This month I had the opportunity to interview Leah, the founder and creative mind behind Leah Singh. Her collection of pillows, clutches and bone jewelry mixes traditional Indian craft techniques with modern, geometric forms. I'm thrilled to share Leah's story, and how her brand promotes the rejuvenation of traditional Indian craftsmanship.
I grew up in India surrounded by color, patterns, ancient architecture, and a diversity of art from the different states in the country. Traditional textiles and decorative objects were and still are seen in every home—including mine. Although I loved it all, it was just another part of everyday life, so I didn't pay any special attention to it.
Then I attended Parsons in New York to study industrial design and was away for six years, with only a handful of two-week long visits to India. It was during these visits that I began to fall in love with the different craft forms. I think the stark contrast between my surroundings in NY and India, as well as my industrial design training, is what made me start to notice and appreciate different aspects of both places. My collections are a combination of my favorite things from each place.
When did you launch your collection, and how has it evolved over the years?
I launched my first collection of jewelry in 2010—a continuation of my thesis project at Parsons in which I designed lamp fixtures that were made of bone. Although the jewelry satisfied my love of sculptural, geometric forms, it did not satisfy my love of colors and patterns. My textile collection was the solution to this—the weaving, embroidery, and printing techniques that I use allow me to play with all the colors and patterns that my heart desire! At the same time, it provides a platform for me to work with artisans across India to create my collection.
(Petite Heart Stud Earrings, Kilimanjaro Mountains Necklace, Scarpa Oversized Clutch, Scarpa Leather Clutch,
It's incredible that you work directly with craftspeople in villages across India. How did this collaboration begin?
I found that although India has so many different craft techniques, the aesthetic and product categories have barely changed over the years. They remain traditional and do not feel applicable to current times, so as a result the crafts and techniques are starting to die out.
But they are so beautiful! The craftsmen and craftswomen are so skilled, yet completely undervalued. So my aim with my brand is to rejuvenate select crafts and create a new market for them. In order to do this, I work directly with the artisans, who I meet at craft bazaars as well as through friends and acquaintances.
Would you say your collaborative efforts have helped the community in India?
In a small way, the collaboration has helped the different communities because our company is creating industry for these artisans—but I feel that there is still a long way to go.
The geometric forms in your textiles and jewelry appear both modern and evocative of traditional Indian patterns. How do you strike a balance when designing your pieces?
I design freely without any rules or restrictions. However, after designing, I review all the designs to determine whether any look too traditional or ethnic. If so, I remove it from the collection. I don't have trouble when it comes to the modernity of shapes and patterns, but I sometimes find the color selection process challenging. Some color combinations can be too bright and colorful, and it begins to look like an Indian wedding!
But Indian weddings are beautiful! What was the color inspiration behind your Spring 2014 collection?
This season's inspiration was a combination of sunsets, deserts and oceans. In fact, the desert landscape of my mother's hometown in Rajasthan inspired the dusty palette of sand, mahogany, and sea blue.
Leah Singh's SS14 Collection includes a variety of home décor pillows, handcrafted clutches and signature bone jewelry. The full collection is available at LeahSingh.com. I hope you enjoyed meeting Leah, and I encourage everyone to explore her new collection. Thank you so much for reading!