On the coattails of the DIY Bench Cushion tutorial I crafted in collaboration with KUFRI Textiles a few weeks ago, I’m very excited to share a Q&A with KUFRI’s founder and designer, Mili Suleman. She gets REAL about not only her incredible handwoven textiles, but her personal journey, moments of struggle, and how she defines success. I actually get goosebumps reading her interview, so I hope you find her words inspiring too!
Q. Could you share a bit about your personal journey and how it lead you to starting KUFRI?
A. I was born in Bombay, India, grew up in Oman (close to Dubai), decided to leave my family at 18 and come to the US alone to build my American dream (the show Beverly Hills 90210 had me convinced lol). I got my Bachelor’s in Sociology from Texas Christian University and Associate’s in Graphic Design from Collin County College, then I began my career as a graphic designer. After working with a design agency for a few years, I started my graphic design business, which was amazing. But I yearned for something more meaningful and complex so I went into discovery mode. I asked my mother to meet me in India to trace India’s textile origins. That’s how I fell in love with slowmade textiles especially weaving… KUFRI was born shortly thereafter and the rest is history.
My biggest lesson in life/business… whenever negative feelings creep up, I immediately remind myself “I have enough. I am enough. Doors will open when the time is right.”
Q. Where does the name KUFRI come from?
A. KUFRI is a place in India, a hill-station nestled high up in the mountains. People go there to escape. I felt it was a lovely name and resonated with feelings of peace and creative renewal for me.
Q. What was it that ignited your passion for hand-loomed textiles?
A. Watching weavers practice their craft and generate a livelihood on their looms is beautiful to me. They are telling the story of heritage… a craft passed down through the generations. And I felt the trade world had a lot of print lines, but not much in handloom weaving, so I decided to go for it. I wanted to bring something different to the table.
Q. Tell us about the villages and weavers you work with in India.
A. I work in several remote villages in India as the craftsmanship is regional and each region has varying styles. A lot of our weavers are women or aging men and women, which is where I feel I create most impact. Providing them with on-going work gives me deep satisfaction because their means of earning income are very limited. Weaving is what they know. I usually go to India for 2-3 weeks at a time, and it’s continuous work, moving from village to village, state to state. It’s hard work and constant communication, but it’s worth it to me.
Q. Have there been any moments of struggle or failure along the way that have led to self-discovery or particular lessons in life/business?
A. I could write a book! My first marriage to my ex-husband, who was battling drug addiction, was devastating. It was a very dark, alone time in my life where I was very destructive to myself. With a formula of blind faith, prayer and 14-hr work days, a transformation began in all areas of my life. Since then, even though my work is in the outward-looking design industry, I practice a life of inward-looking. My biggest lesson in life/business… whenever negative feelings creep up, I immediately remind myself “I have enough. I am enough. Doors will open when the time is right.”
Q. How do you balance it all – marriage, owning a business, etc.?
A. I balance it by getting off-balance sometimes lol. I’m a workaholic but I try to run in the morning, go to gym, take an art class from time to time, cook and clean when time allows. The work is the constant in my life. Everything else happens when time allows. But I watch for signs… if i start to feel not quite myself, I know it’s time to scale back on work and do other things.
My husband (we’ve been together 10 years) has accepted that I’m a worker bee and we have no kids, so it works out.
Q. Do you have a favorite quote or mantra you live by?
A. Several from Eckhart Tolle but my favorite is
“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have.”
Q. How do you define success?
A. I define success by the level of personal satisfaction I feel in my life. I look at the areas of money, mind, body, spirituality, relationships, personal and creative growth to help me detect my satisfaction; if they all read positive on the scale, I call that being successful.
Q. What are your future goals for KUFRI and yourself?
A. For KUFRI, I’d like to become the go-to line for handwoven textiles and continue educating people about the importance of preserving this craft. I’d love to do a book someday and in the far future, open a handloom school and museum in India.
For myself, I’d like to explore Japan, UK and Alaska. I’d also like to finish renovating my house, which seems to be endless lol.
Q. KUFRI is uniquely positioned within the design world. Tell us about what makes it different and unique from other lines?
A. KUFRI is an all handwoven line in a market full of printed lines, so that immediately makes it visually unique. Although, the most important differentiator is the quality of the woven cloth. When the weaver starts weaving in the morning, the weaving is nice and tight because energy levels are high. But as the day wanes, the weaving might get a bit loose, then tight again. The cloth being woven is literally a reflection of the weavers hand and energy levels. The imperfections give my line a rawness that is sublime. KUFRI textiles have a calm, quiet and subtle quality to them but still provide plenty of texture and character. They are the “new timeless” and made for us to pause and enjoy a moment.
Learn more about KUFRI Textiles at kufrilifefabrics.com and be sure to follow Mili on Instagram too!
Photos courtesy of KUFRI Textiles.