Banyan & Birch

February 11th, 2024


Banyan & Birch

Hi everyone, it’s Lauren here! I am very pleased to introduce our first Supplier Sunday interview featuring Banyan & Birch founder Smita Netra. This was a lot of fun and I am excited for our audience to learn more about Banyan & Birch, the fantastic work they are doing, and the behind-the-scenes of running a small business. 

This blog post will feature some of the main questions and answers from our interview, but you can click the image below to access the full, unfiltered version. Note the below transcript has been modified and abbreviated for editorial purposes. 



Lauren: Hi Smita! You're the owner of Banyan and Birch and we just got your products in the store. This is our first interview with a supplier for Aware House and you are someone who I think has a really interesting story and background. You're also new to the small business world. Can you give an introduction to yourself, your brand and business? 

Smita: Sure! First of all, hi Lauren and thanks so much for having me here. My name is Smita, I am the owner and founder of Banyan and Birch. We're a home linen company making throw pillow covers and table linens, and we want to expand to beddings, throws and curtains, so any kind of upholstery or fabric that you use in the home right now. 

The Process

Smita: We don't believe in having a product mass produced, so we work with a group of artisans back in India. We don't employ them - instead, we work in collaboration with them. They give us feedback on our prints, materials to use, for example maybe linen would be better than cotton, or cotton would be better for the printing technique that we're going for. We're working with a manufacturer who's also a mother-daughter owned business and in collaboration with the artisans who do the actual work.

It's thanks to the artisans that our products look so beautiful with the quality as such. Our fabric is hand woven on traditional handlooms. They are not produced on machines because India is the hub for handlooms. The power looms came, but they did not sustain because generations after generations (of artisans) have been taught to work on hand looms and the quality is just different. 

We also follow sustainable practices because when production is done on handlooms, there's no power, no electricity, there's no wastage, so it's human hands working. Whether you go for block printing or screen printing, they're all hand made. So again, there's no machine that's manufacturing the products. It's all hand based and we try to use as many natural and vegetable dyes as possible as well. 


The Reason Behind the Business

Smita: Why I started this business is a very interesting story. I'm an immigrant, I came to this country almost nine years ago. Last year my husband and I, on the Fourth of July weekend, were taking a stroll on Newbury Street in Boston and we entered a clothing store. I've grown up with fabrics and colors, so I recognize if something is from India. It was a beautiful boutique store, and I told my husband I have a feeling it’s made in India - it's just the colors and the prints and low-and-behold, we checked the tag and it was. My husband turned around and we kind of had the same thought process that, we’re South Asians, we should be doing this! I went online and checked out who the boutique was owned by and it was three brothers, and they had no connection to India, I think they were American. 

So that's also one of the reasons why this company was formed, because everybody's doing block printing, a lot of people are doing screen printing, a lot of people are doing kantha quilts, but nobody talks about the history behind it or the education behind the techniques, how is it done, or which state in India is famous for it. That’s also my aim, to educate people and say hey, you're owning a piece of history, you're owning a piece of culture. It's not just a pretty looking product. 

Preserving Quality Indian Textiles

Lauren: When we spoke in the past you mentioned how a lot of the textiles that we have in our major stores here in the US are manufactured in India. With the way that they're produced, essentially for cost reasons, companies don't take the time to actually do this very traditional process that you're speaking about and they'll mass manufacture, which degrades the quality of the item.

Smita: Yes, I mean whenever a product is mass manufactured, it means less number of hours are spent on the actual production of your product. So, if you're going to an artisan, who is doing it all by hand, it means you're spending close to 40 hours on producing a single product. There's a lot of effort that goes into this and I feel like that is what holds value. As a customer, when I go and buy something, I always pay attention to whether it's handmade. That means it's manual labor, it means somebody has spent time making it and it's not a machine that's doing it. To me that's very important and that's what I want to provide to people with my products. 

Lauren: Yeah, and because of the quality it will last a lot longer than something that you would buy for a quarter of the price, or half the price.

Smita: Yeah, absolutely. I mean it respects the time that has gone (into the product). The quality that we use, whether it's linen or cotton, is nothing less than 200 GSM (grams per square meter). That's like a benchmark. Most of the linen is 210 GSM, our cotton product I think is around 300 GSM. Throughout each step there is a lot of quality control so that when the final product comes out it’s appropriate for the customer to spend that much money. 

Lauren: Yeah, I went to Williams-Sonoma last year and there was a cutting board and the quality, compared to some of the cutting boards on Aware House, for example, was not there. My cutting boards were half the price and handcrafted by the Amish.

Smita: If you go to Pottery Barn or any of these retail stores, they have great, beautiful stuff, don't get me wrong. But sometimes you see a throw pillow cover or even a table linen that's digitally printed and is priced so high, and the cotton may not be as good because, as somebody who knows fabric, I know what a heavy linen is, I know what a heavy cotton is. You see flimsy cottons priced at twice the amount of what we're selling for and I just don't get that. Is it the brand you are paying money for or is it also the product? Hey, it's your company, you can do whatever, but at the end of the day the customer should be paying for what they're buying and not just the brand. 

We've not been in the business for long but I think one of the things that we always talk about with our supplier is quality. I'm ready to pay more for manufacturing, but the quality cannot go down. I'm ready to invest more than I'm actually earning right now, but the quality cannot go down, and I think that has been our principle. You're not cutting corners with quality, so if you touch our linens, they're soft. They're not chalky, they're good weight, the prints are done in a way that's not going to wash off.

Desert Jasmine and Blue Harmony Pillow Covers

Smita’s Take on Running a Small business

Lauren: You had a really quick turnaround from your initial idea on the Fourth of July to making it happen.What was that like, and what was there anything that you would have done differently? What advice would you give to somebody who maybe has an idea in their head, but doesn't know where to start? 

Smita: I don't know if I would have done something differently. I am somebody who never looks back and regrets. I'm always like okay, maybe moving forward we should now do this instead. I think I lucked-out with my production partner that I found. She is somebody who is very organized and gets work done, but in the most ethical way. That's why I love working with her and she'll say it on your face “that's not gonna fly” or “I'm sorry, the artisans are busy”. 

One thing I would say to anyone who has an idea would be to do your market research, customer research, send out forms, ask as many questions that you can for your potential target audience to understand if they are even interested in your idea. 

We entered a business which is already kind of saturated, but we are trying to form a space with a different mindset. It's not just about pillow covers out there. We're not trying to follow any trends in terms of designs. We do follow the trend in terms of what fabric is working or what colors are in season. You have to find a balance and I think as a business owner, you have to be super flexible. You may plan out a hundred things and none of those might work out. Literally nothing could work out, but I think you have to just keep at it and have a really quick response, “it didn't work out, fine, I'm going to start something new” and not cry about it, not fret about it, and not give up.

I'm very new, so there are thoughts like “am I even doing this right?” but, you know what, I’ve just started. The people I hear about now started five years ago, and only now I am hearing about them. I think that’s the kind of timeline I have to give myself. Obviously, you can't just keep pumping in the money, you have to make sure that you are getting that money in return from somewhere, but don't expect that from day one you will start making huge profits - if you break even, you're lucky.

Also, it's very important to find a mentor, because I think a mentor can guide you on business decisions that probably your family can't, and I think a mentor would be able to ask you the kind of right and hard questions that you're scared of asking yourself. Sometimes you want to brush aside hard questions, but that person will ask you and you will have to answer, and I think that puts you in-check.

Coastal Calm Pillow Cover

What’s Coming For Banyan & Birch

Lauren: I’m curious to hear what your plans are for 2024 and about the new items that are coming, which hopefully we'll also see on Aware House!

Smita: Yeah! I’m really excited about the current items that we have because I think those prints are beautiful and I'm looking forward to sharing some of them. I want to expand my product line; right now we've got a whole table set, I do want to do that with the living room, I want to get more throws. We always think one season ahead, so it would be more linen throws that keep you cool during the summer. We definitely want to expand into bedding, so hopefully by the end of this year we can get something out in terms of bedding sheets and the whole set, but we need to do more research first. 

The plan is to get more wholesale customers, do as many markets as possible, get more designs - we have a lot of designs in our database now and we just have to get them to print. We have a lot more meetings coming with our textile expert to get the perfect blend of silk and linen or silk and cotton. So there's a lot going on in terms of behind the scenes. We're very excited to expand our product line and have more of our products stocked in other boutique stores and on Aware House, and hopefully we'll attend a trade show later in the year! 

Lauren: That all sounds great. I'm really excited to see the final versions of the table set and everything else that's going to come. It was great to talk to you today. Hopefully this interview is the first of many more and we'll keep working together and growing, and I hope that your customers also can use this to learn more about your business as well! 

We'd like to give a big thank you to Smita for taking the time to sit down with Aware House.

We hope you got a lot of value out of this and learned something new. Give them a follow in Instagram @banyanandbirch and check out their products here!

Banyan & Birch
Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.