Interior Design: Delhi-based Designers Safomasi

They won the ELLE Décor India award for their travel-inspired home textiles in 2013 and now work from a studio in Delhi. Meet Sarah Fotheringham and Maninder Singh… 

Partners in romance as well as business, Sarah and Maninder create beautiful textiles from their Delhi studio – inspired by their love of travelling – and ship them worldwide. Here, Sarah talks vegetable curry for lunch and dinner, weekends in Goa and hanging out at the screen-printers

Can you remember the initial conversations about actually making a living from your passions?
It all started quite organically; of course we dreamed we could make a living from it, but at first it we were just experimenting with translating sketches I had made whilst travelling into textiles.

We loved the process and the result, and the timing was also right – Maninder had just left his job (with the Fashion Design Council of India) and was looking for a change. I remember before we even began sampling our patterns and making them into home textiles we had a quite a few conversations about the type of products to make initially.

The wonderful thing about living in India is that it is so inspiring – there are so many things you could make – but that can make it hard to focus. We were thinking about making clothes, ceramics and furniture – all with our patterns. But we decided to start with home textiles, as we had always loved interiors and logistically it was simpler.

Were you concerned that combining business, passions and romance might be problematic?
We didn’t really discuss it, perhaps we should have! It just evolved that way…

How is it to work with your boyfriend?
We can drive each other crazy, but it’s fun. I can’t imagine setting up a business with anyone else – we work most days most weeks, so it’s long hours. If we weren’t doing it together we wouldn’t have time to see each other.

Though of course it does make it hard to stop; it’s always as soon as one of us wants to switch off that the other has an idea for something they’re really excited about…

safomasi working

How did you choose the name?
We were looking for a name that had something about us in it. All our designs are personal to our experiences and travels and so we wanted it to reflect that. We came up with all sorts of ideas and would bounce them off our friends and family.

None of them got a great response until Maninder came up with Safomasi – a mix of the letters in both of our names. I think it sounds like it could come from a few places in the world, which is one of the things I like about it.

You have a wide range of products, including baby quilts and pillows, what products did you start designing first?
We started with double quilts and two sizes of cushions – one a regular ‘throw pillow’ size and the other a big floor cushion.

How do you decide what to add next to the collection?
We see what other products we can make using the same fabrics, and what products make sense together. So, for example, two collections ago we started making table linens and began with napkins and tea towels. The collection after that we added placemats, and for our latest collection we’ve made table runners as well.

What’s your role, what’s Maninder’s?
I illustrate all the patterns, look out for new stockists and take care of the marketing/communications side of things. Maninder manages the studio and handles all of the production; sourcing fabric, hiring tailors, working with our screen printer etc, as well as shipping and finances.

What materials do you work with? And do you make everything or outsource some of the labour?
At the moment we use 100% cotton and cotton linen. We work with a screen-printing workshop who print all of our fabrics. Everything is then stitched in our studio except for quilts, which are prepared in the studio, hand-stitched by local artisans, and then finished in the studio.

Where do you work?
We work from our studio in Chirag Dilli, south Delhi. I don’t think there are any other designers in our area, the whole street is full of carpenters, hardware stores etc, so it’s quite busy and very dusty. But we’re two floors above the chaos and are really lucky to have a lovely, open space with big windows that look out onto the park opposite, so it’s actually very calm.

What does an average working day look like?
We get up around 8am and have a cup of tea first thing. I’m ashamed to say we’re not that great at regularly eating breakfast – if we do have it we’ll just have some toast or cereal.

We head to the studio for 10am, it’s really close – only a five minute drive away (Maninder drives) though it can take quite a bit longer if there’s an unexpected situation on the roads!

Maninder will start the day with our tailors, planning what to make that day. Like most people, I start the day with emails. We’ll then pack and schedule any orders and I’ll work on whatever is our current project.

The end of the summer was spent designing and researching for our stand at Tent last month, designing prints for our next collection and several collaborations we’ve been involved in.

Maninder will be catching up with admin, researching and sourcing new fabrics and suppliers. We’ll have lunch around 2pm – usually some kind of vegetable curry and rotis. If we’re at the stage where we’re sampling new designs we’ll have lunch earlier and drive to the screen printers, which is an hour away.

When we’re in the middle of a big production we’ll often spend the whole day at the printers, but otherwise we’ll go for half a day – mix up the colours, make sure the screen has been made properly, the pattern is aligning, and test out how the colours print together – it always looks different when you’re actually printing from what we design on screen.

We finish work around 7 or 8pm. Maninder might go for a run, and then later we’ll have dinner (more vegetable curry!) watch a TV series, and go to bed around midnight.

You won an ELLE Deco award, how did that come about?
ELLE Deco in India had seen our first collection and asked us to apply. It was a really great opportunity and we were so lucky and surprised to win – we’d only been in business for just over a year.

safomasi sofa

Who buys your products?
People from all over the world that relate to our colourful, globally inspired prints. We’re stocked in stores in the UK, USA, Australia, Dubai, Hong Kong, Germany and India – and we ship worldwide from safomasi.com.

How often do you go travelling now, and where’s your favourite place to go?
Not as often as we’d like. We were very idealistic at the beginning – we thought we’d be able to travel for a few months at a time for inspiration, design our patterns whilst we are away and come back and produce them.

But realistically whilst it’s just the two of us managing everything that’s not going to happen! When we can, Goa is one of our favourite places for a break from Delhi. Outside of India, Salcombe in Devon (the inspiration for our latest collection) is another favourite.

Will you stay in Delhi indefinitely, or are there plans to relocate?
It’s hard to know at this stage. We haven’t decided either way but we’ve spoken about setting up a unit in Maninder’s village (about two hours north of Delhi). We’d also like to spend more time in the UK in the future.

Lastly, what are your future plans – and dreams – for Safomasi?
To be able to carry on making the things we love. Eventually we’d love to have products in many different materials – a full range of home and lifestyle goods and maybe our own store.

safomasi.com
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