So I’m back with another TenOnTen, and this time with Shruti Patel, the mastermind behind the jewellery brand Savannah Chic! Shruti is more than just an acquaintance to me, she’s family and boy am I proud to be related to her! Over my years I’ve spent time with Shruti at different occassions, and have always looked up to her. She’s driven by passion and diligence, and I’ve always thought of her as a brainy one! A couple years back she started Savannah Chic, which I think is awesome. She has an eye for detail and a great plan to promote East African jewellery. Shruti has been quite a nomad and has lived in various countries, currently she resides in Switzerland with her lovely husband, Chetan, but shuffles in between to Kenya, to closely work with her craftsmen.
Shruti : Did I ever tell you, your brilliant & so admire what you do! And do check our website!
Me, Myself & I
An Indian heart, a Kenyan soul, and a mind that’s worked in at least a dozen different countries. A hard-nosed economist with a passion for all things creative, and a naively ambitious aspiring designer and entrepreneur. Here’s my story…
I trained as a development economist and spent 8 years working with international aid agencies in different parts of the world. Then, 2 years ago I launched my own fashion jewellery label – Savannah Chic.
Economics and fashion seem worlds apart, so some may see the 180-degree turn in my career as a manifestation of my Gemini personality! In reality however, Savannah Chic aspires to many of the same goals most development projects aim for – empowerment, improved capacity, and sustainability. My mum and I work hand in hand with talented artisans and fair trade certified workshops in Kenya, and through this ‘trade not aid’ ethos, I believe we’re making a positive and lasting contribution to the communities we work with. Achieving all this through fashion is really exciting and it definitely satisfies the creative side of my personality…which is a Gemini trait after all!
Passionate about Design
I’m grossly under-qualified to comment on what design is or should be, so instead I’ll refer to design masters I’m most inspired and provoked by…
“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” – Steve Jobs, Apple
“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” – Pablo Picasso
Both these ideas resonate with me. Picasso’s thoughts inspire and comfort me because like him, I’m also doing something I know nothing about. Jobs’ comments provoke me because development has taught me the importance of listening as well as speaking, and I think the same applies to design. When working with artisans back in Kenya I’ve found it just as important to provide direction and guidance, as it is to encourage creativity and explore new ideas…it’s this give and take relationship that I’ve found results in the most well-designed pieces.
Wow – inspiration: people, music, art, culture
I’m *wowed* by countless things everyday but in the end it all comes down to people. Whether it’s the self-determination and pride of young people that brought down a repressive 30-year old regime or a rising entrepreneur that is re-defining the norms of education and nutrition for young children. I am blown away by the ability of ordinary people to challenge the status quo and bring about change.
What is Savannah Chic About?
Style, Soul & History – these are the key elements we embody as a brand. It’s about creating fabulous stylish jewellery, but doing so in a way that improves the lives of so many under-privileged artisans and communities in Kenya. But it’s not just about providing jobs & income. I believe ‘western’ designers have a responsibility to inspire artisans in developing countries, so they can eventually work on the same playing field – as peers, rather than workhorses.
Our upcoming e-platform – I.D.E.A, which stands for Inspired Design, Empowered Artisans aims to do just that, so stay tuned!
Africa as a continent also has an incredibly rich heritage of beads and adornment, much of which has been neglected or described using one of my least favourite terms: ‘ethnic’…I hope this is something we can slowly change.
My Own Critic
This piece was crafted by Wilson Mwangi, a hearing and speech-impaired artisan from western Kenyan. When I first met Wilson, I was amazed by the quality and intricacy of his work with brass and wood, but it took almost two years to get from his original piece (pictured on the right), to the final product!
Design is evolutionary, but sometimes the smallest one-step change can make a big difference. The bangles below are made by the Jacaranda School for the mentally handicapped in Nairobi, but it was the addition of colourful ceramic beads that resulted in it becoming one of our best-selling products.
The diversity of Africa’s bead and raw materials is truly inspiring, and recycled glass beads are one of my favourites. Made primarily by Ghana’s Krobo people, I’m fascinated by the beauty and eco-friendly dimension of this ancient tradition.
I might be biased, but Kenya probably has the most skilled and creative craftsmen and designers in the world. It’s no surprise that over the last few years numerous brands have set-up base there, and Nairobi is fast-becoming a fashion hotspot. Even Vivienne Westwood recently produced a range of Kenyan-made tote bags! With all this comes optimism and energy – it proves ethical fashion can be a real force for good. However, much more needs to be done to support local designers. At the same time, Kenyan designers need to get out of their comfort zone by moving away from traditional kanga and lesso fabrics – they hold themselves back by doing so.
Piece of Advice
Try not to settle for anything less than the image in your head…it will haunt you forever!
I’m no fashionista but I love Garance Doré’s fashion blog (www.garancedore.fr/en/).
The simplicity and honesty of her images and writing make fashion relevant, fun and reachable to pretty much everyone.
www,wonderable.com by Carla Peters is the epitomy of design & ethics
Bholu – An endearing name and a charmingly simple concept of interior decoration (www.bholu.com)
Banksy – An artful rebel that’s welcome to scribble on my wall (www.banksy.co.uk)
Bernos – T-shirts inspired by childhood memories of Africa (www.bernos.com)
I dream of…
I do dream a lot but I’ll restrict myself to the most frequently occurring: Creating a line of accessories that fuses my Indian roots with my Kenyan upbringing, ethical & sustainable fashion replacing today’s culture of consumerism and fast-fashion, freer trade, and internet access for all. I dream of my dreams turning into hope, and of my hopes becoming reality.
Stay in touch