We want to share with you some inspiring people we have come across on our own creative journey and share an insight into their creative practices, inspirations and projects.
Today we are travelling to New York, USA, where creative Leah Singh is sharing some of her insights about crafts, design, textiles, and tradition. Founder of Leah Signh Inc., a modern home deco online shop with stockists around the USA, Leah works directly with textile artisans in India, her home country. They work collaboratively to create collections of colourful textiles with modern and geometric designs using traditional Indian techniques like embroidery, weaving and printing. Leah’s intention is to rejuvenate and revitalise traditional Indian textile crafts so artisans can widen their audience and make a good living from their craft. She works with a sense of social and environmental responsibility above everything, making sure the artisans get fair wages and have access to a clean and safe working environment. In terms of materials, Leah Signh Inc. only uses natural, responsibly sourced and processed materials.
It’s been such an honour for us to converse with Leah about her projects, ideals and creative processes. Her work has a direct impact in many people’s lives, from the producers to the users, and that we want to highlight and honour today.
1. Could you please start by introducing yourself and tell us where your interest towards textiles comes from?
My name is Leah, and I’m the founder and Creative Director of my namesake home textile brand, Leah Singh. I work directly with artisan communities in India, using traditional embroidery and weaving techniques to create handcrafted textiles for the home. My philosophy is to rejuvenate these age-old techniques by transforming them into modern objects.
My mother is Indian and my father is American, so I grew up shuttling between the rich cultural heritage of India, and the structured, minimal lines of Western architecture.
I studied Industrial Design at the Parsons School of Design in New York, and after graduating, I came back to India to start a line of environmentally sustainable jewelry. However, after a few months of being in India and visiting craft fairs, I was drawn to the various textiles from different regions of India- the colors, textures, and techniques. It felt like an endless pool of possibilities! I started to visualize these traditional techniques in contemporary designs, products, and colors. So when I was introduced to an artisan community that does Kantha embroidery in geometric patterns, I jumped at the opportunity to work with them, and haven’t looked back since! We now work with 6 craft techniques, each done by an artisan community in different regions of India.
2. The philosophy and impetus behind your business is to rejuvenate traditional Indian textile crafts by transforming them into modern objects. What’s the value in undertaking this transformation? And how does this impact the tradition that artisans have been cultivating throughout generations?
When I came back to India after graduating from design school in New York City, I was visiting a lot of craft fairs and meeting artisans, and I learned that the traditional crafts of India are slowly dying out. The artisans’ children prefer to work in offices and cities, earning more in less labor-intensive jobs, so the crafts are not being passed down to the next generation.
Also, the demand for handcrafted products in India is on the decline due to globalization- the artisans have been making the same types of designs and products for years, not shifting with the times, and consumers are drawn towards Western fashion trends, which are sometimes less expensive than these handcrafted products. So some of the artisans have started looking for other jobs with higher wages and more consistent work.
India’s cultural heritage is so rich with so much history and beauty, that it really saddened me to think about the talented artisans needing to find different work, and to have these age-old techniques eventually die out.
By transforming some of India’s traditional craft techniques into modern objects, my aim is to appeal to a wider audience, showcase the history of the craft and the work of the talented artisans, all of which will in turn provide work to the artisan communities so that they can continue to work on their craft and keep it alive.
While working with the artisans, I am very careful about staying true to their technique and process. I work within the limitations of each technique, not disrupting any traditional methods. The only change is the design that they are weaving or embroidering.
3. Could you tell us a bit more about the process involved in the making of the textiles, from beginning to end (from the idea to the finished product)?
To do a new collection, I start by sketching on my computer, coming up with different designs and color palettes. This is one of my favorite parts of the process, so I spend a lot of time playing around with shapes and layouts and colors. Once I have finalized how many of each category I need (pillows, rugs, throws, etc), and which embroidery and weaving techniques I want to work with, I start narrowing down on my favorite sketches to refine them and add/edit to create the collection. I then have to print out the designs at full scale to send to our artisan partners so that they can use that as reference to weave/embroider the designs. I also have to send color print outs to show the color placement on each design. And I send swatches of threads for color reference to dye the yarns. I have to make the artwork as simple and straightforward as possible, with very little text, so that it is self explanatory and easy to understand.
When we send new designs to our artisan partners, they first check whether they have the required yarn colors in stock. If not, the yarn is first dyed and then the weaving/embroidery is done. For the embroidery, depending on the technique, we sometimes send the fabric to our artisan partners to work on.
We then have to wait approximately 45 days to receive the embroidered/woven panels. Once we receive them, we check them to make sure the design and colors and size are correct, and then we send the panels to our artisan partner in New Delhi for stitching. The rugs are sent to us from our artisan partners as finished pieces, so no stitching is required on those. Once we receive the stitched pieces, we finalize which designs we want to move forward with, and then we place a production order with our artisan partners and do a photoshoot.
4. What inspires your designs? Are there any artistic references to your work?
My designs are inspired by architecture, and the Bauhaus and Art Deco movements. For the color palettes, I get inspiration from my environment and surroundings, photos of interior spaces, nature, and I do have a few favorites which tend to show up in multiple collections.
5. Are there any exciting projects coming up soon? What are your plans for 2022-2023?
We received a great response on our tapestries and dog beds, so we are focusing on doing some fun, new designs. As well as some shaped rugs and pillows!