Off-Kilter: Who are you and what do you do?
Fariha Abdul Wajid: Ok, so I’m Fariha Abdul Wajid and I graduated from IIT College of Architecture in Fall 2015. I studied Architecture and I took a product design class when I was at IIT and I ended up creating a wood block in that class to print on textiles. And that’s when I kind of got the inspiration to start this business basically. I took that product and design class and I printed some scarves and I posted it on my blog and I posted it on Facebook and stuff. I got a couple of requests like, hey you should make the scarves. So I had another elective before I graduated and I decided to take an entrepreneurship class and we had to start with like an idea that we had for a business. I thought “hey ok, let me use this idea and see what can happen”. The end result of that class was to kinda sell the product and see if people are interested in buying it. That’s when I created a website and just had people do like an ordering system, like order this scarf if you’re interested. I thought I was going to get like 15-20 request for the scarf, but I ended up getting 100 or so and that’s when I realized I can’t make this in my living room anymore. So I just researched online looking for a wood block printing studio, manufacturer, something like that. I wasn’t sure if people still wood block printed in today’s day and age. We found someone and I made sure they were fair trade and then that’s how this business kind of started. So yea basically, architecture background and someone who’s very much interested in photography, graphic design, I also worked at the Art Institute, architecture firms, and I kind of love a little bit of everything. This incorporates everything and it’s taken off pretty well.
OK: Awesome. So why did you start with scarves?
FAW: So when I made the wood block, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to print on. A scarf is something I wear everyday, whether it’s around my head or around my neck, so for me it was like everyone wore a scarf. Anyone all around the world can wear one. I thought it was like this unifying factor of fashion which could possibly turn into something cool. I didn’t think deeply into it but when I started with the scarf, I presented it in a school project, and it worked out really well. I feel like it just kind of resonates with everyone.
OK: What are some of your biggest challenges when creating scarves? If you have any.
FAW: Well my first biggest challenge was making sure I found a fair trade printing facility or studio and after overcoming that, now it’s just how to bring architecture into fashion and combining these two interests. I just want to make sure I focus on the story while also kinda not limiting myself too much. My challenge was to see if this would actually resonate with other people and now that it does I can move forward.
OK: Why was it important to find someone Fair Trade?
FAW: I didn’t know Fair Trade was a thing actually until I started this business. I knew it was out there but I didn’t pay much attention to it. But then when I started actually wanting to produce my scarves, I thought I would feel so guilty if it was produced in like a sweat shop where people and people weren’t paid well. Once I figured out what Fair Trade was and how important it was, and how I could kinda find a fair trade manufacturer, that’s when I started researching that and when I finally found it, I was like “Ok, why would I do anything other than Fair Trade?”. Because ethical fashion is so important. The idea that I’m wearing something that someone was probably paid little to nothing to make and I’m paying so much for it, made me feel so terrible for those people. So watching those documentaries and kind of learning more about ethical fashion, that’s when I realized I would want and need to be an ethical and Fair Trade business.
OK:What are you most proud of?
FAW: I’m just very proud that I’m able to have a business and do something that I’m actually very proud of doing. And it’s going very well and I’m able to incorporate all these interests. I do photography, I do the website design, product design-I’m incorporating everything I’ve learned and everything I’m interested in into this business. And it’s actually going really well. So for me that’s just really exciting.
OK:Awesome. Do you have a team that you work with?
FAW: So right now it’s me and my husband. I do all the designing and stuff and he does the finances and the business structure. It’s mainly both of us and then obviously our team in India printing the scarves. That’s our team right now. I’m not sure if we’re going to expand a bit. That’s pretty much it for now.
OK:Do you feel a responsibility to introduce something bigger than yourself through your work?
FAW: Yes. I don’t want to just create a business. I didn’t want to just open up and Etsy shop because I though it was fun and that I wanted all the credit and everything. Like for me, what’s bigger than myself is giving the credit to these artists that are doing amazing work. I mean this guy is just like…an amazing printer. His name is Vijdendra Chhipa and he’s been printing for like five generations in his family and he makes sure all of his printers are like treated well and paid well. That they live and work in great conditions and that this art of wood block printing stays alive and well and that people respect it. They celebrate it and I kind of want to add into that and celebrate that. I think it’s these artisans and architects from all around the world and from way back when. They’ve done such amazing work and the idea is kind of taking these beautiful things out of what’s already there and celebrating that through the scarves and textiles and stuff. So, for me it’s kind of…that’s bigger than myself. All this stuff that already exists and kind of celebrated through something that we wear and use everyday.
OK: What’s your background. Like when did you realize that you wanted to do architecture? Are you from Chicago? That sort of thing.
FAW: Yea, yea. So I was born and raised in Chicago.
FAW: I can’t leave, I don’t know where else I would go. But it was in elementary school and stuff, that’s when I figured out that I wanted to go into art and design. Um…my brother’s a graphic designer. He’s always been gifted at like painting and drawing. He would always make such realistic things and I would always try to copy him, but mine would come out as stick figures and cartoons. But yea, I was pretty young when I realized I wanted to go into art or design. I went to Lane Tech High School and they had a really good architecture program there. After visiting my brother, he lived in Singapore at the time, so I visited him. I walked around with him and I would point out these different things about buildings in Singapore and we would have these nice discussions about like buildings, art, and design and stuff. And that’s when he told me about architecture. I actually didn’t know what architecture was at the time. So for me in my head it was the same as engineering and was going to require a lot of math and science and I wasn’t into that. But then he was like, you know just go back to Chicago and research it and you’ll realize it’s perfect for you. So I came back to Chicago and did a lot of research for hours and tried to figure out what architecture was. I came across Le Corbusier, he’s an architect and painter, and he kind of incorporated painting and architecture and did something awesome. He made beautiful buildings that were almost like…um…they almost looked like paintings to me. So that’s when I was like ok, this guy incorporates art and design, he had this awesome career, he made beautiful buildings, and I could see myself doing architecture. So when I went to Lane I started taking the architecture classes. I was really passionate about it, I entered a lot of competitions, and it went really well. I got involved with the Chicago Architecture Foundation and um…I learned a lot. I went to a lot of lectures and stuff. So then once I knew I wanted to do architecture, I applied for IIT. I got a full ride to IIT and stuff, so it was really awesome. I was like passionate about architecture and during that time, I was able to work for Studio Gang Architects. They’re not too far from here. They designed Aqua Tower, I don’t know if you know that, but yea, I worked for them and gained a lot of experience. I worked for the Art Institute. I was able to do a little bit of everything and then this happened while I was at school, so it just incorporated everything. I did photography on the side too when I was growing up, I did a lot of painting, drawing. I took art classes and I learned about what printmaking was in high school.
OK: That’s awesome. So what do you do for fun?
FAW: All of this is fun for me. But yea for fun, my husband and I, we travel a lot. We recently went to Tokyo and Singapore. We try to visit wherever we can when there’s cheap plane tickets. I do photography on the side too. Whether it’s just for fun or capturing events for family and friends, I just enjoy doing that. I blog a lot, like I like writing and posting photos. I sketch a lot obviously because that’s where these patterns kind of come from.
OK: That’s super awesome. What’s next for you?
FAW: Hopefully in a couple months, Mike and I are going to visit India and create new products with the printers there. We have ideas for going into home décor textiles and we just have a bunch of ideas for other products. Kind of just want to go out there and test it out and learn more about the printing process because there’s just so much more to learn about. Actually a couple months ago, I quit my job at an architecture firm and that’s when I decided to go full-time with Inkmade. I had no idea what I was going to do after I quit my job. I wasn’t happy doing what I was doing at that firm. And it just so happen that this took off while I was looking for other jobs. So right now I’m kind of running with Inkmade. It’s going really well. This kind of pop-up shop has been an amazing experience. It happened so last minute by the way. I had no plans on doing this but the lady who designed the space, the architect, she messaged me on LinkedIn and was like “Oh, we only have like one week and one spot open this year, do you want it?” and I was like “I’m not ready right now”. But my husband was like, just do it, just try it. So it’s been awesome selling like so many scarves and people are very much interested in the story. At first I was like, oh let me see if this works out. It was kind of just testing faith. I wasn’t sure if I was going to end up looking for more architecture jobs or designer jobs rather than start my own business. This was going to be a side thing. So when I went full-time and it’s been going really well, I’m kind of just going full fledge on this and see what happens. At first it was just a test to see if I would end up going back into the “working world” or the “corporate world”, but now I’m here to stay and it’s been awesome. So I’m just going to run with it.
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