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Of all the gifts I received this holiday season, my favorite has perfectly complemented the recent cold and cozy LA evenings: Boxwalla’s brilliant foodbox. Founded in 2015 by Sandeep Bethanabhotla and Lavanya Krishnan, Boxwalla is a sensory and cultural discovery platform for curious people, showcasing the most wonderful artists, artisans and brands from around the world, across multiple categories. “Our objective is for people to slow down, enjoy what they receive, immerse themselves in the stories of the creative folks behind these brands, and ultimately have a more meaningful experience.”
Born out of a deep passion for the arts and the desire to showcase the crème de la crème of our contemporary and creative world, the two South Indian founders spent a while trying to figure out how to best tie up these seemingly disparate, wonderful things in a cohesive but tasteful way. In my humble opinion, I think they’ve absolutely outdone themselves.
Boxwalla, in Hindi and in other South Asian languages, refers to traveling merchants – those who journey the world, come back with gems from different places and sell them to others. As Lavanya so beautifully put: “we think of ourselves as figurative traveling merchants, exploring the world and bringing the best of the best to different places through the creation of our boxes.”
Sandeep and Lavanya realized early on that when shopping online, there's so much noise that it becomes more and more difficult for people to figure out what’s actually good. As a way to help people better navigate what’s out there, they wanted to add context to what people were experiencing. The Boxwalla co-founders decided the best way to do that is by using boxes to tell the stories of those making the products that Boxwalla is showcasing.
And so they created their first four boxes: Movie ($49.95), Food ($99), Beauty ($49.95) and Book ($29.95). The experience of curating each one was made special not only through the careful selection of each piece, but also through seeing all the products in conversation with each other. Together, all the pieces tell a tale – in a way that allows each culture to be defined beyond a single narrative.
OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW
When you look beyond whiteness, industries tend to have that one token Black or Brown brand, and Boxwalla has done everything in its power to make sure that’s not the case. Instead, Boxwalla wants to take hold of the world as it is, and make conscious and active choices towards change. These forward-thinking founders are making diversity the norm rather than the exception, so that when diversity is communicated, it never feels tokenized. Sandeep and Lavanya believe that when people’s curiosity is great enough, the tendency to want to tokenize certain cultures is lessened.
Although their aim (as Indians) is not to showcase mainly South Asian creators, they have noticed that most things from that part of the world are not represented accurately. Consequently, they speak to the accuracy of that representation: “We want to show you our India.” Representation matters, but accurate representation of different regions, languages and areas is what’s really important.
South Asia is not a monolith, and that complexity tends to get lost in the Western sphere. Additionally, many things that come from South Asia, like yoga and ayurveda, are very much associated with Hinduism, which is just one aspect of South Asia. Sandeep and Lavanya try to incorporate South Asia’s granularity as much as possible, like our Islamic influences for example, because it’s our stories of migration, different countries and cultures meeting each other, that makes us beautiful. That’s the story of our continent that they hope to capture.
FOR THOSE WHO LIVE TO EAT
Sandeep and Lavanya have been reimagining the food box and wanting to bring it back as a seasonal drop rather than a subscription box. And so, I was one of the first to get to experience their new creation, lucky me! The theme of this carefully curated Food Box ($99) is Edible Flowers. Boxwalla sent me flowers I can eat, drink and even smoke, along with a beautiful letter mapping out what the box contains and how I should best unpack it.
I started with what caught my eye first — gorgeous flower cookies made by artist baker Loria Stern. These unique cookies contain edible flowers sourced from Loria’s own organic garden in California. I then moved on to Grist & Toll’s incredible-looking freshly milled Sonora Flour, sourced from the Indigenous owned Ramona Farms. The next product is one I recognized – Diaspora Co’s fragrant Kandyan Cloves. Next, I picked out the Aesthete Love Potion: a delightful loose leaf Assam tea containing organic rose. It reminded me of the tea my aunt used to drink, and as I smelled it, my mind was flooded with memories, scents and visuals of India.
After that, I moved on to the East Fork Fiddlehead Juice Cup – a gorgeous little vessel for tea. Next, I opened Raaka’s Rose Cardamom chocolate, with 70% Tanzanian cacao, made in collaboration with the New York Botanical Garden – a delicious midnight snack. And lastly, coming in with the smoke, I was gifted the Redheaded Stranger rolling papers (from East Nashville Chef Bryan Lee Weaver), to roll Anima Mundi’s Sacred Smoke Blend, which contains mugwort, rose petals, calendula flowers & more. As someone who enjoys my evening cigarette every once in a while, this smoke blend is a much healthier and more delicious alternative.
What I liked most about receiving and unpacking Boxwalla’s gifts is how every product included very clearly complements the next. How you use each one is up to the consumer, but it’s understood that you have the option to add the cloves in when you steep your tea, dip the cookies and the chocolate in your hot beverage, roll your smoke blend in the natural papers and sip your loose leaf creation in the cute cup. When I used all the pieces together, I felt that the experience was complete.
When I asked Sandeep and Lavanya what they hope people will take away from Boxwalla, they said they hope the platform encourages people to be more curious: “although the term ‘intentional’ has been overused, I want people to slow down and think about what they're engaging with, where it's coming from, who was responsible for its creation and what its history is, so that they can experience everything more deeply.”
The founders voiced that they never envisioned Boxwalla to be the endpoint of people’s experiences, but rather the point of departure for people to have other enhanced cultural and meaningful life experiences. In theory, with our unlimited access to information in the contemporary sphere, there's nothing stopping anyone from exploring the world. But in practice, the thing that ends up hindering people is their lack of curiosity. Boxwalla is here to change that.