I’m excited to introduce you to Mili Suleman of KUFRI today! When Mili and I first connected, I could tell she was a down-to-earth business woman on a mission to not only grow her business, but make a difference in the world. It always inspires me to talk to a woman with vision bigger than only the “product” or company itself. I think you’ll find Mili and her passion for textiles, weaving and employing women weavers in India very inspiring.
I also very much appreciate Mili’s sensibility when it comes to style, simplicity and understated beauty, plus functionality. That is winning combination in my book.
INTERVIEW WITH KUFRI TEXTILES
- Name: Mili Suleman
- Years in Business: 3.5 years
- Current title/company name: Founder & designer / KUFRI
What are your first memories of making [art]/being creative?
I must have been 12 when I delved into the arts more seriously. I trained in Classical Indian dance and took a myriad of art classes from oil painting to charcoal to fabric painting. I was also immersed in a lot of creative writing.
How did your education or past work experience give you the confidence to go out on your own as a small business owner?
I studied graphic design and worked for a packaging design agency, so naturally my first business was starting my own graphic design business. I started doing freelance work on the side while I had the full-time position at the design agency. I worked from 8AM to 11PM for a couple of years, until l I took the leap to start my own business. I was fearful, but my father encouraged me to just go for it. I was also coming out of a very dark time in my life, so I had tremendous drive and the desire to create a life for myself. KUFRI is my second business and came much later.
Tell us about the process of launching KUFRI. Best parts? Biggest challenge?
KUFRI was born from a desire to connect with my family and do more than just sit behind a computer for 10 hours a day. I was seeking something more impactful and meaningful. I wanted to devote my time to creating something tangible and bigger than myself; I was thinking about my life work and what my legacy would be.
The best parts have been seeing myself evolve and finding myself through KUFRI. It may have started as a line of textiles, but it has brought immense growth and meaning into my life from working through challenges and building relationships. When a design firm falls in love with the line and becomes a repeat client, that’s the icing on the cake. Oh and no two days are ever the same… I love that!
I’m more right-brain inclined than left-brain inclined, so the biggest challenge has been trying to manage and teach myself to be good at all the left-brain inclined business tasks. I don’t like analyzing numbers and such, but it’s got to get done.
What is your favorite part of the design process? What inspires you and why?
I recently purchased a gorgeous Leclerc loom and hired someone to weave and bring my designs to life. Being able to do the design and seeing it translated into a woven cloth right here on our own loom has been a thrill. Once the sample is approved, it gets shipped to India for full production.
I lead a rich, full life and find inspiration everywhere… so I would say nature and life itself are my biggest inspirations. Changing my pace of life dramatically inspires me, for example, traveling to a village in India or traveling to NY, forces me to shift and adapt; that shift inspires me to think differently and see differently.
What is the best advice you have for other female entrepreneurs?
Don’t pick people you want to collaborate with based on how many vanity followers they have… pick them because you love what they do and it makes sense for your business. It’s important in this “selfie-selfish” world to have a good sense of what’s real and what’s important. Instagram will soon be gone; so make sure you’re building genuine relationships and customers. In the end, the only thing that matters is how you treat people because that’s how you will be remembered.
Do you have a design philosophy, and if so, what is it?
At the core of it, my design revolves around simplicity and the principles of shibui, meaning an understated beauty, or achieving a unique quality by the simplest of means. Combine that with function and it’s a winner for me.
Imagine your business in five years. How would you like to grow?
I’d like to be in several more trade showrooms and be a brand designers know by name if they are looking for something woven. I’d like to have 2-3 people under me handling marketing, design and admin. I’d like to oversee and continue propelling the brand forward making important business and high-level design decisions. I’d also like to continue speaking on textiles and the textile business in colleges throughout the country and grow a division for interior design services.
You support women weavers through your production. Can you tell us more about that and why it’s important to your brand?
Employing as many women weavers as possible is important to me because I understand, culturally, how women in third world countries have more disadvantages. I want them to feel empowered. It’s important to the brand because it’s a strong message that has the power to inspire and as the brand grows and gains more resources, the more I can help.
What do you enjoy most about the creative community in Dallas, TX?
Unfortunately, Dallas is not a center for textiles and most of my business and networking is actually done on the coasts. I have some good friends in the creative community here, but we face the same frustrations of Dallas still lagging behind in many respects. So, I don’t have a very positive answer to that question.
Centered By Design is my business name, but it’s also the idea that we can find a bit of sanctuary each day through design, that good design can center us and make us feel great. Does your design process center you in any way? If so, how?
When I’m able to find an image that really inspires me, I can design various textiles stemming from it. Once I have found this image, I feel centered and confident to design around it.
Mili’s Dallas Favorites:
- Favorite spot to get inspired: Recycled Bookstore in Denton (but really I’m a sucker for any bookstore!)
- Favorite florist: Avant Garden in Highland Park
- Favorite place to shop for home décor/furniture/thrift: Lula B’s
- Favorite place for coffee: Pearl Cup
- Favorite place for a sweet treat: Chocolate cake from Norma’s (walking distance from my home!)
Thank you for sharing more of your story Mili. You can purchase beautiful textiles and products from KUFRI direct to consumer or through a designer trade account.
Stay tuned for a big announcement on the interview front here on the blog next month!! A whole new interview series is in the works. I think you’re going to love it.
XO – CLAIRE
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