Sarah Fotheringham is one half of Safomasi, a designer homeware brand based in Delhi with a unique combination of color and hand-printed patterns. Amongst their impressive accolades is that after just over a year in business, they were proud to win in the Bedroom category at the Elle Deco International Design Awards, India for their Camel Traders print. First appearing on The LuxPad’s radar after we spotted their design for the Taxi Fabric project images online, their eye-catching prints made them stand out instantly. Sarah talks to The LuxPad about the Safomasi design process, what it’s like to be an ex-pat in India, and the meaning behind the brand name…
What were you doing before Safomasi and how did its inception come about, and what does the name mean?
I was working as an art director at an advertising agency in Delhi, but before starting work I’d spent 4 months travelling around India. I had a sketchbook full of drawings and ideas that I would spend my evenings and weekends on. Then I met Maninder, my partner. He was working with the Fashion Design Council of India at the time and slowly we began working together, experimenting with screenprinting my illustrations onto fabric. We loved the process and, encouraged by the response from friends, decided to take it further and create collections of home textiles inspired by our travels. In December 2012, 2 years after we met, we released our first two collections, Mithai and Pushkar. The name Safomasi is an amalgamation of the first two letters of our names – Sarah Fotheringham and Maninder Singh. We wanted a name personal to us, but at the same time wasn’t tied to a particular place and sounded like it could come from anywhere.
What are you main style influences and how do you stay inspired?
We love an eclectic, global style that embraces color and a playful sense of storytelling. I don’t have any particular style influences – we’re in a bit of a bubble doing our own thing – but keep inspired by travelling to different places and seeking out new crafts and techniques.
Can you tell us a little about the process from initial design to finished product – how long can it take?
It can take up to 12 months. Our next collection is inspired by travels to tiger reserves and safaris in the Indian jungle. I started designing it last summer and it will be out this summer. We’ve just come back from Turkey, which will inspire next year’s collection. There are quite a few stages to the process. First the travel, then collating all our ideas, sketching print concepts and developing a final set of illustrations which we feel captures the essence of our experience of that place.
The designs then go to our screen printer to separate into layers, one for each color, and make the screens for printing. Meanwhile we’ll be sourcing, processing and dyeing fabric, thinking of the trims and details. Once the screens have been made we’ll do a test print– to make sure the design is aligning and that all the colors are working well together. We’ll select Pantone colors as a reference for the shades we want, but all the colors are mixed by hand and what we think might work often needs to be tweaked when we see it on fabric. Then full run of fabric is printed. That can take quite a while as some of our designs have 10-13 colors and each color is printed separately by hand. Finally, products are sewn up in our studio. The quilts are made there too. A layer of cotton batting is sandwiched between two layers of cotton fabric and quilted together by hand. We’re very happy, relieved and excited when a new collection is released!
Can you tell us about the wonderful Taxi Fabric project and your involvement?
Taxi Fabric is a Mumbai-based project that uses the medium of taxi seat covers as a canvas for designers to tell stories and showcase their work. I was a big fan of it before we got involved, so was really excited when Architectural Digest asked us to do one for a feature. We were given the theme of architecture so inspired by the fact that Mumbai has the second largest concentration of Art Deco buildings in the world (after Miami), we created ‘Bombay Deco’ – our colorful homage to the city’s Art Deco heritage featuring details of buildings in the city alongside classic art deco motifs. Just one taxi is made in each designer’s fabric, and our taxi is out there on the road somewhere in Mumbai right now – hopefully making someone smile and opening their eyes to the architectural history of the city.
What would you define as the most rewarding part of your career to date and the most challenging?
I think it’s probably the same moment; almost 2 years ago when I left my job to go full time with Safomasi and we set up our studio workshop. Maninder had been working full time for a year before that so it was a dream for me to be able to join him. It was scary, and challenging – having no other income and keeping on top of cash flow, figuring out how to set up the space, hiring tailors and so on – but very rewarding. Not only on a personal level as I was doing what I loved all the time, but I learnt so much and fortunately taking that leap helped to grow our business at a much faster rate. It was a pivotal point.
How would you describe your own home style and what is your favorite room in your home and why?
Our home is simple and minimal, but with pops of color and pattern. It’s slowly, as you might expect, becoming a house full of Safomasi! We’re currently developing some Jacquard fabric and are really looking forward to re-upholstering our huge sofa in it. Once that’s done I think the living room will be my favorite room – cosy with a statement sofa.
What is your favorite thing about living in India and what do you miss most about the UK?
I love the fact that there are endless possibilities for discovery. It’s an amazing and diverse country, in some ways like many different countries all rolled into one – culture, landscape and language can change drastically from one region to the next. On top of that there is such a wealth of hand crafted traditions and textiles, which as a designer is so inspiring. Aside from family and friends there are some things I miss about the UK. Mostly it would be something simple like being able to walk around town. For many reasons Delhi is not a very walk-able city.
How would you spend your perfect day off?
I’d head to Tikli Bottom, a charming farm house an hour’s drive South of Delhi at the foot of the Aravali Hills. They do a wonderful lunch out in the garden with all guests eating together. I’d spend the day there relaxing and exploring the grounds where there are buffalo, horses, chickens… there even used to be emus! It’s beautiful, a world away from the city.
If you could collaborate with any designer to create a bespoke product, what would it be and who would it be with?
Great question! But so hard, there are so many brilliant designers it would be impossible to pick one – but I’d love to make something like a really special chair.
Where do you see yourself and your brand in five years’ time?
Hopefully travelling more, with Safomasi on the way to becoming a full lifestyle brand available in more of our favorite stores around the world. We’d love to expand into more product categories, from wallpaper to ceramics and clothes.
Discover more about the Safomasi design to product process in the below video from Indelust.