By B.C. Thimmaiah
Have you ever been to a shop dedicated to just walking sticks? Yes, you read it right — walking sticks. In all shapes and sizes, in cane, dead hard-wood, sticks with carved animals, with dog faces, thumb sticks, deep river walking sticks, country walking sticks, home decor sticks, decorative sticks, fashion sticks, bell sticks, hook sticks, gadget sticks, city walking sticks, catapult sticks, lawn light sticks, bug sticks, rattan vine sticks, antique sticks, muscle loader sticks, whip sticks, spirit face sticks, garden sticks, broom sticks, professional walking sticks, shirt hanger sticks, key chains, wind chimes… the list goes on.
While some handle heads are brightly painted, some are shaped as horse hooves, shoes and the various inmates of an animal farm. Walk into ‘Bheemstyx’ in Indiranagar Seventh Main, Bengaluru and be prepared to be boggled by its collections. ‘Bheemstyx’ offers a range of natural sticks that are ideal for walkers, walking stick collectors, and hikers and even can be used as home decor.
Meet Kullodanda Kuttappa Bheemaiah aka K.K. Bheemaiah from Kaloor village near Madapura in Kodagu district, who has created a brand ‘Bheemstyx’. After dabbling with various professions including event management in Mysuru and Bengaluru, Bheemaiah has forayed into the business of walking sticks — he breathes life into dead wood to create unique works of art.
Born to a family of coffee planters, Bheemaiah has innate knowledge about native trees, the sturdiness of wood and how they can be shaped into trendy walking sticks. He does not cut any tree but spends most of his time in Kodagu visiting estates scouting for fallen trees and branches.
“I had a penchant to collect souvenirs and a friend got me a beautiful rattan vine stick in the year 2000. I first thought how I could further ornament the stick and began smoothening, seasoning, and painting it. Ultimately, the walking stick looked like a piece of art. That was when the idea of creating trendy walking sticks germinated,” Bheemaiah told Star of Mysore.
He did not stop there and pursued the idea and expanded his collection and began shaping them into different designs. His aim was to combine utility and art and his sticks. “My friends initially laughed at the idea and there were many who belittled my work. No one saw the business potential and only I saw. We have brands for everything these days but there was no brand for walking sticks and now we have ‘Bheemstyx’ and ‘Bheemstyx’ means strong sticks,” he says with a smile.
Flea markets gave a push
Though the work on walking sticks was started in 2000, the brand ‘Bheemstyx’ was launched in 2014. When Bheemaiah had a good collection of 50 to 80 sticks, he sold them at flea markets that provided him a good platform. He used to carry stick bundles to almost all flea markets and craft bazaars in South India and along the beach festivals and created a niche and name for himself.
“At the craft bazaars and flea markets, I saw an array of handmade, handcrafted items and I realised that the market is growing for such products in Bengaluru where people loved unique designs, especially if eco-friendly. I was quite well-known in event management in Bengaluru and Mysuru and the name ‘Bheemstyx’ was a conscious decision to leverage my popularity to kick-start the business,” he said.
Bheemaiah personally handpicks each stick from forests and plantations. “I never cut any trees or branches and only collect fallen twigs and dead wood. The landslides of 2018 and 2019 in Kodagu yielded good raw materials for my business. I use natural jungle hardwood to make the sticks and once the sticks are stored, they are cleaned, treated, smoothened, exposed to smoke to make them dry out and later hand-carved,” he explained.
Each stick has a uniqueness that only nature can design and so every customer receives a one-of-a-kind design. “Nature gives each stick a shape and you cannot copy or create the design. I take natural pieces of sticks and create a functional piece. There is no similarity between one stick and another and each one is unique in shape and paint. The sticks can last up to 200 years,” he said.
The entire process of making walking sticks can take either a month or over a year depending on how fresh the stick is. Bheemaiah himself hand-carves sticks into different shapes and sizes and polishes them before being given to artists who bring the sticks to life. He has a huge network of friends who double up as artists.
Artists are compensated taking into consideration their efforts and the detail of their work — the result is exquisite walking sticks with curved handles or decorative sticks with animal heads or abstract art. Despite all painting and polishing, all the sticks uniquely manage to retain their natural feel and this according to Bheemaiah is his USP.
Useless to useful
“My father has been a great support and he has taught me to find the right kind of wood and passed on the knowledge of hardwood trees which grow in rainforests of Western Ghats. When I decided to make a business out of sticks, I had decided that my sticks should not only be aesthetically appealing but also be put to practical use — they are for stability in each step, protection or simply as a fashion accessory,” he said.
The price of walking sticks at ‘Bheemstyx’ ranges between Rs. 500 and Rs. 15,000. “I am giving something old, destroyed and useless wood a new lease of life and new meaning and people must appreciate the value and real efforts that go behind breathing life into dead wood. No one values a thing that is fallen down. But if the same piece is turned into art, they are well-received,” he added.