What is Good Design?

  Dipali Patwa is the Chief Creative Officer here at Mela Artisans. Earlier this year, we received news that she had been selected as a finalist (!) for one of the biggest honors in design, the Fashion Group International Rising Star in Home and Interior Design. This is no small feat and calls for a closer examination of her creative genius. Dipali grew up in India, immersing herself in fashion and the performing arts, and developed a passion for textiles and product design. She received her training in fashion design in Mumbai and completed a six month internship at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Her early career in India included working as a design consultant with SEWA, a massive non-profit devoted to women’s livelihoods as well as being the Creative Director for Fabindia, one of India’s first brands focused on building an artisan-based supply chain. In 2000, she moved to the States and to New York City where she found herself working with well-known brands like Ralph Lauren, Martha Stewart, and Laura Ashley. Dipali has always been interested in the cross section of heritage and modern design: a play on how the old and evergreen can be adapted, and yet preserved, simultaneously. We chatted with Dipali to learn more about how she conjures up award-worthy patterns.

Q: What is good design to you? How would you define it?

Good design is a matter of perspective, context and taste. We all live in a global world and yet we as individuals are craving to find that connection in people we associate with, things we cherish, places we visit, experiences we share. Good design is an amalgamation of all of the above and yet I have my own perspective that makes it unique to me. When I am able to relate and take those ideas and convert them into something that is tangible, that to me is good design. But what makes the process meaningful and “good” is when you touch the life of an artisan. The artist is giving life to my idea and on the other end, the consumer who understands the connection. That just completes the circle.

Where do you draw your inspirations from?

India inspires me! Asia draws me! The world engages me!

What is the toughest part of the design process?

Understanding the limitations and yet pushing through to break the barriers of traditional techniques, cultural nuances and helping bridge the gap between old and new, vintage and modern, east and west is probably the toughest part of creating a brand that is seeped in tradition but speaks to the modern consumer. That is challenging but also what makes it rewarding. Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 10.47.40 PM

Walk me through one of your favorite projects.

One of my favorite projects is a more recent development work that we did down south of India in a cooperative village cluster managed by ROPE, which is involved with hand loom weaving. Hand loom weaving is a dying art form. The process itself is fairly labor intensive and the production output is limited, which creates quite a few challenges. I wanted to figure out a way to work with one of my favorite weaves, Ikat. But I wanted to see if there was a way to give it a new twist. So we met with two separate clusters of weavers. One involved banana and sea grass weaving and another involved the Ikat pattern. And I thought, wouldn’t it be lovely if we were able to use the banana fibers and sea grass as the weft yarn and have the Ikat warp made and have the weavers experiment it. It also helps having incredible partners like ROPE who are willing to take that extra step with us, working in the field, and helping this process come to life. So we collectively created a wonderful piece of textile that is a combination of traditional Ikat weave in cotton yarns, juxtaposed with banana fibers weft inserts, yielding in beautiful table linens. Our first collection of Lali and Leela Ikat Table Linens will debut this fall.

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Who are your design heroes?

There are so many who inspire me. From master craftsmen to highly talented designers and entrepreneurs. To name a few, block printers of Sanganer to the Ikat weavers of Pochampalli to the blue pottery artists of Jaipur to Toda tribals of Nilgiri mountains and Banjara women of Gujarat. India has a rich culture and these artisans are the real heroes. At the same token, I am also inspired by Martha Stewart who was able to take a simple idea of good housekeeping and turn it into a multi-million dollar home brand, to David Hicks style and Madeline Weinrib’s textiles to Eileen Fisher’s flawless fabrics, and Fabindia’s simple idea of working with artisans and making it accessible to masses to Uniqlo’s innovation in apparel at mass market, to many talented designers like Prabal Gurung and Sabyasachi who are willing to take the risk and own it. It’s a long list.

Why is it important to weave together heritage and modern design?

Ahh! Why is it? Without our roots and understanding of our past it’s hard to move forward. Once you understand it, you accept it and appreciate it, then you have begun your true creative journey. This is not to hold you back but to set you free! Heritage is an important part of my Indian culture and it holds me accountable to create a style that appeals to me. It gives me a unique perspective. In design if we are honest, we all know that somewhere, somehow the origin of that idea has existed. It’s how you take that idea and adapt it to make it relevant today, is what makes it your own interpretation of style, design, taste, your brand!

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