By Hand From The Heart is a biannual Makers Market held in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India.
Architect Shweyta Mudgal is the design principal and founder of Eight Thousand Miles – a lifestyle design for sustainable alternatives for children clothing and furnishings brand based in New York & Mumbai. We catch up with her to understand her creative business, her dreams and her entrepreneurial journey with Eight Thousand Miles.
A bit about yourself and what you do.
I am an Architect/ Urban Designer specializing in Airport Architecture, Planning & Design. About 2.5 years ago, while on a global mobility stint with my family, I turned Entrepreneur when I founded Eight Thousand Miles as a lifestyle design brand to create a sustainable, ethically sourced, handcrafted and handmade lifestyle collection for children, adults & home with a contemporary, bohemian-chic design aesthetic.
Background – I have always believed in the power of design, much before I even decided to dedicate a career to it and train formally as an Architect/ Urban Designer. Sartorial or spatial; design at any scale has always given me a high like none other. I like to think of my design journey as always having been spatial – that has transcended scales – from public to personal, from cities to clothing, airports to apparel and ‘macro’ to ‘micro’.
Born and raised in Mumbai, India, I moved to New York in 2003 and specialized in Airport-Design, a field I worked in for the next decade. From 2012 to 2014 I spent a year each, living in Singapore & Mumbai with travel to over 20+ countries in between. That stint turned out to be the turning point in my professional career as I set up the path for being an Entrepreneur. Somewhere along the way, while traversing those many miles, is when Eight Thousand Miles was born. Convinced that life was best led between global antipodal homes, as against in either one of them, I took inspiration in my travels, tamed my wanderlust a little, synthesized my love for all things artisanal, bohemian & handmade and decided to anchor the vagabonding ideas in my head into my first design- based socio-entrepreneurial lifestyle start-up aptly titled – eight thousand miles!
“eight thousand miles” – can you explain what you mean?
Eight thousand miles is the diameter of the earth. It is also the distance that separates our two home cities of Mumbai and New York. As a brand venture that was conceived on a journey (literally while traversing the miles during a two year global mobility stint that I undertook with my family, that took us around the sun many times), Eight Thousand Miles – the brand, celebrates the idea of the home as a place sans borders. We embody the belief that all individuals are born to be non-conformist, free-spirited wanderers. The brand ‘eight thousand miles’, is an ode to the idea of multiple homes; a sense of simultaneous belonging to more than one part of the world!
Tell us about your recent works and your proposed showcase at the By Hand, From The Heart.
Our current product line mainly includes Children’s apparel in pure cotton/ handloom or hand woven fabrics. Our clothing goes from age groups newborn to 12 years. We also do swaddle cloths/ sheets and quilts for babies and toddlers. Our focus is on creating mainly gender neutral styles – such as kurtas, pants, night sets for both boys & girls. We also do a few gender-specific styles such as shirts for boys & dresses for girls.
This year we are also launching gender-neutral night wear for adults.All of the above will be part of our showcase at the August 2016 By Hand From The Heart event in Chennai.
All our clothing is loosely fit for the maximum comfort of little busybodies and is in 100% cotton. We recommend that they be hand-washed separately, line dried and worn often.
Where do you look for inspiration? And what is inspiring you now?
I get inspired by everything; the ordinary and the extraordinary. Great design, the relentless urge to travel, a well-written verse from an engaging book, a movie that refuses to leave long after it is over, a soulful conversation, the lyrics of a haunting song, a great bottle of red wine, an impeccable cup of coffee, walking through markets, my closest friends, the work ethic of my amazing better-half aka the wind beneath my vagabonding wings, my special joie de vivre that is my daughter Zoe…. the list goes on.
Presently I am very inspired by all the self-made entrepreneurs/ globally-mobile multi-taskers, that I have been crossing paths with off-late. Since I jumped aboard the Entrepreneur bandwagon about 2.5 years ago, I have seen many individuals adapt this multiple time-zonal live/work lifestyle. Knowing first- hand how difficult this is, I have tremendous respect for all of them & am inspired by their collaborative effort to force the world into becoming a much smaller place.
How long does it take to make a collection? What’s involved?
Since we operate in two antipodal markets, so to speak, (India & the US), we do not work on seasonal collections. Our collections are more market-specific; adapting to context with respect to the varying design sensibilities, climatic considerations & general demands of both countries, thereby resulting in the need for a mutually exclusive diversified product-lines that are specifically tailored for each place (for example we do a traditional ethnic line in boys/ girls clothing in India during the festive season, while we do unisex jackets/ winter wear for kids in the US). We overlap both collections as and when possible but our US collection always incorporates a ‘curated’ product line as well, from like-minded brands & social enterprises that we collaborate with, to produce a limited edition collection, only for the holiday season.
Typically our design process starts with either sourcing or designing our own prints. I do all the sourcing and designing myself. This is my most favourite part of the Design process – where I get to sketch the fabric prints, play with various permutations and combinations, scale & colors and finally translate my initial sketches into prints for our block-printing partner unit. I also meet with my block-printers twice a year to develop new patterns/ sample our fabric prints and finalize them.
Once all the fabric is dyed and/ or printed, it is pre-washed & pre-shrunk before being delivered to our NGO partner sewing units. I meet with these units twice a year, to design and develop patterns and styles, go over sizing, sampling and quality issues with them. The generated patterns are graded, cut, hand sewn, checked for quality and finally packaged to be shipped out, by the women that have been trained by the NGO.
From start to finish, thus, every Eight Thousand Miles product is created by hand!
Every Eight Thousand Miles product is thus, uniquely handmade as against being generically mass- produced, bearing on itself the natural subtle mark of its maker thus telling a global story that leaves no two pieces alike.
Social Responsibility lies at the core of our brand business model, wherein ONLY artisans or skilled workers from under-privileged backgrounds of society are employed to handcraft the in-house designs in a fair trade; sustainable work environment. The endeavor is to provide a design platform to craft – communities in-need by honing and utilizing their skill-set & facilitating their economic and social empowerment.
Describe your work space and what’s it like?
My workspace, like my work, is spread across both cities – Mumbai and New York. At both locations, I have a home-office, that lets me plug in to work for the day. A big part of my remote-working profile entails co-ordination/ phone meetings over skype – so plainly put, I am often talking to my laptop screen. That sure can get socially-isolating at times, as there are no co-workers around. Our entire team operates remotely as well – mostly from their homes/ workshops.
What’s the best thing about being a design entrepreneur?
1. Being able to see one’s designs being appreciated across the globe, by culturally diverse clients, thereby reinstating the belief in one’s design aesthetic.
2. Being one’s own boss – All designers and creative-minded individuals pine to be their own bosses some day, in order to unleash their maximum creative potential. While that is the greatest form of liberation for a designer, one also needs to set design deadlines on oneself (not an easy task for most designers), which can get challenging at times.
What advice would you share to those who want to take on their hobby/ passion into a career?
Not all hobbies/ passions need to be careers. In fact a hobby or a passion may well lose its sense of fun if it became a career and one attached any expectations to it. So first evaluate if your hobby/ passion really lends itself to becoming an overall self-sustaining career. If it does, then stick with it & see it all the way through. If it doesn’t then don’t force it to be so. It is possible to pursue alternate careers alongside multiple hobbies/ passions as well.
My most recent association with Chennai was earlier this year, when I identified an NGO Sewing partner unit for Eight Thousand Miles, here in the Kanchipuram area. With them being our major manufacturing unit going forward, Chennai is now a permanent feature on my work travel itinerary. I look forward to making many trips here and hopefully exploring other aspects of the city on some of those, as well.
Eight Thousand Miles, will be featured at By Hand From The Heart: MAKERS MARKET – 18th Edition.
Friday – Saturday, 5th – 6th August, 2016
10:00 a.m – 8:00 p.m
Crowne Plaza Chennai Adyar Park
132, T.T.K Road, Alwarpet, Chennai – 600018, Tamil Nadu. India