Images: Chris Holden
After visiting Kangan Arora’s studio in South London I was quick to realise that the online description of a “Designer specialising in print and pattern design” falls very short in reflecting her creativity, approach and passion. So, as an alternative, I think it’s more appropriate to introduce Kangan Arora as both a master of pattern and connoisseur of colour.
By stepping into her studio you will instantly understand why it’s important to make this distinction. Kangan isn’t a “designer” that you’d find hunched over a laptop in an east London cafe searching the internet for inspiration. She’s a craftsman and collector, who works tirelessly to create with her hands. We began our conversation while exploring her studio shelves, which are filled with an eclectic collection of curiosities from her travels. “I brought these combs back from India, they have a very specific quality of colour because of the way they are produced and I‘m really drawn to the slightly murky colour. Also, some of the bright transparent ones are fantastic when overlapped” Kangan joyfully explained as we wandered around he space.
After a little more exploring, Kangan pointed to a group of objects that were sitting on her desk, particularly a vibrant clothes brush, “Fluor red is my favourite colour, especially in combination with a dirtier paler colour, the energy of it becomes more apparent. I’m constantly collecting colours to build my own colour library.’ she stated with a wide smile. Moving through her space it’s hard not to become consumed with fascination. Every single detail of her studio shouts a story. Every inch of wall is obscured by samples and objects that she has collected from her travels and journeys. We spent longer than expected talking about her incredible space and taking some photographs, so a little later than planned we sat down and I asked her to tell me more about the journey she has taken and her story so far.
Influenced by her family's textiles business, Kangan studied fashion design at the National Institute of Fashion Technology in India, however at the end of her studies she realised that a career of silhouettes, shapes and trends wasn’t her true calling and she was more interested in the surface and the fabric. She moved to London to study Textile design at Central Saint Martins and was introduced to the world of weave, knit and print. Explaining her experience in London, Kangan remarks “I fell in love with screen-printing at Saint Martins and found the whole process extremely cathartic: from the mixing of the pigments to exposing the screens and developing designs directly on the print table. I enjoyed how intimately involved one could be with their craft”. Suffice to say she made the right decision and she never looked back.
After finishing her studies at Saint Martin's, she joined a small design company in South London called Lisa Stickley. It was an exciting time to be there as the studio was collaborating with brands likes of Liberty and the TATE whilst also producing their own collections. “To be honest, it was a crash course in how to run a small design business. Although I didn’t design for them, I was involved in everything else - PR, photography, sales, trade shows, production, launches – you name it! When you leave university, you know how to design but you don’t know how to run a business, so it was an invaluable experience.’” Kangan explains.
A year later, she left and took the leap to start her own studio. As for most creatives, the early days were challenging and for a couple of years she jiggled her new role as designer-maker with days working in a local cafe. Slowly she accelerated from craft markets to trade shows and started to sell to shops like the Southbank Centre, Future and Found and Heal’s and at this time she also went back to Central Saint Martins as a specialist print and dye technician. “After a couple of years as a print technician, I started to teach my own short courses at CSM and also became a visiting lecturer on the BA Textiles course. So for the last 7 years, I’ve been balancing designing my own collections and collaborations with teaching. It’s probably been a 60:40 split (studio v teaching) so far but I’ve recently become a permanent lecturer in Textiles and Jewellery so things are on the move again.
My own practice has changed so much since I started out. Although I loved designing product, I felt restricted by lack of resources to scale the business beyond a certain level. So, the focus has shifted to more collaborative projects. Being a print and pattern designer affords me the luxury to be able to design for products beyond textiles like ceramics, stationery, packaging and even one-off installations.”.
We couldn’t help but ask about her latest collaboration range of home textiles and tableware for IKEA. A beautiful collection centred around lively colours, bold and graphic patterns. “Collaborations are such a great way to expand the scope of your work. I really enjoyed the whole process, especially the amount of creative freedom I was given and the fact that most ideas were taken through as I envisaged. The scale of the whole operation did baffle me but it brought with it such opportunity to make things I couldn’t in my little studio. Designing the 12 colour screen printed Sigrunn fabric by the metre was a real highlight. I have been spotting it on Instagram and seen a pair of dungarees, an upholstered sofa and even a wedding dress!”
Our hyper connected world and social media can bring a lot of opportunities. I asked Kangan how this has helped her develop her ideas and company “Instagram has been amazing. I see it as a live journal and it’s super helpful with documenting the development of projects but it can have a dark side to it and especially when you’re working in a visual spectrum and sharing ideas, they can get nicked in an instance. I’ve definitely had to learn to not over-share. But there are definitely more positives than negatives and one of the best things about it is the automatic global network of creatives you inherit by simply following them or them following you.”
Her growing portfolio includes not only work for IKEA but a series of rugs for Floor Story, packaging for REN cosmetics, installation for the London Design Fair and the list keeps growing. When we arrived at the studio she was working on her next collaboration, due to launch in Spring 2020.
Kangan has achieved incredible success all within eight years bringing colour and joyful patterns in the design world. We can’t wait to see how the next years of Kangan's world evolve.