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Chanee Vijay Leaves a Hand Print in Sustainable Design

Feb. 19, 2018

As the fourth in i+s' Maker Monday series, Chanee Vijay designs beautiful handcrafted textiles.

Interior designers understand the importance of details. What may seem inconsequential to the end user can pull together the aesthetic, mood, or mission of a space. 

For handcrafted textile design studio Chanee Vijay, details are what sets the brand apart.

Founded in 2012, Chanee Vijay creates exquisitely hand-printed textiles that adorn everything from throw pillows to napkins. Utilizing organic European hemp, founder Chanee Vijay believes design can and should be unique and sustainable—each piece is printed with water-based, solvent-free textile inks.

As part of i+s’ ongoing series about makers in the industry, Vijay let us in on her process.

Where can people find your goods?

I sell directly from my website www.chaneevijay.com. My older screen-printed collections are sold in my Etsy shop. 

How did you get your start? 

Sometimes I feel like it sprang out of nothing or perhaps something [emerged] in me that was waiting to come to the surface. In 2009, I was working in corporate marketing, renovating my own home, and blogging about sustainable design. I studied clothing design, sewing, and art in school but ultimately got my degree in Geography - Sustainable Development.

In 2010, I started from scratch with surface design. I didn't know I had a maker in me but apparently, I did. I taught myself how to block and screen print and sourced organically grown hemp and non-toxic inks. Then, I opened an Etsy shop flourishing in the supportive makers’ community. 

What inspires you?

There are so many outlets for inspiration. I'm almost overly inspired every day because I'm a visual person. I have years of inspiration built up. After traveling to India three times and cycling through France, Italy, and New Zealand, there's still so much to tap into.  Over the past several years, I've found a wonderful community of designers, makers, and artists. Some of these creative people I've met in real life at design events and others I hope to meet. They are so talented and supportive, which keeps me energized.

What is the hardest part of the creative process? 

I rarely plan what I’m going to design. I start with an idea and begin executing it without documenting ink colors or stopping because it wasn’t what I imagined. Most of the time, my mistakes feel more authentic and appealing than my original intent. In that sense, recreating a design for duplicate pillows, for example, sometimes feels less fulfilling. 

What is your favorite thing in your working environment? 

I’ve had three different studios since 2011 and the natural light and my giant printing table are the most important factors. After a visit to a block-printing studio in India, I was so impressed with their extra-long and padded printing tables. I’ve tried to recreate that in my studio but available space is always an issue. In my current studio, the concrete floors are a lifesaver because I don’t have to worry about getting them dirty with ink spills.

What career or personal mistake taught you the greatest lesson?

Not giving myself time to design. Since I’m a one-woman show, with the exception of my wonderful mother’s sewing help a few times a year, I felt less like a designer and more like a manufacturer when I was offering wholesale. After I moved to L.A., I took a long break mostly because I wasn’t happy with producing so many duplicate pillows. I kept my shop closed and turned away requests for new orders of my old screen-printed designs. I gave myself time to explore new printing techniques, which ultimately became my new limited collection. There’s a beautiful balance somewhere and I know I'm close to finding it. I decided that the wholesale model doesn't work for my design process. I simply can't make 500 pillows at cost and have a life with time to do some actual designing. I learned to align my brand with designers and shops that have similar aesthetics and an appreciation for “made by the designer” textiles.

Who has helped you realize your dreams? 

First, my mother. My drive to design is grounded in something I get from her. She’s industrious, practical, and we have the same love for neutrals and texture. She’s an incredible seamstress. She ran her own bridal shop for 30-plus years and even sewed my wedding dress. When she visits, we are in the studio all day, rarely emerging to eat and exercise. She makes pillows, aprons, pouches, bags, and other pieces from my scraps and misprints. I love collaborating with her.

Second, and obviously, my husband. He’s my biggest fan. Sometimes he gets upset when I sell one-of-a-kind pieces he likes. It's really wonderful that I have such a supportive husband who continues to encourage me to grow my business while staying true to my slow-design philosophy. 

What is your favorite design era? 

The late 1930s in which modern designers like Russel Wright and Richard Neutra were challenging traditional, gracious living models with Modernism. I love that era’s openness and highly efficient use of space, use of beautiful solid wood built-ins, and stone and glass walls. Every inch of it is functional and purposeful. 

What’s your favorite color?

You know that’s an impossible question for a designer to answer. In general, I feel most comfortable in a neutral space. My favorite color finds its way into the textiles I’m printing on any given day. Right now for my own home, I’m pulling in creams and tans with a muted ochre and olive drab.

Vijay's textiles hang after production. Siri Berting Photography.

Do you have any rituals for getting out of a design rut? 

After we moved from Philadelphia to L.A. and renovated our house inside and out, I felt like I had no creative energy left for my studio work. I helped a friend and artist with her website and social media presence. After meeting with her a few times, her drive and creativity motivated me to get back into my studio. Many times it’s just an email from a repeat customer or designer asking for something special from my collection. Collaboration with other designers and artists drives my work ethic in the studio.

What’s next for you?

I plan to launch a trade-only program to focus on custom, one-of-a-kind designs for interior designers and their clients. I’m also moving back Philadelphia this spring which means setting up a new studio. 

What do you think is next for the interior design industry?

The makers’ movement in the early 2000s pulled back the veil, so to speak, to reveal the importance of how a product is made—the level of quality, the sourcing and ecological factors, and the people behind the designs. I’ve watched this small-batch movement mature and evolve into larger-scale models, re-energizing local niche production while highlighting the thoughtful design process.

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Aimee Wilder’s patterns set free

From a consumer lens, interior designers can offer their clients unique decors and finishes by giving them access to these made-in-house design studios. Personally, I’m drawn to products for my home originating from designers with small-scale production models. If you tour my home, I’m quick to point out who made my lights, hand-painted tiles, floating shelves, and textiles.

About the Author

Kadie Yale | Former Editor-in-Chief

Kadie Yale holds a BA in Industrial Design from San Francisco State University and a MA in Decorative Art History and Theory from Parsons the New School. In her role as editor-in-chief from 2015-2018, she led the interiors+sources team in creating relevant content that touches on sustainability, universal design, science, and the role of design in society.

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