A graphic designer, an explorer, a champion for traditional crafts, a creative entrepreneur, Amreen Rahman talks to me about her fascination with history, heritage and world cultures and her philosophy and creative process behind her lifestyle brand, Kala Pata.
When I was working in advertising and experience marketing my speciality was in print — editorial work, branding, identity design, annual reports etc. As an entrepreneur I’ve been fortunate enough to bring all those skills onboard and expand into product development, social media, marketing and sales.
Creativity means the ability to have a dialogue with my avatar and to create something from scratch. My specific subject matter is: craft stories + culture = wanderlust. Because there is a huge GAP in the market both locally in Singapore and globally. I want to be able to fill this gap with my brand Kala Pata. Where would you go to buy beautifully hand crafted home décor and gifts right now, if getting on a plane wasn’t an option?
Because it enables me to create something from scratch and combine my passion about sharing craft stories and cultures and take this to a global audience.
Always research (the more the better). Lots of brainstorming (at this stage before developing a new line, I like to see what else is out there and what competitors are doing. I speak to my top customers to understand what they want and how I can solve their problem. But it is also very important to trust what you believe in. Once I’ve done the designing — first paper, then digital , I always get prototypes made so that I can figure out if the colours, texture, finishing of the product meets my stringent standards. At the prototype stage I often share my products with my close circle to get feedback. This is the stage when I figure out costing. Then I contact buyers and stores, work on the production process and finally, I launch!
My signature style is working with lots of patterns and colours and trying to showcase how these prints/patterns are versatile — can work on a notebook all the way to clutches and accessories.
Tell us about the inspirations behind your designs
The Singapura collection is inspired by the Peranakan culture. The Peranakans, also known as Babas, trace their history back to the 15th century when Chinese and Indian traders first settled in the Malay Peninsula, introducing their customs and traditions into the local culture.
I take traditional Singaporean designs and translate them into beautiful little gifts. I am inspired by the quirky little shops along Joo Chiat Road., the array of colourful shophouses on Arab Street., peranekan utensils from my favourite restaurant, the quaint kopitiam on Killiney Road-the list goes on!
The Samarkand collection takes its inspiration from the city of Samarkand which was at the heart of the Silk Route through Central Asia. The Silk Route was an ancient network of roads initially for trade but quickly became the beacon of cultural and artistic exchange between the West and the East.
The city became the beneficiary of a convergence of myriad world cultures throughout centuries. As a result, the city of Samarkand evolved to blend and encapsulate the magnificent art, architecture, textile trends from the Western hemisphere to Eastern hemisphere. This collection pays homage to those brilliant eras when Samarkand city became the heart and soul of the world.
Blue Botanica celebrates the timeless beauty of the blue and white porcelain wares which originated in the royal courts of the Tang dynasty in ancient China and travelled along the Silk Road to faraway lands. Kala Pata and the Letter J Supply created a bespoke set of Thank You flat notes to pay homage to the rich tradition, true artistry and craftsmanship of the blue and white wares. Letter J Supply’s beautiful calligraphy and the trademark blue and white motif are brought to life in these inspired illustrations by Kala Pata’s vision of representing the rich flora and fauna that inhabit the tropical island of Singapore.
Technology has impacted what I do tremendously. First of all everyone thinks they are “designers” just because they might know how to use certain software. And you can easily engage “designers” online to design pretty much anything from a logo to a website at churn out rates, so when I present my hourly rates, that makes me look very expensive (regardless of all the experience and sound understanding I may have of the nature of the work). This is very frustrating. And almost in many ways negates my skills.
This is a tough one because the products I make aren’t necessities. They are “nice” to have. They are wants. Not needs. I am constantly trying to educate my audience about the process, workmanship of the crafts and the stories of the artisans. Because as we all know people buy why we make it rather than what we make. I’m still struggling with this. Because in my to-do list, my newsletters always gets put on the back burner. I am trying to do this consistently over social media (well Instagram really, more than Facebook or Twitter). But I definitely need to work more on communicating my "why" with my avatar in the hopes of educating people not only about the work I am doing. But more importantly how supporting my work helps the bigger picture i.e. the crafts and keeping the craftsmen and artisans in business.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were taught how to deal with stress from a young age? This isn’t necessarily pertaining to the “creative industry” but I would love for something like mediatation to be in taught in every single school. So that it enables us to lead a better quality of life and generally be better people.
My Dadi (paternal grandmother) — she was a “feminist” long before it became cool to be one. A published author, matriarch, amazing cook with an infectious laughter. Always impeccably groomed, she taught me about determination, sheer will power, a thirst for knowledge and how to believe in my dreams.
See more of Amreen's stories of wanderlust on Instagram.