Los Altos resident and The White Mulberry co-founder Mansi Bhatia hands me a plastic bookmark to decorate, bake and gift to my father to show my appreciation on the day that specifically honors the ways in which he chiefly made me the person I am today.
Standing under a tent in 85-degree heat at the Los Altos Farmers’ Market, Bhatia and Tanu Pant, the woman with the concept that made their entrepreneurial dream a reality, walk children through a craft and advertise The White Mulberry’s custom gift boxes to those who troop along State Street.
As I look down at the bookmark, words Pant said to me minutes prior to describe their company’s mission resonate: “Gift with meaning.” How often does anyone actually practice this, as opposed to gifting for convenience?
Especially in fast-paced Silicon Valley, the art of tailor-made, well-thought-out gift giving is often lost these days. The various corporate representatives to which the co-founders, alongside their colleague Juhi Khanna, have presented their handcrafted boxes are overwhelmed by the sentiment.
But what makes The White Mulberry stand out is its singular focus on highlighting the handiwork of stay-at-home moms.
According to its website, the business designs “exceptionally beautiful gifts by curating handcrafted products exclusively created by talented women who have chosen to prioritize their family over their professional aspirations.”
The business model is a win-win: The working population often considers finding the perfect gift just one more chore to tackle after clocking out, while stay-at-home artist moms can harness their creativity and skills, Pant said. The goal is “to bring forth the talents of our craftswomen and help them get the appreciation they deserve,” the website states.
“When I was talking to my own friends, the people I know that are mostly parents (with) their own kids, I felt that some people (experience) a depression,” said Pant, a Mountain View resident and stay-at-home mom herself. “We don’t have time for anything, but there is a flexibility that we need to get out on our own.”
When Pant discussed the push-pull of finding a creative outlet with other stay-at-home mothers, a common theme emerged: They were inventors.
Some moms were making products at home because they could not find one that suited their child’s needs. For example, Pant’s friend Mindy Cheng’s daughter had eczema and kept breaking out when she used drugstore lotions, so she used her engineering background to create her own, which has developed into an entire line called Fyve. Other mom friends made products simply because they wanted to, and one friend makes her own chocolates and paints them by hand.
Pant found herself among a network of talented women, many of whom did not know how to market themselves. She called up Khanna, and together they produced a work of art in its own right: The White Mulberry, an online platform that features gift boxes with items made by female artists within a 15-mile radius of Mountain View.
Bhatia, the perfect example of a career-woman-turned-new-mom who experienced a version of burnout, offered her expertise in painting and communications to decorate the customized boxes and get the word out about the company upon its founding last November.
Attractive to both companies and individual consumers is the ease of The White Mulberry’s services. Customers can choose from boxes already put together at a flat fee or collaborate with one of the co-founders to include goods from specific vendors. The small staff curates the boxes, Bhatia decorates them and Khanna performs quality control and adds a little extra flair before the order is shipped.
“We take all the pain away from the customer; we do everything for them,” Pant said. “We write in a handmade card, assemble the boxes. … I think that’s really why people managing the gifting like us.”
Pant estimated that in the six months since they launched The White Mulberry, they’ve gained traction via word-of-mouth, with the team assembling approximately 600 boxes in total. Most are large corporate orders of 25-50 boxes for occasions such as welcoming clients or maintaining connections.
The handmade gifts begin as plain brown and black boxes from Michaels craft store and are, as Bhatia described, “elevated” into specially patterned cases that reflect the same amount of detail as the products that nest within.
“It’s community over competition,” Bhatia said of the collaborative process of finalizing merchandise before the boxes go out, which usually includes revisions or additions. “I’m not like ‘How dare (Khanna)?’ We can bring our creative brains together and create a product that looks even better.”
The personal, customized White Mulberry boxes make the business model attractive, Pant said. She was accepted into the Founder Institute in Palo Alto, a business incubator that trains entrepreneurs in best practices that can help their ventures excel. Pant is hesitant to accept the honor because, like all moms, she must balance a swath of responsibilities – and her kids will always come first.
“I’m still thinking (about the Founder Institute), because we say we are (a platform) for women by women,” Pant said. “We mention in our tags that this box is designed by a woman who is just as excited about (creating it) as bringing a baby up.”
Pant, Bhatia and Khanna are working to create a year-round revenue stream, not just for themselves, but for their 16-17 contributing artists and craftswomen. They have drawn up plans for how to expand the business and execute their vision.
“We’ve never had anyone say they don’t want to talk to us,” Pant said. “We’ve proven our model. Now it’s just a matter of scalability.”