AMU is a brand that serves women of all backgrounds, who aware of the world, embrace culture, and do not hold back from exploring the world different from their own. Inspired by the rich culture and traditions of India, the clothing and home decor pieces use Indian textiles and the ancient art form of block printing. Aside from ethically sourced fabrics and fair-trade practices, AMU has partnered with a homeless shelter to help women who have been sexually trafficked or abused to give much more than a 10%.
We interview Ammu Cherian, the founder of this brand that brings Indian textiles for you to live boldly and make a statement with vibrant colours and true comfort, whether you are wearing the clothing or furnishing your home with the decoration creations. Learn more about the Indian culture and how the magic happens right in their studio in Wisconsin, US, as well as the beautiful project and future plans!
What made you start the brand AMU?
Growing up, I moved between countries and various cities and was exposed to different cultures and textiles. I became aware of the uniqueness of fabrics and how clothing represented a culture. It was a struggle to find clothes that had a blend of tradition and global aesthetic. It came to a point where I would either get my clothing custom made or I would tailor them myself. It was always a childhood dream of mine to become create my own fashion label.
How would you define the mission of AMU?
AMU wants to bring Indian textiles and art forms to a global platform. We want to be a fashion brand that is mindful of the environmental impact and impact on the people around us when we create our products. AMU uses fashion as a medium to help fight sex trafficking and help women strengthen their confidence. We want women to build wardrobes that are capable of making a statement with vibrant colours and true comfort. AMU wants to create meaningful employment opportunities through the business. We are partnering with a homeless shelter and a small batch manufacturer, to hire women from the shelter while training them on how to sew at the small batch manufacturing unit.
What does your brand stand for in the world of slow fashion?
Block printing is a very time and labour intensive art form. The wooden blocks used for printing are hand carved by the local artisan using very basic tools. These blocks are used to stamp the designs onto the fabric by hand. The artist can create numerous patterns either using a single block repeatedly or using a combination of blocks. The brand’s goal is to create an appreciation for such slow artforms in everyday life for the modern woman. Our clothing and home decor are all Made to Order. This ensures we do not create a wasteful inventory and gives us the freedom to take custom orders.
What approach do you give in your designs, since it is Indian style created in the US for a global audience?
Because I am a self-taught fashion designer, it has allowed me to break away from the traditional industry rules to create my own designs. I keep in mind different personalities and places one could wear the outfit to while designing, if a person would like minimal prints, geometric prints or if someone would enjoy a more flamboyant print with multiple colours, floral prints and textures.
If you could define some of the qualities of your audience, what have in common the women who dress with AMU?
When we imagine the women who wear AMU, we imagine them to have a certain personality and not limited to age, geography or restricted to a profession. We believe the woman who wears AMU is aware of the world, they embrace the culture and do not hold back from exploring the world different from their own. She has a joie de vivre and loves to fill her wardrobe with prints, colour and not afraid to make a statement in every aspect of her life. Whether they are a stay at home mom, a blogger, a CEO, an artist or a banker, AMU’s clothing can suit women of all backgrounds.
What type of pieces, clothing or home deco do you produce and what are the materials on them?
Our signature wrap pant has become an iconic look amongst our clients, it can be paired with a casual tee, a statement blouse or a long tunic. Our dresses and tops are quite comfortable to wear for a casual brunch, weddings or even a business meeting.
For home décor, we print unique cushion covers and table runners which make for a wonderful pop of design and colour in ones living space, it is quite a popular gifting item during the holidays and for a housewarming. We are open to taking custom orders for home decor, to make products that fit better into the living spaces of our clientele.
All our products are made of natural textiles such as cotton, rayon, and linen.
How does the process of creation look like?
I begin by sketching out my designs and patterns on paper. I then cut the fabric and then print it. This is the opposite of traditional block printing, where the printing is done on yards of fabric first before the patterns are cut out. I do it differently to make the most of the fabric. I have numerous work in progress photos and time-lapse videos showing the printing process available for your perusal. After printing, the final step is to sew the printed pieces together. As the products are Made To Order, they are extremely customisable. Customers can choose colours and patterns that will suit their wardrobe. The hope is that by choosing our clothing more intently, customers will keep the clothing in their closets longer and out of landfills.
What tools or and techniques do you use?
I do not carve the wooden block by myself, it is a skill set that I do not possess. The wood stamps are hand carved by artisans in India and they use very basic tools for carving. The printing portion is fairly basic. I do not use any measurement tools while printing and generally gauge space and distance by eye. I use rollers to evenly apply the ink to the blocks. This gives the prints a personal touch with a unique placement which adds to the handmade quality of the clothing.
What type of inks do you use and how sustainable are these?
I use non-toxic inks that are made in the US, they are specifically made for block printing. After printing, the ink is heat set to the fabric to ensure the colours do not run when the product is washed.
What makes your design creations different from others that also use block printing techniques?
I believe my style of block placement at the time of printing, makes my creations unique. Since my products are made to order, it allows me to make the prints more complex and allows me to modify the prints according to the pattern of the product, as opposed to creating a pattern to fit into an already printed fabric.
We are aware that you studied an IT degree, how did you learn these techniques to the point that you are able to manufacture your own collection
I believe its a multiple sets of events that helped create my path. I stumbled across an opportunity to attend a block printing workshop in India. I went to support my friend who was hosting it. It was around the time I was planning to move to the US, and I wished to start my own clothing line. I did not know where to source Indian print fabrics from the US, and that’s when I had my lightbulb moment of deciding to block print my designs onto fabric and use them to stitch the clothes. I loved incorporating the fabrics I printed myself into my own designs.
Even though AMU is a global brand, you are focusing on certain local needs of the city where you are based, Wisconsin. Could you explain a bit about your plans?
I believe it is very important to give back locally to the community that has helped build who I am, especially when there is a huge need. The 10% of sale proceeds go towards helping women who have been sex trafficked, homeless or have been sexually abused.
However, I plan to further my support of these women with an employment program. I am partnering with the Milwaukee Rescue Mission which has long-term care program for women and children, and I intend to hire women from this program to train them on how to manufacture our clothing and home decor. I am also partnering with the Milwaukee Fashion Incubator, a small batch manufacturer to rent space and equipment for the production. The women at the small batch manufacturer will train the hired women to meet industry standards of production. This program will provide the women with a safe work environment and a stable living wage, while providing work skills and build their work experience. This is one way in which AMU is a brand with global aesthetics that fights a local cause.
What do events such as Fashion Revolution mean to a social creative entrepreneur like you?
Events such as Fashion Revolution help me to broaden my horizon and build a bigger network within an industry that cares about a lot of the same causes I do. For instance, I was in London during the Fashion Revolution week 2018 and the entrepreneurs I connected with there were very open in sharing their experiences. The fashion industry can be quite ruthless and so it’s not often that you come across businesses that are willing to share their stories and genuinely help another person out. A challenge most social entrepreneurs share is how to make money and be a sustainable business while also helping people.
You are based in the US, how does a social entrepreneurial venture look like there? Do you feel there’s a change happening in the country?
There is a significant increase in social entrepreneurship in the US, and it is fairly small in the midwest region. But I am positive that people are becoming more conscious about the purchase patterns and customers do want to support businesses that effect change. Educating the audience is very important and it is a change that is definitely happening.
What has been the greatest success of the brand so far?
There have been a lot of successes in building my business from the ground up. However, a more recent great success has been seeing my clothing worn in parts of the world that I’ve not yet been to. It is very personal to me as if a part of me is travelling the world in a way.
Is there any advice you’d like to give to other businesses trying to make a difference for good?
There is a crazy sense of joy you receive when you see the positive impact your business creates. Hang in there when things start to get tough or slow. Things will eventually turn around for the better.
If you could write a message on a big wall that the entire world could read, what would it say?
Live life to the fullest, with no regrets. Leave behind a legacy to be proud of.
Finally, where can we find you? Shops, online, worldwide…?
Is there any other similar brand you know or are curious about? Comment below, and we will make it happen!