We all know that Cement is an essential ingredient of any building, but did you know you can now use the material to even decorate your home? Thanks to visionaries like Mr Sundeep Kumar, CEO, Craft Béton, Dalmia Bharat Group, cement no more just remains a boring, dull and grey material; it has evolved into a material that helps in creating beautiful pieces of functional art.
Cement is a very versatile product with one of most wonderful properties-you can bind it with almost any product, hence the word ‘cementing.’ It’s actually a type of glue - a binding agent. Interestingly, the minute you mix it with other things; you can make use of its properties in a varied way. Such a deep understanding of the properties of the material enabled Mr Kumar to innovatively ideate products which can make cement appear ‘appealing.’ It’s a highly interesting journey to explore, and as Mr Kumar unveils the details through his interaction with the #SurfacesReporter team, we could not help but be in awe!
Please tell us about the brand, ‘Craft Béton.’
Craft Béton is the labour of love and innovation by Dalmia Bharat that truly showcases the beauty and versatility of cement. Our Designers are craftsmen whose expression has given cement a truly distinct narrative.
With the intent to show how the versatility of cement could be utilised in different ways, we launched this brand about 2 years ago to create functional art with cutting-edge, contemporary and global designs. Another reason for establishing this brand was that if you look at cement as a product, consumers rarely interact with it. Even as a home builder, they wouldn’t really have much to do with cement. So, the idea was to get more and more people to interact with cement, and that is how we started creating products for the home which you can buy even if you are not building a house, and in the process, change its image from a dull grey boring material into something beautiful. From accessories to light fittings, even small pieces of furniture. The idea was mainly to make cement as a product appear ‘appealing.’ Things got going as the initial response was phenomenal. We found this while. The range has now extended to include wall/floor coverings and bathroom basins.
Since it's not usual to witness so much of innovation with cement, how did the idea come to you?
I can say with a degree of confidence that no other cement company is doing such research and innovation in the medium of cement in this manner. Though, in the past, people have made products out of cement, but only in a rudimentary way. They have not really dived very deep into making something exquisite out of its properties. People have usually made use of cement in the form of concrete, but cement isn’t just good for concrete. You can do wonderful things with cement. We delved into the versatility of cement with design at its core.
The idea of using cement in such an innovative way started when I began my journey with this company 3 years ago. That time I was handling corporate affairs and communication. One of my mandates with the position was to improve the image of the company at a corporate level. Considering that as an organisation we prided ourselves as being innovative, I used to often think what can we do to project this to people at large? A lot of our innovation was happening at the production end but we needed a visible manifestation of it to be attractive and exciting to all the young people out there. Even when I was joining Dalmia Cement, my friends used to ask me as to what will you do in a cement company. Would it not be dull and boring?
This got me thinking and after analysing I could make out that the issue was on the product front. It wasn’t about the company but cement as a product was seen from this perspective only. That is what led me to think about what we can do to make cement more exciting. It was clear that for the company to become more exciting, first we would need to make cement more exciting.
Elucidate on the research journey.
Initially, Mr Puneet Dalmia asked me as to what would I need and asked for 3-4 international product designers and 3-4 months. I briefed them to make products which would be beautiful to look at in a minimalist and contemporary way and perform a function within a home (and not be just decorative). Also, each product should have a story to tell and not just be as monotonous as the material itself. So, that was brief to them and I told them that we should largely play with ‘grey’ which was the expected colour of cement. So, our initial collections were largely in grey tones but now, of course, we do have colours. So, initially, we didn’t introduce colours otherwise people may not recognise it as cement.
So, this is how it began where we got two Indian designers and two from Poland and Mexico respectively. We spent 2-3 months in developing about 40 products. Each designer was given a target of coming up with 10 designs. The products received a great response in the exhibitions and this convinced us of the concept. This year our focus is on scaling up in the market
and creation of new designs across different product categories will be a continuous process. This year will also tell us if commercially we are on right track or not.
How the weight of the product has been taken care of when mixed with other materials?
Like I mentioned earlier, cement is a binding agent and it depends on what you mix it with. You can make it lighter by mixing it with lighter materials. For example, we have a tray in which we mix it with Styrofoam balls and then chemically remove some of them. This makes it lighter as also gives it an interesting texture. The range of these products starts at 5-6k and goes up to 1.2 lakh. People happily use them for gifting too. Also, we are not in the business of mass manufacturing. Most of our products are handcrafted and we tend to make unique pieces in limited quantities. We have always endeavoured to surprise people by experimenting with different formulations. We have made cement products which are pliable and soft or thin and light, challenging their common perception of cement.
What kind of association you have had with the designers for the last collection of yours?
Basically, in our latest collection, we had two international designers. There was one industrial designer from Israel who created various types of lamps, speakers and other objects. Another designer was from Finland who was a ceramic designer by training and she has introduced a touch of colour into our range.
What is your personal opinion - do you think the products should be grey or have colours?
As I said, the best thing about cement is its raw natural colour, but with a little bit of colour in it, it gives it a different grace. When people buy our tiles, they sometimes ask if they can paint them and I say of course you can but why would you want to and take away the natural look and texture. If you want to paint it, then you can buy anything else as well. But, for the object to give out a neutral look, the colour of the cement itself does wonders. People are attracted towards cement because of its colour and texture.
What is the marketing plan for the products?
Having two distinct kinds of categories, we are looking at two different ways to market them. One category is the lifestyle products and the other is architectural products. While the lifestyle products would largely sell through select stores or online, for the architectural products we are tapping high-end designers and architects. In Delhi, of course, we are creating our own experience centre. Some of our target cities would be Bombay, Ludhiana, Chandigarh, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, etc.
In what ways are you making this business sustainable?
It will always be marketed as a premium brand and not a mass one. Our designs will constantly evolve but remain modern and minimalistic. And, of course, cement will remain at the heart of whatever we do.