Founders | Women Series | Leah singh

Women series is a monthly edit to explore creative entrepreneurship amongst women globally. Through this series, we wish to understand creative journeys, challenges, inspirations and develop a community. This month we spoke to Leah Singh, Designer and Founder of an indie label based in New Delhi and NewYork.

I would help my mother select fabric to re-upholster all the seating in our home- I loved going to the fabric stores to see all the different materials and colors of fabric.

Tell me how your creative journey started. Did you have creative influences growing up?  What education/ training did you receive?
For as long as I can remember, I have always loved building things and working with different materials. I loved art class where I could explore different media. I still have some sculptures that I made in high school. Before I was even 12, I would help my mother select fabric to re-upholster all the seating in our home- I loved going to the fabric stores to see all the different materials and colors of fabric. I loved the process of making something from scratch. My parents had a furniture factory, and I would love to see how things were made there. 
My mother was my creative influence growing up- although she wasn’t good at drawing and working with her hands, she had a very good eye for putting things together, and this definitely fueled my creativity in my early years. I think the creativity was always a part of me, and my mother helped me to develop it. 
There was no question in my mind that I wanted to go to art school, although my parents were against it in the beginning as they thought that artists don’t earn enough and that I would be left struggling. After a lot of fighting and even spending one semester at a liberal arts college in New York, they finally agreed to let me go to Parsons where I received training in industrial design, which I absolutely loved.  

What has been the source of inspiration for you( people, travel,  places, cultures etc)? 
I am inspired by architecture, the 80’s, the Bauhaus movement, and color. Color is huge for me- sometimes I come across a color combination I like, and then I create the collection around it. I spend a lot of time building an archive of color combinations that I want to create a collection around. And I find these color combinations in random places- it could be the colors on a transportation truck in India, or the colors of an interesting outfit I saw someone wearing. If I’m unable to take a picture of a color combination I find, I make notes on my phone with detailed descriptions of the colors so that I can add them to my archives when I’m back home. At times I am inspired by a combination of shapes or lines that I discovered in architecture or in some geometric artwork, and then I create a lot of artwork with layouts of geometric shapes and add the colors later.  

Can you also talk about your experience of working in India and New York? Do you think your cultural identity brought influences at work? 
Although working in New York is vastly different from working in India, there is some common ground that exists because of my cultural identity of being from both these places. I feel very much at home and a part of both these places, so I have always been very comfortable whether I am working in New York or in India. People in both places can relate to me as a local, but they also see me as someone who has a deep understanding of the business which is carried out overseas- this has been a huge advantage for me. When I work with artisans in India, they can relate to me but at the same time, they feel I am a foreigner who understands and has access to an international market. When I work with clients in the US, they are able to relate to me but also see me as a foreigner who understands the manufacturing process in India. My cultural identity has helped me understand and navigate the business quite seamlessly, and helped gain the trust of the people I work with. 

What is the step forward for your personal projects? Would you like to share any?  Could you comment about 'being a creative soul' and  How does travel facilitate your ideas?  
I have a long list of personal projects which I work on when I have time, and then I add new projects to the list. As I mentioned earlier, I like to work with different media and materials, so my projects are always very varied to keep me creatively satisfied. My list currently includes doing a series of paintings, creating jewelry and clothing, renovating my home, to name a few. I get caught up with work so these projects get postponed, but I am working on the painting series and renovating my home at the moment, and I hope to complete both this year! 
I also love to travel, so that is always on my list of personal projects. I like to visit places with a cultural history and explore the ancient and modern art and architecture. Being in unfamiliar environments and experiencing different cultures/people/food, always tends to change my perspective and how I see the world- and this, in turn, influences my work. 
Being a creative soul is like being a sponge- soaking in everything around me to create art from my perspective. 

Could you comment on the current landscape of independent artists/ designers in India and how brands are more open to experimentation and collaboration? 
I think it’s great that the number of independent designers is growing in India, and that people are starting to appreciate and understand a designers’ value and perspective. There are so many beautiful products and brands doing amazing work in their field, from traditional products to more western/modern ones. There are so many different cultural influences present as well, from the different states of India and also from abroad, and a mix of traditional and modern manufacturing processes. And it’s so wonderful when designers come together, pooling their knowledge and experiences- collaborations combine 2 perspectives to create a unique new product, and this brings designers and audiences together to a create a larger community. It feels like a pot of endless possibilities and I love being a part of it! 

Would you say there are any pros and cons of being a woman in this industry? 
I think it is easier being a woman in certain situations in this industry, and it is easier to be a man in certain situations. When working with women artisans especially in rural areas, I think it helps to be a woman as the artisans will feel more comfortable dealing with another woman.  
It is difficult being a woman when it involves traveling to certain areas and working with men that are not used to independent, working women. I feel thankful to say that despite a few minor obstacles, I haven’t faced many difficulties because of my gender. 

When I work with artisans in India, they can relate to me but at the same time, they feel I am a foreigner who understands and has access to an international market.