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Finding Place, Design and Improvement in India

By Grace Kirk
Samantha Delgos and Patrick Hayes are living a young designer's dream. After graduating from QUT in fashion and architecture respectively, they now cross mountains, explore markets, and observe Indian cultural groups and their craft. Moving to New Delhi, India, to establish design studio Aiyope has not been the easiest path to travel, but has been full of rewards.

No Walls’ caught up with Delgos and Hayes during one of their selling trips in Australia, to discuss their creative process; life in India; how place influences creativity; and what it means to embrace local culture.

Aiyope Designers Patrick Hayes and Samantha Delgos

The Creative Process

Hayes and Delgos describe themselves as Australian designers drawing inspiration from Indian traditions. Their aesthetic inspiration can be seen in the materials and designs of their first collection influenced by the Mishing tribe culture in north-Eastern India.

It was in 2011 during an exchange to the University of New Delhi that QUT Architecture student, Patrick Hayes, and QUT Business/Fashion student, Samantha Delgos, first met. Both found they enjoyed life in India. Seeing an opportunity to collaborate, they formed the initial ideas for a studio.

Officially established in mid-2015, Aiyope has already released its first collection, titled ‘WORK / REST: The Mishing Balance’. The collection features clothing, furniture and objects.

Image Credits: Kassia Karr, www.hellodear.in 2016

As part of their creative process for the collection, Delgos and Hayes spent time living within the Mishing community, observing their craft and lifestyle. The Mishing people live in North Assam, one of the far north eastern states of India. This agricultural area, which is green and lush, often floods in the wet season, with the wild river, Bhrama Putra known to break its banks.

Delgos and Hayes visited this area during the dry season, which corresponds with winter and a time of rest. It was during this time that they could truly embrace Mishing culture; discovering new techniques of craft, exploring architecture and understanding lifestyle choices.

It was the work/rest balance of the culture that appears to have the greatest influence on the collection.

Image Credits: Samantha Delgos 2016

“It was about the yearly patterns of people – farming in the wet season and relaxing in the dry season. That’s how we are interpreting the culture and bringing it back to Australia. It’s about work/rest balance,” says Hayes.

Travel is a key part of Aiyope’s creative process. For every collection moving forward, Hayes and Delgos will travel to one of the many unique parts of India. They will immerse themselves in the area, the craft, and the day-to-day living in order to draw design inspiration.

Life in India

Actually being in India allows the pair not only to be inspired by Indian aesthetic, but also to collaborate with Indian designers and manufacturers. Delgos says it is important for them to “actually be there” in order to build relationships with people.

They’ve found that an asset to being based in India is their reconnection with natural materials. “I think, particularly with textiles, that’s the real strength of being in India,” says Hayes.

Image Credits: Samantha Delgos 2016

There are also manufacturing benefits to living in India. Delgos and Hayes believe that being young designers based in Australia is not always viable, as it can difficult to find a manufacturer willing to make a one-off piece.

However, in India, they are able to have an ongoing relationship with their manufacturers, and are able to engage more in the process of their pieces being made.

“In terms of manufacturing, it helps living there and actually knowing a bit of Hindi as well. That way you have access to all of the manufacturers, even the ones that speak Hindi but no English” says Hayes.

“Not only is it exciting to be designers based in India, it’s also exciting to sell in India,” says Delgos.

India, in terms of design, is a burgeoning a new creative industry, according to the pair. While Delhi’s a big city, they find that the creative circle is small. They can meet people across creative disciplines and quickly build on opportunities.

Cultures Colliding

Living and working in India has exposed the pair to a number of interesting experiences, cultural clashes and miscommunications.

“Every day I feel like I’m in an awkward situation,” jokes Delgos.

“I have to do a lot of hand gestures with my metal work guy, you know, trying to explain certain curves. He doesn’t speak any English and my Hindi is pretty limited,” says Hayes.

Image Credits: Samantha Delgos 2016

The Aiyope duo’s hands-on approach is a novel experience to the Indian craftspeople. Due to the rigid social structures in India, separation and power difference can exist between people in certain job roles. Delgos and Hayes both commented on the separation that can exist between designer and craftsperson.

The roles between designer and craftsperson are separated, with little knowledge shared. Delgos and Hayes recognise that it is often the craftsmen who know how to do something best, and they want to observe them.

“When we’re there, jumping in, or picking a tool up and using it, I think it is a bit humorous to them. I think it also works well in building a less formalised relationship with our manufacturers,” says Hayes.

Image Credits: Samantha Delgos 2016

Through their hands on approach Hayes and Delgos are continuously hoping to bridge this gap.

“I think that they look at us as a novelty. They might think we’re a bit weird. They see our personalities and us in the flesh, and they see us working through our creative process with them. I think they just enjoy observing us and see what we’re going to do next,” says Hayes.

From Good Practice to Aiyope

An interesting part of their journey, so far, has been deciding on an appropriate name for the company.

Their original name, ‘Good Practice Studio’, came about because they liked the idea of having a multi-approach business – they would do business in a good way, and, due to their young age, they felt that all business was ‘good practice’.

However, they quickly realised that they wanted a name that would reflect the diverse nature of their brand. Ultimately it is a brand that spans two cultures – the richness of India, and the laid-back casual lifestyle of Australia.

Image Credits: Kassia Karr, www.hellodear.in 2016

While working on the Mishing collection they came across the word Aiyope, which in the Mishing language, simply means to improve.

“[Aiyope] is a name without a place,” says Hayes.

It’s not a word that you would immediately associate with India or Australia, which is why they were drawn to it.

“The idea with Aiyope is that we’re improving all of the time, but not everyone needs to know that. That’s why it’s in a different language,” says Hayes.

The pair are currently on a trip in the south of India doing research for their next collection. They’ve been spending time in Kerala and Tamil Nadu and are also looking into a place called Auroville. This town, formed in the seventies promotes a different way of life. It is a community that fosters sustainability and creativity, so it will be interesting to see what Aiyope produce next.

To discover more about Aiyope and to see their collection, visit their website.