Ivory Coast

For a 20-something, Sonia Agarwal has lived an interesting life. This Babson College (Boston) graduate, who has co-founded the educational company Freshmentors and serves on the board of textile giant Donear Industries, has studied subjects as diverse as art history, philosophy, biotechnology, fashion management and political economics. But admittedly, nothing matches her excitement on having launched Whitenife, a social enterprise that aims at shrinking the ivory trade with the introduction of Elfh, a substitute to ivory. Agarwal speaks of her eco-sensitive venture.

What made you set up Whitenife?

My respect for nature and love for fashion and art made me launch Whitenife. Earlier this month, we launched the company to present the possibilities with Elfh, a substitute for ivory. Moreover, we will donate two per cent of our revenue towards elephant conservation and rehabilitation.

How is Elfh a substitute for ivory?

Elfh is a mineral-based composite that has been developed and manufactured in Europe. It is 89 per cent identical to genuine elephant ivory, both in terms of its mechanical and aesthetical properties, and it doesn't break as easily. This significant property has helped many Rajput women save their marriages, because as per tradition, if a Rajput woman's bangles (often made from ivory) break or snap due to any reason, it could result in the marriage being called off. Besides, Elfh's resistance to chemical substances makes it easyto clean.

What are the different kinds of items that can be made using Elfh and who, according to you, forms the target group for these products?

We've introduced a range of intricately hand carved Elfh artifacts, including a 65-cm Elfh tusk; a new genre of jewellery called 'sculptural jewellery' (Elfh goes very well with gold and silver and coloured stones); and 'Art on Elfh', a collection by artist Suvigya Sharma. The jewellery and home décor products are designed by an international design team that works from Mathura , Mumbai, Jaipur and Chicago. They are then created by artisans here in India. Our target group includes people in the domain of boutique hotels, home interiors, fashion accessories and art. It helps that Elfh products are available at a fraction of the cost of ivory. For instance, an ivory item valued at $45,000, when made in Elfh, would be priced at $4,000. Elfh, still in its nascent stage, has been well-received. We sold almost 50 per cent of our products on the day of our launch.

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