Zeba Parkar is proof you can build a career out of your hobby.
She initially moved to the US and landed in the Midwest for a Ph.D. in material sciences and engineering. There, her long-time passion for gardening was brought indoors and she had to figure out the best way to keep plants happy and thriving inside.
With more than 100 indoor plants of her own, Parkar told Hypepotamus that she wanted to integrate those plants into the interior design of her house in an aesthetically pleasing manner. She leaned into her material sciences and manufacturing background to build a decorative trellis for her own garden.
A few Instagram posts showing off her design quickly turned Parkar’s hobby into a budding business.
After building out initial prototypes at a local maker space, Parkar officially launched Treleaf in January of 2021 out of Atlanta, where she now lives. It has been bootstrapped to date, adding new retail channels and product lines to bring in new customers.
The design of each product has to be both functional and “striking,” she said. “Because I’m an engineer, the first thing I think about is function. The second thing I think about is how easy will this be for me to make and can I make them by the hundreds. But it also has to look unique.”
Most of the designs are inspired by nature, be it a large monstera leaf or cacti or a modular set that expands with the plant as it grows.
Most recently, Treleaf launched a collection made of unfinished birch plywood so that customers can paint their own creations.
Several retailers and plant pop-up shops in Georgia and North Carolina have started carrying Treleaf products, and the company has gained traction with young, urban plant enthusiasts across the country through its social media.
This isn’t Parkar’s first entrepreneurial venture, but it is one that does seem to perfectly fit her passions and her academic expertise. She initially planned on entering academia but was pulling into research engineering at various manufacturing spaces before joining the entrepreneurial space.
There are some challenges, of course, with bringing a consumer brand to life. Right now there is a shortage of warehouse spaces across the country and there is the upfront cost associated with creating a B2C product.
On the business side, Parkar said there is a fun challenge in “owning the entire supply chain.” Key to this is the ability to source wood in the Southeast — a region known for its lumber manufacturers — and then create, prototype, finish, and fulfill orders in-house. That allows her to think about an idea and create that product quickly. She has also spent a lot of time perfecting the packaging needed to display and ship such a product.
“I see ourselves more as a manufacturing company…it just happens that we make a consumer product and we are building a brand around it,” she added.