Leather Stories From Dharavi: In Conversation With Khyati Dodhia

Photo of Aditi Gupta
15 December 2016

Khyati Dodhia is a Mumbaikar – a photographer, designer, and a business woman – who designs beautiful, handcrafted products, all fabricated in Dharavi. Dhavavi is often dubbed ‘the world’s largest slum,’ but that didn’t stop Dodhia from pursuing her new design initiative.

Cheat, Founder of The Black Canvas, models for one of her leather bag | (c) Khyati Dodhia

As a kid, Khyati dabbled in making art and handcrafting cloth, paper, and plastic products — and that’s when some of her friends who liked the products suggested she experiment with leather as a medium.

Leather being a natural progression from the media she’d already been using and her interest with crafts, Khyati started off by making a leather journal. Later, she posted pictures of this journal on social media and got a huge, positive response. People started placing orders, and that’s how The Black Canvas got initiated.

First of many products designed by Khyati at The Black Canvas | © Khyati Dodhia

The Black Canvas stocks leather memoirs, which are custom-made for Khyati’s clients and handcrafted with special attention to detail. Choosing to make these products in leather ensures that they last for a really long time, which is of utmost importance, since it takes a lot of time and effort to craft each product.

Leather is quite durable and strong, and Khyati loves the feel of the material. There is so much to learn about leather that she is consistently experimenting with new techniques to craft original products: woodworking, laser cutting, and engraving.

Khyati got involved with leather in 2012; her first leather journals were crafted in her spare time, and since then she has expanded her business to include many more leather products. The Black Canvas’s products are bespoke, and the product range includes leather journals; totes, hobos, and laptop bags; camera bags and camera straps; wallets; phone covers; key chains; dog collars and leashes; charger rolls; dopp kits; table mats; and bookmarks.

Pretty Leather Bags are part of The Black Canvas collection | © Khyati Dodhia

With her skill in do-it-yourself technologies, laser cutters, and 3D printers, she wants to bring a whole new level of customization to her offerings and focus on merging form, design, and functionality while remaining stylish.

The products are fabricated in Dharavi, which is the hub for all things leather in Mumbai. Finding the right craftsmen took a lot of effort, as the products are specially customized. When Khyati began, she walked into shops not knowing what leather was. Now she is able to source the exact material that her customers want. She handpicks the material and designs the products herself, leaving only the making of certain complex products to the talented craftsmen.

Khyati has been growing creatively while she still mastering the art. She believes there is a lot to learn in leather craftsmanship that keeps her going and excited.

The Black Canvas allows Khyati to dabble with management in addition to creativity, and she has absorbed a lot about building a brand besides making the products: research, design, vendor management, working with craftsmen, marketing, and selling. The brand has only been marketed on social networks and through word of mouth, and it has steadily grown, with orders coming in from domestic and international markets.

It has been extremely challenging but immensely exciting and fun for Khyati. She also juggles of photography projects, and she cannot wait to make bigger, better products.

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