Maker Profile: Fariha Abdul Wajid, Owner of Inkmade - Chicago

 
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Hi Fariha! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a textile and stationery designer with a background in architecture. I have dabbled in a variety of creative disciplines and eventually realized my love for designing patterns to print on textiles and paper goods. Even though I was born and raised in Chicago, I love exploring the city with my husband, Afroz and my daughter, Amira. I also love traveling and enjoy using my simple adventures as inspiration for the stories that come with each of my products. When I’m not busy being a mom and sketching patterns, I like to blog about motherhood at chaiandbiscotti.com.

What is your background (i.e. education, previous jobs, experiences that led you to create)?
I studied Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT). During my time there, I was extremely passionate about becoming a successful architect. My love for architecture started back when I was a sophomore in high school. I was exposed to classes and workshops early on and fell in love with it immediately. I then worked at Studio Gang Architects and the Art Institute of Chicago Department of Architecture and Design. I enjoyed my time working as an architectural designer, but eventually realized that architecture wasn’t for me. It was difficult for me to accept this since I was so devoted to the profession for so many years, but after taking a variety of classes and working at a few firms, I figured out what I was most passionate about.

The story-telling aspect of architecture and also the graphic design component of conveying the story was always my strength in school. Eventually, during my last semester at IIT, I took a product design elective and made a woodblock for printing using a laser cutter. The design of the block was inspired by the ornamentation found in historical Ottoman architecture. I printed on a scarf for my final project and to my surprise received many requests to create scarves for friends and family. Everyone loved the story behind the scarf and the process of printing it by hand. Fast forward to a few years and now I’m working full-time designing hand printed scarves and stationery. It’s funny how plans change.

What led you to begin INKMADE
When I created the scarf in architecture school, I started printing more and more to gift to friends and family. Creating something by hand and receiving such a positive response made me so excited to continue expanding my line. Once I received more orders than I could handle in my apartment living room, I decided to get serious and reached out to manufacturers who were ethical and still maintained the handmade aspect that made my product so special. When I found a screen printing studio in New York and an ethical manufacturer for my fabric in India, I decided it was time to officially start INKMADE. While on the surface INKMADE is a brand that sells scarves and stationery, it’s honestly just a name for my experimentations and adventures in printing methods and pattern making.

What drew you to creating both scarves and stationery?
My first introduction to block printing was at Marwen back when I was in high school. Marwen is a wonderful institution that offers art classes for Chicago’s youth. I signed up for a printmaking class with absolutely no clue as to what printmaking was. Once I made my first linoleum block and printed my first piece on paper, I realized how beautiful the process was and how much I enjoyed carving the block and printing repeat prints on paper. I brought that same excitement and curiosity back to the studio when I created my first line of stationery for INKMADE. I carved linoleum stamps just as I did in high school and printed on cards. It honestly started as an experiment to see if people would want to buy hand printed stationery with my designs. They were a hit, so I decided to continue creating stationery—some are watercolor prints and some are hand block printed.

What inspires your designs?
Since my background is in architecture, my designs began as those inspired by historical works of architecture from all around the world. I try not to limit myself anymore. The simple strokes of a brush, the light seeping through a window, the formations found in nature: I’m inspired by it all. Each INKMADE product is a result of my experiences while traveling, reading, playing, and experimenting. From silk screen prints, to watercolor works, and everything in between, INKMADE is a journal of products inspired by the simple beauties I take in everyday.

My latest line of scarves were inspired by road trips I took with husband. I try my best to sketch and take photos while traveling. The designs come from specific moments during my travels that stuck with me even after returning home.

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How did you find the manufacturers that you work with?
I first searched locally in Chicago for a manufacturer to screen print the scarves. I couldn’t find one that did large yardage, so I searched online. I emailed so many people, both in the U.S. and abroad, trying to find ethical manufacturers to bring my designs to life. A few people told me I wasn’t ready to start a line of scarves. Some never got back to me. And eventually I was able to find the right team after a few trials and errors. I feel so lucky to have found them and would never have been able to start INKMADE without their attention to detail and passion for producing high quality work.

Could you tell us more about the Thaakat Foundation and how your work helps benefit them?
Thaakat Foundation's mission is to empower, inspire and promote charitable giving and volunteer work among students and young professionals, while pushing for curiosity and care of global society. They have adopted three global villages: Konadu Basic School in Tanoboase, Ghana; Dreams for Kacha Kundi in Karachi, Pakistan; and Fatmata Maternity Clinic in Sierra Leone. Thaakat is an organization I’ve supported ever since they started in 2007. Even when I was in high school I would work with the clubs and programs I was a part of to fundraise for their causes. Uzma Bawany founded Thaakat with hopes that she could encourage students and young professionals to consider their ability to make an impact for those in need around the world. It all began with a Facebook group to raise funds for global disasters and now they have chapters at universities all across the nation and they host a variety of events throughout the year to support the three global villages. I have always admired their genuine devotion to support those in need and I’ve seen the organization grow throughout the years, working tirelessly to support their incredible causes.

I send a portion of my profits from INKMADE to Thaakat Foundation. This year a portion of INKMADE’s Mother’s Day card sales are specifically benefiting the Fatmata Maternity Clinic through Thaakat Foundation. The center opened in April 2014 in a rural village in Sierra Leone. More than 6,000 patients have been treated to date and 150 healthy babies have been delivered. Apart from services provided to mothers and babies, their center provides medicines, vaccines and treatment to the general population.

Why is it important for you to shop small and support local designers?
I love supporting small businesses and local designers, because all benefits aside, the products are always so unique and meaningful. I’m a sucker for stories. I love hearing what inspires products to come to life and what the process was to create it. You don’t get that same fulfillment from shopping from big brands at the mall. Whenever I buy something handmade and local, I feel so proud while wearing or using it and I love passing down the story from the maker to anyone who asks about it.

As a daughter of a small business owner (my dad owns a small restaurant in Chicago) and as a small business owner and local designer myself, I know how much work and love is put into making each product. It’s important to support and share the stories of local makers.

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What makes you passionate about the work that you do?
As a child, I was surrounded by creative people. Growing up, I watched my older brother paint all the time. Every time he painted, I painted right next to him. My mom would also sew a lot when I was younger. I would go to the fabric store with her and sometimes they had this box of leftover fabric and I would beg her to let me buy some of the scraps. She had no idea why I was in love with the colorful, patterned scraps and, to be honest, I don’t think I had any idea of what I wanted to do with them either, but I would go home and glue them together or try to sew them with a needle and thread to create something. Sometimes it would be a shirt for a doll or I’d sew two scraps together and stuff it with cotton balls to create a little pillow.

All I knew is that I wanted to grow up to be an artist or just someone who made beautiful things with her hands. I imagined having my own studio and having a space to experiment with colors, textures, and fabric. I’ve always had this obsession with creating things, whether it was with paint, fabric, paper or clay. Bold, colorful paint and fabrics would get me in the mood to just make something beautiful, so when I printed the scarf in architecture school and some people asked me to make them one, I felt that same sort of excitement I did as a kid.

I felt more fulfillment from making the scarf and block printing on cards than I did sitting on the computer trying to figure out what structure would work best for the building I was designing. Being in architecture school and having earned some success in the field was great, but I always had this question of “What if I don’t want to be an architect?” I was hesitant to do something else, because I wondered if I had wasted my degree and my time. I was also nervous, because I worried about what people would say, like “She’s doing so well in architecture and has her future set for her, but now she wants to make scarves?” But eventually I found something I could do that used my knowledge in architecture but on a different scale. It felt amazing, so I ignored the noise and just went for it. And now every time I receive an order or sell my products at a pop-up shop or craft fair, it feels so wonderful to share my love for color, pattern, fabric, and paper with everyone.

Also, ever since I became a mom, I just imagine my daughter Amira growing up one day and asking me why I do what I do. I want her to be inspired to follow her goals and dreams, even if they’re not exactly her major in college. I want to be that mom who followed her weird obsession with scraps of fabric and made a living doing what she loves. Hopefully she thinks that’s cool and not just weird. We’ll see.

What are some of the setbacks or challenges you face with your work?
One challenge I have is just balancing my work with motherhood. Being a mom is a beautiful thing and my daughter is a huge motivation for me to succeed with INKMADE. But there are days when her naps aren’t long enough or when she catches a cold that end up changing my plans for the day. I have a mission to be an great mother and to also excel with my design practice. I want her to grow up to have a role model who manages both. It’s tough, but I know it’s possible.

Another challenge I have is an interesting one that I didn’t expect to have. Since I wear a headscarf many people assume my scarves are only for people who wear headscarves. I actually normally wear my INKMADE scarves around my neck as an accessory and wear plain scarves on my head. The scarves are for everyone, whether you want to wear it around your neck, on your head, or use it as home decor. I try my best to show people a variety of options of how to wear their scarves, but it’s not just for Muslims!

At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other?
Women are just incredible people who have the ability to manage it all. I’m a mom and a designer. Becoming a mom transformed the way I work and one of the main forces that helped keep me sane and motivated was the women in my life. I ask other women for support and advice all the time. We manage to balance so much at once and it’s so vital to share our tips for success with each other, so we can uplift each other and hold each other accountable for the goals we set for ourselves. We were made to do amazing things, whether it be for our professions, our families, or for ourselves—we just sometimes need a nudge and words of advice to remind each other to keep going no matter what.

What creative women do you find inspiring?
There are so many, but just to name a few:
- My mom and sister - They are both a “Jill of all trades" in their own ways. A lot of my creativity stems from my mom. She used to sew gorgeous dresses and now bakes beautiful cakes, experiments with new recipes in the kitchen, and also works on paper crafts in between her busy schedule. My sister is a pharmacist, but brings the creativity with her role as a mom. She has so much on her plate with three kids and work, but she still manages to take them to the art museum for a class or have a craft session at home to make sure they’re always creating and making in some way.

- Habiibah Aziz - She’s my sister-in-law and I’m always inspired by her work. Everything she paints and creates is simple, but so beautiful. She has a consistent style that I’ve admired ever since I first saw her work.

Amanda Williams - She was my professor at IIT and I always resonated with her story, because she studied architecture, but became a painter. Her work merges the two practices so beautifully and that’s always been something I hoped to do one day. Her studies in color theory have always been so useful and have changed the way I use and experience color in my work.

- Abeer Najjar - Abeer Najjar is a Palestinian-American from Chicago who cooks traditional food with a hometown touch. I first connected with her to create delicious mocktails for my pop-up shop opening day party. She creates creative recipes and shares them through her video series called “Abeer’s Day Off” as well as her blog. She also has an underground supper club, which I hope to attend soon. I’ve always admired her creativity with food and that she pays homage to her Palestinian roots through her unique recipes.

I didn’t realize how difficult this would be! There are so many more people I want to list, but I’m also inspired by the work of designers/artists/architects Joan Mitchell, Ray Eames, and Maya Lin.

Do you have any resources that have been helpful to you that we should know of?
Taking a few classes on Skillshare helped me when I was first starting INKMADE. I also took some graphic design classes at a nearby community college once I graduated with my degree in architecture. The classes weren’t too expensive and I was able to refine some skills through some classes that weren’t available in architecture school.

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How do you manage your time?
Honestly I’m still figuring out how to manage my time properly, but I wake up every morning and write down what I want to accomplish in the day. I have a notebook and it’s mostly just lists. I have lists for INKMADE, for the work I do to help my dad with his restaurant, for personal goals, and for things I’d like to do with my daughter. I have to write down every single thing to make sure it gets done, otherwise I lose track of what I need to do.

Once everything is written down in my notebook, I create events for any events, appointments or big to-do list items on my Google Calendar. There are still days when I’m all over the place, but these few things keep me fairly organized.

How do you deal with moments of self-doubt?
I have many moments of self-doubt—more than I’d like to admit. I turn to my support team, my family and friends, to pick me back up when I’m down. I’ve also learned to share my moments of doubt with the right people. Not everyone will listen and pick you back up. I have a close group of a few friends who I know will give me the right advice to get me back on track.

I also decided to delete all of my social media apps for a month or so. It helped me refocus myself and realize that I was comparing my process to other people’s final product. It’s so important to step back and realize how much time we waste just looking at other people’s successes and wondering when our’s will happen. Sometimes we need to cut off from social media and just actually get out there and do something.

Is there something that has really resonated with you recently (words, advice, a piece of media, a friendship, etc)?
I follow an Instagram account called @words_of_women and I recently read a quote on there from Helen Keller: “Be happy with what you have while working for what you want.”

What are you trying to learn right now or what is something that you are wanting to learn?
It’s something that has been on my to-do list for a while. I’m trying to learn HTML/CSS to improve my website and also my email newsletter. I also want to learn how to sew. I’m pretty clueless with the sewing machine.

What are some of your favorite places in Chicago?
Illinois Prairie Path - I love going for a walk or run on this trail.
Garfield Park Conservatory - I’ve only been there a few times, but it’s so refreshing every time I go.
Architectural Artifacts - Roaming through the antiques is always fun. They have such a nice collection of furniture and pretty much every object you can think of.
Gene Siskel Film Center - My husband and I loved watching films here when I was at IIT.
Art Institute of Chicago - The galleries never bore me. I especially love the photography gallery and of course the architecture and design galleries.
La Michoachana - I used to wait for the elote carts to come out in nice weather, but then I found out about this place and I can’t stop going here to get elote!
Nini’s Deli - I love having lunch here. I always take a cafe con leche to go. So good!
Sweet Mandy B’s - I visited this bakery for the first time recently and the cupcakes were delicious! It’s already a favorite.
Sugar Shack - Their funnel cake sundae is pretty awesome.

Find Fariha at:
Website
Instagram