Leah Singh uses bold design to rejuvenate ancient crafts. She translates urban and modern geometries into beautiful hand-woven and hand-printed textiles and home-décor products, all handcrafted in India. Leah’s work is about the impact of good design.
She infuses the ancient handmade process with her edgy and modern esthetics – and you could never guess that her products were made in a rural Indian setting. Hers is a slow and almost magical process, which evolves from her first notebook sketches, to her close partnership with master artisans, her balanced choice of colors, and finally leads to the hand sewing of her vibrant line of home products.
Trained at Parsons in New York – her senior thesis focused on how the design of a product could benefit either a group of people or the environment. Leah felt strongly about doing something related to India where she is from, and where she believed she could make an impact. She chose to focus on the craft industry, and her eponymous home decor brand organically grew out of that initial thesis work.
“I found that in India, regardless of the craft type, the aesthetic and product categories hadn’t changed over the years, and the artisan groups had gotten smaller as the demand for their items decreased.” She believed that strong design could help boost and rejuvenate many artisanal crafts.
With design influences found in the West and modern architecture, the patterns, colors, and overall aesthetic of Leah’s products are very different from typical Indian crafts. Leah notes, “Although I use traditional crafts, my products don’t look ethnic or traditional.” She remains adamant however that “the essence of the craft and the hand-made feel remains, and is an integral part of all my products.”
An important part of Leah’s craft is finding a balance of partnership with her artisan makers; there is a craft to the collaboration between designer and craftsman/woman. “Although I speak and write Hindi, and some of the artisans speak and write in English, I try to use as little text as possible.” She communicates through illustrations and drawings, and the experimentation of color and pattern starts directly from the drawing. Working on initial samples is often a back-and-forth between Leah’s drawings, the artisans’ interpretations of the forms, and what is actually possible within a certain weaving or embroidery technique.
Leah notes that she remains “very flexible with my artwork because I know the artisans work from home, and are not a factory used to following standards and guidelines.” She states that, “the quality of the products and maintaining the precision of the geometric shapes hasn’t been so much of a problem.” The accuracy of color, however, remains more variable. “When yarns have to be dyed or colors mixed for printing, it is difficult to get the exact color that I want. So I always have to be flexible when it comes to color,” states Leah.
Leah’s main criteria for choosing a certain embroidery, weaving, or printing techniques is whether it allows for multiple bright colors and bold, geometric patterns. This is the focus of her design. However, beyond color and shape, Leah’s products also play with touch and the feeling of the textiles in your hands. Leah says that she prefers to work with “natural materials like cottons, silks, and linens, and I love my textiles to have texture.” She chooses weaving and embroidery techniques that have a textured surface, to which she then adds the visual texture of her geometric designs.
Many new things are coming to the Leah Singh brand. Her summer collection is launching in early June, and consists of cottons, linens and bright colors with a mix of hand-woven items, block printing, and embroidery. Her upcoming fall collection consists of fragmented shapes interpreted through different color-ways, again using a combination of hand-woven and embroidered items. The holiday collection, which Leah is most excited about consists of hand-embroidery in creams, golds, and silvers. We got a sneak peak – and it’s not to be missed!
Leah Singh products are sold in the USA through Glamour magazine’s online shop, various luxury boutiques and through Leah’s website http://www.leahsingh.com She will be presenting her products at the NY NOW August gift show. Get in touch with Leah at www.facebook.com/leahsinghaccessories
Anne-Laure Py is the Founder and Creative Director of Craftspring www.craftspring.com which works with women artisans in Kyrgyzstan. She is a good friend of Leah’s and is always interested in how good design can support crafts. Get in touch via www.facebook.com/craftspring