“If ever I was questioned about my favourite subject or what I wanted to be when I grew up, I simply repeated: Art, Art, Art!
I knew that I wanted to paint and draw and although I had no idea what a design career would look like, I was certain that I would pursue my art,” says Jag Sihra, artist and owner of Studio Jag Sihra, the British brand known for creating hand-crafted silk items.
Sihra tells me that even in her school years, she found herself sneaking off into the art department where she would draw as a form of meditation. It seems her story has come full circle as the student has also become a teacher: “I trained as a teacher before returning to Goldsmiths for my Masters and I taught Art & Design for a short while. Teaching is learning and the learning should never stop. I feel energised and enriched when sharing my knowledge and love it when I can support other artists along their journey. Sharing knowledge is the most nourishing thing and helps us all feel less alone, especially when much of our work is solitary,” she explains.
Sihra has merged her creativity with her love for travel, having spent years designing and managing projects for British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. Born in Kenya and raised in the UK, Sihra’s Indian background is evident in the bold and colourful silk pieces found in her range of scarves, pocket squares, eye masks, and twillies. My own Jag Sihra eye mask is light as a feather and feels exquisite to the touch; different colours bounce off one another and the floral and geometric patterns give it that unique sense of personality. “For me there is simply no other fabric as exquisite as pure silk. It is the perfect material to bring my illustrations to life. With silk I can indulge my love of colour and my rich palettes dance with luminosity all over it,” shares Sihra.For this edition of Women Who Launch, I speak with Sihra about the evolution of Studio Jag Sihra and what has been the most difficult part of launching her brand.
What made you decide to start working with silk?
Silk is generally considered to be a fabric that epitomises luxury—its magical qualities are woven into legends of the Orient and it has a long and fascinating history. According to Chinese myth, the production and weaving of silk cloth was invented by Lady Hsi-Ling-Shih, the wife of the mythical Yellow Emperor who is said to have ruled China around 3000 BC. In Chinese texts, she is sometimes referred to as the Goddess of silk.
As beautiful as it is, with its innate elegance, drape, and lustre, there are also wonderful practical qualities to it. It is breathable and kind to the skin. It is also inherently sustainable by virtue of its longevity.
Tell me about Studio Jag Sihra – how did it come to be and what makes you different?
Studio Jag Sihra was borne of a life-long passion to create beautiful things from my art. The ‘Artistry of Silk’ describes the marriage of my two great passions, travel and art. The success of my studio will be measured by the legacy of of the work that is created. I had trained at top London art colleges, such as Central St. Martins College of Art & Design and Goldsmiths then developed a successful and glamorous career in design in the travel industry. These were wonderful years and I worked on some incredible projects within First Class at British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. I felt satisfied and knew that it was time to draw on these experiences and relive them through my work. It is literally my heart’s desire and it fulfils me beyond measure—each piece that I develop has my passion etched into it somehow. I can indulge my desire to create bespoke pieces, but can also reflect my clients’ desires by drawing out personal details and translating them into sketches. I then develop designs which capture moments or personalities so that ultimately, everything is meaningful to the individual.
You’ve collaborated with businesses like BA, Virgin, and the RAC. What do you look for in a partner and how do you think these partnerships have helped you grow as an entrepreneur?
I worked in senior roles for British Airways and Virgin Atlantic as well as luxury fragrance houses, established members clubs, and couture designers. As a Design Manager in the travel industry, I looked after the design of VIP premium gifts and managed collaborations with brands such as Anya Hindmarch and Penhaligon’s. This enabled me to understand what seasoned travellers, who are used to extreme luxury, are seeking—expertise and attention to every detail.
Ultimately, I look for experts in their fields to partner with and there has to be shared ethos—discerning brands with discerning people as their clients. Heritage can be a great inspiration in terms of visual cues and the experiential luxury of creating something unique with meaning.
Consumer behaviour has changed a lot over the last few years with sustainable fashion coming into the spotlight. Why was it so important for you to focus on timeless pieces?
Consumers are craving meaningfulness in their purchases and every object needs to have a purpose and come with an experience and be inherently sustainable in an honest way.
My pieces are designed to be heirlooms and passed down with emotion. I personally was never seduced by the concept of mindless consumerism and wanted to create pieces that were the antithesis of fast fashion. I believe in ensuring we have a minimal or positive impact in everything we do and our silk accessories are crafted in small batches by artisanal suppliers. My pieces are sustainable by virtue of their longevity and are made-to-order, but we also continually endeavour to minimise our environmental footprint, from using water-based dyes to the recyclable packaging of our gift boxes.
Travel seems to be the one common thread that has flowed through your journey. Is there a level of escapism that you’re trying to communicate through your pieces?
My own heritage is woven through my work. There is a vibrant and abundant range of influences from my Indian heritage and the easy summers of Kenyan skies. My art is abundant with a myriad of diverse global experiences. At college I was instantly captivated by modern Colour Theory. twentieth-century painting styles from the Impressionists and Fauvists recurrently inform my colour palette, resulting in a rich cadence of beautiful colour.
As a child, my mother would bring back silks from her trips to India—exquisite crafts which are lost in time. I still remember the magic of opening her suitcase and find richly embroidered silks, chiffons, and organzas spilling out, transporting me to a land which I had never seen but imagined as one that was filled with beauty and craft. My illustrations are inspired by the beauty of our world and nature in all its forms. No matter where you travel, there will always be a legend, story, or folklore that connects us humans in a primeval way. It may be a cliché, but travel broadens the mind as well as our art!
What has been the most challenging part of launching your own brand?
The sheer emotional rollercoaster of it. As a commercial artist, you are bearing your soul and laying yourself open to critique. It is intensely personal, but that is also why it is supremely satisfying. It’s a cliché but the highs are exhilarating and the lows can be demoralising. What I have learned is that I am living my passion and that never dies. Having found my purpose, the drive to succeed is natural and self-sustaining. Simply put, I aspire to be the best silk design studio there is. On a daily basis, there seems much to do but it’s nice to stop for a moment, look back, and see how much we have achieved. The best is yet to come!
Is there anything you wish you knew before you decided to start your own business?
It’s easy to be tempted to part with your money for quicker results on the business side, but there is no substitute for slow and sustained growth and evolution.
Do you have any big travel plans for 2022?
I am desperate to travel again. I was incredibly spoilt in my career and travelled the world seeing some amazing places and experiencing wonderful cultures. I now have young triplet boys who are actually obsessed with geography, countries of the world, and planes, even though they have been grounded for most of their existence—there must be some subliminal force at work there! They are currently aggrieved at the fact that we have seen all these places without them, so the plan is to travel soon re-live those fabulous memories through the eyes of my three little ones!
Studio Jag Sihra