to 3500 per head, Glass Sutra is also quickly emerging as an appealing alternative to birthday parties and pub-hopping sessions, where young people can develop cognitive skills while enjoying themselves, and taking back self-made souvenirs.
“I dream of making an educated community of Indian glassmakers who can take this passion forward globally,” says the go-getter. For someone who has shattered numerous stereotypes and charted her own path, there is no such thing as a glass ceiling.
First published in the June 2018 issue of eShe magazine