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As Artisan Guild Member, Shahzadi Export, Unveils a Shiny New Website, We Speak with Photgrapher and Designer Richard Singh, about his Nest Consultancy

Photo Above: The artisans of Shahzadi Export, work on a Mara Hoffman design

Over a year ago, looking for ways to better support her artisan vendors in diversifying their client base so as to grow their businesses sustainably, fashion designer, Mara Hoffman approached Nest to help address the needs of Shahzadi Export, an artisan group producing intricate hand embroidery used on several Mara Hoffman dresses.

Nest traveled with Mara Hoffman to India to implement an onsite strategic growth assessment for the brand’s artisan partner, Kasif Shahzadi, the owner of the business. Recognizing a clear opportunity for the business to improve its marketing materials and overall brand aesthetic, Nest engaged a consultant from its network to capture professional brand photography while assisting the artisan enterprise in redesigning its look books and website.

Photographer and designer, Richard Singh, was a natural fit for bringing this project to life. Now, as Shahzadi Export unveils a shiny new website funded by Mara Hoffman – one that is sure to deliver a strong and lasting brand impression to prospective clients, we sit down with Richard to learn more about his consultancy and the impact he hopes it will make for Shahzadi’s artisans.

Nest: When did your work with Nest begin and what inspired you to get involved with the organization?

Richard: My work with Nest began over a year ago, shortly after attending one of the organization’s events in New York City. I loved the team and was excited by the work that they do to preserve cultural traditions, build responsible supply chains, and promote workers’ rights and wellbeing. Wanting to gain more knowledge on these subjects, I joined as a Co-op member.

Nest: What were the goals for your consultancy with Shahzadi Exports and how did the work begin to unfold?

Richard: The project grew quite organically. Initially, I knew only that Shahzadi would benefit from more professional photographs of their work. Once I saw the beauty(!) and entirety of what these artisans produce, and understood more deeply what their creative business needs actually were, I evolved the fellowship into much more.

Aside from one brochure that did little justice to their work, Shahzadi had no other forms of visual communication with which to engage new clients. Kasif had limited familiarity with social media and needed some type of digital platform for reaching a wider audience with impact. This led us to the project to redesign the business’ website.

Nest: Is there a reason why you were drawn to India or this opportunity in particular?

Richard: I love embroideries and handwork and really thrill at witnessing first-hand the many processes and conditions under which our clothes are made. I have a design background, and was familiar with Shahzadi’s craft technique, a several hundred year-old hand embroidery technique done on a wooden frame.

I absolutely love India: I’ve been several times before, but prior to my consultancy, had not done extensive work there. It was quite serendipitous that both my own interests as well as Shazadi’s were fulfilled in the process.

Samples of Shahzadi’s embroidery on the new website designed by Richard Singh

Nest: How did you collaborate and work alongside the artisan business’ leader, Kasif, to start bringing the new website design to life? What was that working relationship like?

Richard: My process started by editing and categorizing the new photographs according to the different sections I wanted to include on the website. There was a lot of back and forth, gathering detailed information from Kasif on each of the techniques his artisans use. My focus then turned to design and creative direction, which included everything from photo editing, retouching, and image layout, to navigation, art, and copy writing. I hired a colleague to work on all the back-end development and coding.

When I felt I was lacking images for a particular section on the site, I directed Kasif to take additional photos himself – partly out of necessity, but mainly as a way to get him more involved and feeling confident in addressing future design needs on his own. Our relationship did not end when the site was completed: Kasif and I still have regular chats and I’ll continue to advise and help him any way I can going forward.

Nest: Where did you draw inspiration from for the new website’s design? How did the branding evolve between the old site and new?

Richard: I was simply inspired by the work that Shahzadi’s artisans produce! It’s as beautiful as the people that make it and I wanted to celebrate that, presenting it more as an artists’ portfolio. While the older website was lackluster and lacking the level of refinement that would appropriately showcase the beauty of Shahzadi’s work, we aimed to create a new one to be inviting, captivating, and enticing.

Nest: How do you hope that the new website will have an impact for Shahzadi Export?

Richard: With a beautiful website that takes the business’ professionalism to another level, I hope that Shahzadi Export will have increased confidence engaging with a higher caliber of clients. I hope this can be one important piece of the puzzle in helping the business to build long-term relationships with a new crop of conscience designers, so that they can grow both creatively and financially.

Nest: What advice would you give to other artisan businesses struggling with branding and web design?

Richard: I think it’s a very exciting time for artisan businesses! There are extraordinary opportunities for connecting with people – locally and globally – who are seeking out their skilled craftsmanship with great enthusiasm. I would say to not be afraid to ask for help, and to not be be intimidated. It’s important to start somewhere. While in the early stages of building a brand, a business may not have the funds for a professionally designed website, it doesn’t cost anything to set up an Instagram account and take and upload photos with a smartphone.

For artisan businesses on a limited budget, I recommend finding someone who loves what that business is doing and is willing to work within its budget to negotiate a fair deal. I never fail to be amazed by what you may receive when you ask. We must always take pride in showing people what we do!