Meet Amanda of Haurka

Earlier this month i visited the gorgeous independent brand Haruka. During my time there I got to spend the day with Amanda the owner & designer (and so much more!). I have to say in regards to blog experiences this is one of my favourites to date. Seeing Amanda in her natural habitat, viewing her work, seeing and hearing about her ethics and what goes in to every single piece she designs and creates was awe inspiring. 



If ever there were a question as to why people should shop small business, this answered it without doubt for me.
Haruka is Amanda. 


She is in every fibre of the business.
And she wants to just share that with everyone.


It is like a second child to her. Her love and devotion for the clothes she creates and sells to ladies is incredible. The thought and care that goes in to each item is meticulous and beautiful. She takes the time with customers as much as she does with designing the clothes, each piece has a story to tell of how it came about; which fabric was painstakingly chosen, what journey they went through to get to 

the final product and if there is any meaning to its particular design.



 





WHAT
MADE YOU START HARUKA?

As
with many things in life, Haruka evolved organically. I had no idea
where I would be today when I started, no idea that this was to be my
life path ! I just wanted to do something. I was living in Varanassi,
India. One of my favourite places on the globe. A vibrant, sprawling,
ancient city famous for it’s burning ghats, throngs of pilgrims and
tourists and silk fabrics.

At
that time I was about 25 with no responsibilities and a lot of
freedom. I had spent the previous four years or so travelling and
working in odd jobs, here and there to support myself. I had spent a
year in southeast Asia, a couple of months in India, a year living in
a van on the east coast of Australia and time living in communities
in Israel and Italy. In those times, I was often crocheting a bag or
creating intricate designs in chain stitch or applique on my hand
stitched clothes. It is fair to say, I had had a fair run at a gap
year! I had a lot of time on my hands and I was ready to get my teeth
into a bigger project, to learn a new skill.

In
Varanasi, I was introduced to Kamu, who was to become my friend. He
had a small tailor’s shop in Bengali Tola. A narrow alley that runs
parallel to the river Ganges. The kind of place where everywhere you
look is a perfect photograph. I designed some clothes for myself and
had them made.
I loved that I could get so close to the process of
clothes design.
I loved the freedom to create anything.
I loved that
I could make the clothes I actually wanted to wear, with the fabrics
I actually wanted to wear.
And it turned out a lot of other people
loved the clothes I was making. Miraculously for me at that time I
had saved a couple of grand from my last stint at a waitressing job
back in the UK and I decided to create what I would now call a
capsule collection of five simple designs that would mix and match
together. A full length halter neck dress, Wide leg fitted trousers
(which I still make versions of sometimes and have called the Kamu
trousers after my friend), a wrap around cotton top; a tiny halter
neck top with an open back and the pocket tunic. The latter is still
one of my favourite designs. I love the simplicity and utilitarian
nature of it and, in fact, I have just produced some more of them due
to popular demand.
See them here

Ghanshayam, my pattern cutter and me

Not
being one to keep things simple, even on my first collection I didn’t
buy mill dyed cotton in stock colours. I have never taken the easy
road in my quest for perfection (an illusory goal and my constant
carrot on a stick even now and probably as long as I live.) I loved
and still do, the Khadi Bhavan. These are the government shops and
spinning and weaving initiatives established by Ghandi to bring the
production of cotton back to India instead of England and to make it
accessible in price for the common people. Nowadays that original
sentiment is ironic as these shops are far too expensive for the
average poor person in India, of which there are many. However, that
is beside the point. I made all the samples with Kamu. Calculated how
much cloth I would need, went to buy the correct amount of hand spun
and hand woven cotton and headed off to the Muslim area of Varanasi
to find people to dye it to my specifications. After some trial and
error, I succeeded. All the designs were produced in natural, deep
red, green and brown. In those days I would not have touched blue
with a barge pole, but now I wear it all the time!

The
collection was born. Alongside the cotton pieces were some dupion and
matka silk versions of the same designs. Nearing the end of the
process, I realised a collection should have a name. I should have a
label stitched in these clothes. I hadn’t even thought of that. I
had to come up with something fast. I called it Jasmine Fish because
that was the name of my goldfish and I think my email password at the
time. I drew a childish picture (I am not a very good artist at all
unless it’s picture’s of dresses you are after!) and I got some
labels made. Funnily enough, I happened to unearth them in my recent
shop move and I couldn’t help but smile.

The
collection was sent to my friend Neil’s shop in the city of
Nottingham where I had gone to university to study English, not
fashion or textiles, which is a question I am often asked. He was so
inspired by it that he put on a fashion show.

At
this exact same time, life dealt me a curve ball. My mother died
suddenly back in England and with the test I bought in the airport on
the harrowing series of flights home, funded on my trusty credit
card, I discovered I was pregnant. I had not known Isamu long. We had
been having a magical love affair in Varanasi. He had gone to visit
his mother in Japan and, although we had talked about meeting on his
return, in all honesty, who knows what may have happened. But life is
what happens when you are busy making other plans and I knew deeply
in my heart that despite it being a less than conventional beginning
that I was going to have this baby. Isamu very honourably flew over
to England as soon as he heard, in absolute terror of meeting my
father and having to explain how he got his daughter pregnant. Not
that my father was sharpening his samurai sword, all my family took
warmly to Isamu and blessed our journey as we began to forge our
lives together. I was in a place right on the knife-edge of birth and
death. Of grief and hope. I knew I had to choose life, to choose
hope, to choose the future. So I flew to India to meet Isamu (I had
sent him off some weeks earlier to have his last dose of freedom and
classical music lessons before he became a daddy.) I remember getting
on the Shiv Ganga Express, the night train from Delhi to Varanasi,
and lying in my top bunk, with the train hurtling through the Indian
plains I felt my baby move in my tummy for the first time and smiled
sweetly to myself in the dark.

I
went back to Varanasi and picked up where I had left off. I made more
clothes, both for myself and to sell. I took a flight back to England
seven and a half months pregnant. I had no idea where to live. I had
not really built a life there and I was a different person to the one
I had been four years ago when I left. I chose Glastonbury, a place I
had visited only once before and where I knew no one. I found a
cottage to rent from farmer John and Isamu and I moved to Somerset.
We were dressed in our usual garb. All white and beige flowing silks,
long skirts and dresses for me and traditional Indian silk Kulter for
him. Shawls wrapped round shoulders, belly and often our heads the
whole time. We began to do the local market which was at that time in
the car park behind the market and our natural fabrics and floaty,
drapey designs were very popular.

When
our son was born, we called him Haruka. The way his name is written
in Japanese is an old Chinese Kanji which means beyond the sky,
beyond the horizon, more than you can see or contain. Haruka means
infinity. As I started to develop my business more seriously, working
with suppliers in Nepal as well as India, I could not think of a
better name in the whole world for my label so I called it Haruka as
well and brought up both of my Haruka’s together.

After
a few years doing the markets both locally and in festivals and
travelling for extended periods and even borrowing my friend Tanya’s
shop, God’s Gift, for a year whilst she spent some time with her
young daughter I started a shop of my own. That was nearly nine years
ago now. In februrary we moved to another premises two doors up the
road from my original shop. I now have a photographic studio above
the shop and a flexible space that I can use for meetings, organising
stock and occasional retail. I would love to use it as a design
studio but I don’t think that is realistic as I prefer to isolate
myself when I design a collection and I would be far too distracted
in the shop and always downstairs chatting or dealing with the issues
of the day.

I
have said a lot about this, and more than I meant to but for me,
business and my personal life have always been so intricately
threaded together. I love people and I love stories. I love my work
because of all the people and stories it brings me into contact with,
both in India with my suppliers and in Glastonbury with my customers
and the women who work with me in the shop.

I
also wanted to give you a sense of the roots of my design aesthetic
and inspiration. Although my clothes have evolved over the years, I
have been much influenced, and still am, not only by India, but also
by Japanese aesthetics and design sensibility.

 

 

HOW
DO YOU BALANCE WORK-LIFE RATIO AS THE OWNER OF THE BUSINESS?

I
think the simple answer to this is, I don’t ! It is an area I
really struggle with. There are never enough hours in the day for me
and my to do list is always looming in the corner of my vision. As an
independent business owner working across time zones I often work
from early morning talking to my suppliers in India so I can catch
them before they go for lunch. As a perfectionist, I find it very
hard to congratulate myself for the things I have done well and am
constantly looking for how I could do it better or the next thing
that needs doing.

When
he was in primary school, I used to take my son out of school
regularly for at least two months at a time on my production trips
and home educate him as a single mum. At times his dad, who returned
to live and work in India would take him and sometimes he couldn’t.
There were many occasions when it was extremely challenging as I had
to take him to the factory with me if there was no one else to look
after him. I made sure I was disciplined about homework time and meal
times. Some of my golden memories of that era are of reading to him.
I loved reading Lord Of The Rings to him and the Eragon series and we
used to sit for hours with a chai in various lake side restaurants
enthralled together in a novel.

These
days, Haruka, now aged thirteen and a half, is in a state school,
close to home, where he boards weekly. So he sleeps at school on
Monday to Thursday and at home on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
This has been a really good and healthy solution for us both as he
loves his school and has developed a close knit bunch of friends and
I am no longer in danger of killing myself haring down the country
lanes late to pick him up from school. I now go to India more
frequently, for shorter periods and he stays in school some weekends
and with friends or family for others. Although I miss him, I love my
time away in India as it gives me a block of time to be creative

 

TELL
US A TYPICAL DAY IN THE LIFE FOR YOU..

I
wake up to the dulcet tones of my alarm by seven at the latest. Check
my emails, call India if I need to, drink too much coffee, have a
shower and then I go for a walk before my day starts.


I
have recently moved house to Glastonbury, where my shop is. I live on
the road that leads to the Tor and have designed myself a walking
route that I don’t deviate from that involves two big uphill’s.
My yoga practice often slips when I am in England so I do this walk
instead. I need it not only for my physical health but for my sanity
and being in motion clears my head for the day. The walk takes forty
minutes at a fast pace and I try to be back by nine. Sometimes it is
hard to get going but I always feel better when I am on the homeward
stretch no matter what mood I started in.

I
moved house in September and have currently been living in a bit of a
building site as I am renovating a house on a stringent budget. So I
may need to talk with my friend and carpenter Jono about what we need
to decide about the wooden floor or the kitchen or a million other
things such as where plugs should go or what we need to buy. I cannot
tell you how many hours I have spent on Ebay and similar sites
looking for the perfect second hand curtains or range cooker. My mind
is a crazy place!

I
then go to the shop. I can walk there now, it is only five minutes
away and I really love driving less. I have a lot of hats to wear at
the shop and go between tasks such as trying to get my head around
the necessity of social media, shop display and organisation, stock
rotation, organising sales, training staff, answering emails, paying
people and bills dealing with the website, trouble shooting my new
E.P.O.S ( Electronic Point of Sale) system which has not been a great
fit to the individuality of my business and takes up far too much of
my time at the moment and is driving me absolutely crazy. More
pleasurable tasks are meeting with other designers whose creations I
sell and selecting new things for the shop, organising photo shoots,
changing the shop window displays. I also spend a lot of time
chatting to and advising the customers and sharing the stories behind
the clothes.

Thank
Goddess I have a wonderful team of women who work with me in the shop
and all bring their own unique skills, magic, life experiences and
wisdom to the mix. I would be lost without them.

If
I get home early enough I have a tea with Jono to discuss progress or
I may do something glamorous like a tip run. In recent days I have
been oiling my new oak floor after everyone has gone.

I
then go back to my to do list and my crazy home décor searches,
before eating some food and perhaps having a drink with a friend
either in or out. Or I watch a documentary. I am enjoying Blue Planet
two at the moment. I usually stay up far too late as I love the time
to myself.

WHATS
YOUR FAVOURITE PART OF THE WHOLE PROCESS? RESOURCING? DESIGNING?
CREATING? SELLING? 

I
love all of it and to me it’s all connected. Without the women who
wear my clothes and love my work none of it would be happening. I
love the women whom I meet in my shop. I often have in depth
conversations with my customers and staff about all range of topics
both serious and light hearted, to do with the clothes or our lives.
Nothing is off limits and I love how, being in Glastonbury, my shop
can be a meeting place of women from all over the world who feel at
home there. I meet so many special women every day and I love hearing
their stories and their laughter. It is also very important for me to
get feedback on the clothes, both the fit and the fabrics. I never
want anyone to feel under pressure to buy in my shop. It is a playful
place where people can try things on and experiment with what works.

I
like arranging the shop rails and putting all the colours and
textures together in a way that is pleasing to the eye. And I love it
when I do a window display that I really like. We call all the
dummies ‘Bettie’s’ as that was the name of the first second
hand dummy I bought who used to live in Claire and Steve’s shop
window. The mannequin with arms and legs, we call Priscilla as she is
a bit more fancy!

In
contrast, the process of designing is a much more insular process for
me and, as I said earlier, I really need to spend a lot of time on my
own to get in the zone. I leave for India with a range of ideas,
drawings and rough samples that fit together as a collection. But to
be honest, I never know how the finished picture will look exactly
until I choose the fabrics and figure out how I can piece it all
together.

I
have some regular materials that I use, such as the cotton Lycra,
which is 6% Lycra, so it keeps it’s shape and with a high G.S.M.
This means grams per square metre and means it is a tighter weave
with a good drape. Sorry if I am boring you with the finer details,
but these are things that really matter in the whole design process
and the quality of the finished product.

 

A
large part of my fabrics I find by scouring the surplus fabric market
in Delhi. A sprawling mass of alley ways teeming with rickshaws
carrying both people and towering piles of materials. Alongside cows,
street food stands, people walking, motorbikes, exhaust fumes, lots
of noise and dust and many, many shops of all sizes and varieties. Of
course I have my special places here, trusted suppliers, usually in
big shops who have good connections with their suppliers and a lot of
knowledge about fabrics. But there is always the chance that I might
find something new and unexpected too in a small shop I have never
seen before. All these fabrics are end of line or surplus to
requirements from other, bigger manufacturers so I am using up
fabrics that are left over from the fashion industry. It also means I
can find really high end fabrics that otherwise I may not be able to
afford. Plus it makes so many of my pieces limited edition as there
are only so many I am able to make.

I
turn up with my files of designs, swatches of fabrics I know I need
to match with others, maybe a colour or fabric swatch I want to find
something similar to and quite a lot of rupees hidden in my bag! I
have been working with the same people for years now so I feel very
at home there. I spend hours, sometimes days sitting drinking chai
and selecting my fabrics. I have to be very careful not to get too
over excited and blow all my budget by accident. So often I will take
a metre of the fabrics back to my hotel to think about them. Or I
will send some metres for sampling to my factory and make some
samples to see if my ideas work and to work out quantities of fabric
that I need. If something is just totally amazing then I just buy it.
I can’t help myself, I know I will never find it again !

The
process of producing and designing is far more logistical than
perhaps many people imagine. If I want to dye a silk cotton a certain
colour to match the jersey fabric (for example the panels in the
tulip dress. See link :
http://haruka.co.uk/shop/609-silk-and-jersey-tulip-dress
) I have to dye a minimum of 200m per colour. I have to think how I
can use up the fabric in other designs and still offer a broad colour
range and a variety of other styles and fabrics. It is important for
me to think about costings in the design process and make decisions
accordingly and also to think about the other fabrics I already have
in stock. I really have to concentrate!

After
a week in Delhi, I am ready to settle in for a month minimum of
working closely with the small factory I work with in Rajasthan. I
settle myself into the same family run hotel, in the same room I
always stay in and start the intensive design process. I have a very
good friendship and working relationship with Ghanshayam, the head
pattern cutter and we work closely together on my ideas. I know my
way around the factory and come in the back door. I often go
searching for things on my own such as buttons, labels, fabrics or
one of my samples that is being stitched in another room. I know the
people that work there. One of my favourites is Dilip who manages the
fabric room. He is an invaluable piece of the jigsaw puzzle and keeps
all my fabrics in order. My friend Dan often says about mass produced
High Street goods that, as far as the consumer is concerned, they are
made by invisible elves. I am proud that I know and value the
individual people who are part of the nuts and bolts of the
manufacturing process.

I
wake very early so I can do yoga before going to the factory and I
spend most of my time on my own, apart from the people with whom I
work. I am obsessive and my room is covered in a creative chaos of
drawings and samples. Most days when the working day finishes in
India, the working day in England starts and I will spend time
dealing with emails and messages about the shop until late in the
evening. I find it very hard to switch off. My smart phone is both my
nemesis and my saviour!

WHAT
ARE YOUR HOPES FOR HARUKA IN THE NEXT 5 YEARS?

 



I
am hoping I can grow the Internet side of my business because not
everyone can get to my shop in Glastonbury. Also, if I increase my
sales, then I will have more money to go and buy more fabrics for us
all and I will also have a wider choice of the fabrics I can obtain
if I can buy in bulk. Along side the surplus fabrics I would like to
be able to increase the amount of organic fabrics I use in the
colours I want to have them in.

It’s
hard though as a small business owner, wearing so many hats, and as a
mum to promote myself on social media and deal with things like
Google optimisation etc, something which is increasingly necessary in
this modern world. I just don’t have the time for it. And nor do I
want to just spin out bland marketing speak. It is important for me
to keep it real and honest, funny and, if at all possible, graceful.
But we are getting there and I love my new website although there is
always something to troubleshoot behind the scenes ! I think most of
my customers so far find out about us by word of mouth.

I
would like to continue to grow my connections with the network of
independent designers of which I am a part. I love that other labels
really compliment my collections. I am proud to support and be
supported by so many individuals making so many amazing things. I
would like to sell the work of other designers on my website too
because together we thrive.

I
collect old and unusual textiles from around the world. I have a
dream that one day I will have enough time to travel more to
different places sourcing amazing tribal fabrics and shawls from the
people who make them. And perhaps sell some of them on a new section
of my website that I dream will be called’ one of a kind’ The
problem is I love them so much, so far I would find it hard to sell
any of my collection ! But maybe one day. I do have an amazing
selection of hand woven shawls in the shop already though sourced by
both myself and others, and I love the tribal edge they bring.

TELL
US, WHAT ARE YOUR FAVOURITE 3 ITEMS THIS SEASON OUT OF THE HARUKA
RANGE AND WHAT DO YOU LOVE WEARING YOURSELF?

The
first thing I took was
The
Seed of Life Coat

in cotton with the silk scarf:


 

http://haruka.co.uk/shop/coats/seed-of-life-coat1

I
love everything about it. The texture of the cotton, the striking
quality of the silk, the weight of the garment and it’s versatility
as a light coat or a smart jacket. I also had the brass seed of life
buttons made especially. The only problem is I want the blue one too
as it’s the same design but completely different due to the fabric
choices :

 

http://haruka.co.uk/shop/1156-seed-of-life-coat

I
also wear the
Bloomsbury
Smock Dress

in Harvest Yellow:

 

http://haruka.co.uk/shop/1148-bloomsbury-smock-dress

It
is made from a thick and soft hand woven cotton that has got softer
with washing. I wear it with my jeans and a shawl. It is comfortable
and practical and has very big pockets. I designed it for the belt to
fasten at the back to pull the garment in for something a bit
different but it can be worn without the belt too.

It’s
hard to choose only three things but I will make my third the
Ladakh
Dress
in
silk cotton :

 

http://haruka.co.uk/shop/silk-cotton-empire-line-ladakh-dress

This
silk cotton fabric is one of my favourite finds in the surplus
market. I bought it all. It is a very gentle colour and it makes me
feel graceful. I like to dress practically and I will often wear this
with my black palazzo pants and, of course, a shawl.

The
pattern is based on an old coat from Ladakh which I found in the
Tibetan area of Delhi many years ago, back in the very beginnings of
my journey with designing and producing clothes. Traditionally all
the wool was hand woven in the home and was therefore of narrow
widths. This coat was composed of vertical panels stitched together
which is very flattering and elongates the body. I have taken the
same panel construction for this wrap around dress.



Wow just wow!
Big thanks to Amanda for sharing her amazing journey with us, i feel like having an in-site in to Amanda and your business really puts a life and a face to the brand, makes me want to shop there all the more.


Be sure to check out all Haruka’s pieces on their website 


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