Graphic designer, entrepreneur AND new mum, Kam Chandan-Whittle is a lady who's lived in different countries and is comfortable wearing many hats. Last November, she launched her brand Chandan Whittle through which she explores her Indian heritage in art prints and gorgeous textiles for the home. Her pieces are joyful and vibrant, each inspired by the beauty and chaos of everyday life in India. I’d love to invite you to join in our conversation, where Kam talks inspiration, future plans and how she found her all-female production team in South India.
Photography by Yeshen Venema
Kam, do you remember where you were when you decided to start your business?
It all happened so organically. I remember while living in New York I had a very strong urge to change gears in my career. I started working on a creative project on the side inspired by my Indian heritage and from that I found myself with a whole book of patterns and designs. My husband Niall encouraged me to do something with them so I decided to use the traditional techniques used by artisans in India to create textiles that celebrated the things that make India incredible.
Why do textiles have a special place in your heart?
I love designing patterns and as wonderful as it has been to see my work in print or digital in the past, there is something even more satisfying about being able to touch and feel my work and actually use it in my everyday life. I find the century-old techniques to make the textiles fascinating. With all the different types of fabrics and textures out there the possibilities are endless!
Urja and Jana cushion covers from the Chandan Whittle collection · Photography by Carley Summers
How does your creative process work?
Everything starts with a story or a memory connected to my heritage. I regularly make notes of ideas as they come to me or use moodboards as a way to document small moments of inspiration. From there, a common thread starts to appear and I start to get excited! I design the key patterns and motifs first then I work through the colour palette. From there I get down to the details of how each piece will look and feel.
Sampling the Ramya cushion cover
You’re responsible for every aspect of your business—how do you manage production and how did you find the amazing ladies you work with?
When it comes to production, it’s all about communication. I’m better at communicating visually rather than verbally so I spend quite a bit of time laying out exactly what I have in my mind on paper. I find it easier for the production team to know exactly what I’m looking for that way. I’m learning so much from the team about what’s possible and how to improve each piece. I really enjoy the whole process.
After some searching I found this cooperative group of artisans in Karur, India, that I really wanted to work with. I wanted to help provide sustainable work for this talented female led group who have not been given the same opportunities in life that I have. It was important for me to create my pieces using traditional techniques and that the production process was environmentally responsible so I found the perfect team to work with!
You’re a lady of many talents and who juggles many roles—what is your secret to keeping all those balls up in the air?
Haha. No idea. I just do it. Being a new mum you just get it done. While I get casual help on the side from family when I need it, it is still a brand that is run by one person (me!) and sometimes it can feel incredibly overwhelming. At the same time though, it’s exciting and I want my daughter to know she can do anything if she puts her mind to it so she keeps me going!
In what way has India been a part of your identity?
I’m a second generation Indian. Born in the UK to two parents who emigrated from India 50 years ago — so I was brought up with two cultures. As I grew up I lost touch with my Indian side and It was only after my wedding where we tried to incorporate both my Indian culture and my husband's Irish culture together that I really thought about my identity. That’s what inspired Chandan Whittle. I wanted to get in touch with my Indian heritage and that journey has inspired all my pieces. I want to be able to share that heritage with my daughter who also has a mix of cultures.
Kam's parents at the Taj; Kam's first trip to India
Looking back on your business journey, what’s been your biggest learning to date?
To be patient and to be able to adapt to any situation because not everything always goes to plan.
We’d love to hear your plans for the future!
Well, I have some exciting new products coming this year like quilts and block printed art and I’m currently working on a children’s range inspired by my little Chloe.
Thanks for your time Kam, and all the very best for the future!
PS: You can shop from Kam's beautiful range of cushions here.