An artist, designer and romantic who lives in two eras at once: Yuti Shah Edward, the Bohemian behind Udd Fabrics
In mythical times, the quintessential ingredients of a great idea being conceived are a Bodhi tree and a pensive soul ensconced in its bare roots, completely one with nature and the universe. The story of Yuti Shah Edward – a creative maestro who effortlessly matches the pace of the independent women of today with one foot, and yet, has the other drifting dreamily in the mythological era engulfed in its surreal beauty- began in a similar manner.
The after-effects of a childhood flooded with happiness and freedom
Yuti had a happy childhood with lots of freedom. “I knew right from then that I wanted to do something creative with my life.”
She studied Visual communications at Raffles Design International in Mumbai and was one of the lucky
few to be selected for an exchange programme in Paris. Those 2 months were the turning point in her life.“I came back with a changed perspective towards life. It opened up my horizon as far as design was concerned. I realized Design is not applicable only to paper, for a book or a card; design is everywhere. Whether it is the way your home is, or the way your food is, or the way you dress, to the way you live!”
Her career began in the graphic design and colour consultancy firm called “Freedom Tree” – the second major phase of her life.
She loved her job, but “Travelling back and forth to work everyday in crowded trains, the endless work hours, the tight deadlines were my biggest nightmares.”
Having found a similarly gypsy soul in her other half, Atul Edward, the two would often abandon the bedlam of working life and the city, to escape to rural destinations that would allow peaceful reflection, to connect with nature and their inner calling. On all their trips, Yuti would take her trusty notebook along, where she would get inspired by the textures of nature and doodle away.
It was on one of these soul-searching trips four years back that her husband couldn’t help but wonder why she wouldn’t pursue her sketching more seriously, and put her nimble strokes in print.
“It may have been just a casual thought then- but before I knew it, I had taken the plunge, quit my design job and was getting ready for my first ever art show!”
That art show turned into one of India’s first few brands of bespoke Indian wear – Udd– where Yuti would create original art works and then convert them into happy-printed sarees, dupattas, scarves, lehengas and more!
How she decided to Udd
After 2 such shows, she and her husband, who was also her business partner, discussed how her art could be made more accessible to a wider audience. Being a graphic designer by profession and an artist at heart, it was natural to fuse the design and art skills together for Yuti.
“Finally our faith in each other, love for art, design, Indian Colour and the ability to have all the freedom gave birth to Udd!”
Sketching intricately everything from depictions of mythological scenes and folklore, to elements of nature with a fantastical twist, to renditions of Tanjore art, to flamboyant vegetable prints – her creations find roots in travel, arts and crafts from rural India, including weaves and other dying techniques- but everything Indian in origin. And they are made all the more resplendent in the vivacious colour schemes she chooses.
The thorns in the roses
The hurdles for a woman – in this case, trying to leave her print on the world quite literally – are always aplenty. “In a business, challenges never stop. At every stage, however big your company grows there is always some hurdle to surmount.”
Yuti, the thinker that she is, strongly believes that challenges are what make you and your brand evolve.
As far as the sales were concerned, our product is very niche and requires an acquired taste so we cannot compare sales to that of a mass product. And like any new company, we also faced the problem of finance. Udd is growing rapidly and showing a lot of promise but that also means constant pumping in of money, which is very difficult for us. We don’t have any financial partners and that is maybe something we are open to now. But finding the right person with a good mix of business mind and a creative mind is what we would ideally want.
Operationally, the challenge only multiplied. The ecosystem of the karigars who constituted her taskforce in her 800 sq. ft Oshiwara workshop, was a sea of male heads. All from lesser educated backgrounds, they are hardly ever even exposed to independent women, let alone taking orders from them.
“It’s not all easy being a woman. The karigars, vendors and printers, did have that attitude initially- where they wouldn’t take me seriously. It was hard to get work done in the beginning. They would assume if it is a woman, it must be a hobby. Moreover, being a woman travelling in the interiors of India was tough.”
Having Atul by her side was also a great source of strength and security. “Just the fact that they know there is a man involved, things get easier for me on a day to day basis.”
And in time, Yuti’s passion and relentless dedication to Udd paid off. “Today I travel to meet my weavers on my own and they have all become family to me.”
There has been a common fixture in this story, who always desired that Yuti goes after her destiny all guns blaring. Right from planting the idea in her head, to holding the fort on the business side of things, her husband Atul gets full marks for being a pillar of strength. And for that, she gives him endless credit.
“I was raised to be independent. In the beginning even my parents did not have the vision that I had, but my husband had faith in my work and me. It was he who really stood by me, pushed me in the right direction and gave me the courage to take the leap.” Now, the entire family is ecstatic about Yuti’s success, and Udd often graces the dinner table conversation.
Even at the workshop front, Atul dealt with her karigars until they found it in them to embrace the change and get acclimatized to a female boss.
“For everything apart from production – salaries, leaves and other staff policies – Atul took care of it all. He was and has been my strength and support.”
Why a woman has the best odds to succeed, today
This new change making the environment more conducive for a woman entrepreneur to thrive, she believes, can be attributed largely to the Internet. “It’s easier now to find contacts and do some research online before just setting off.”
“But above all, the mindset of men has changed- they look at women as equals and that’s very important. I know of so many women, who say their husbands have been very supportive of their choices on the business and home front.”
In spite of locking horns with these everyday battles backstage, the show went on fabulously, and the response to their unique product has pleasantly surprised them. With about 20,000 likes on the Udd face book page, 1000 followers on their blog and around 150 regular clients, she’s experienced an annual growth of 10 to 15 percent every year since they started in 2011.
The maestro’s vision:
Four years hence Yuti is a happy and contented woman. “I get to make my own decisions and be surrounded by gorgeous Indian textiles all day. Hence, work does not feel like work, and the transition is very natural. Travel is what keeps me going, be it for work or for pleasure – experiencing new adventures, and making happy memories is what I live for! I think deep faith in what you do, being honest to yourself and living and working with passion and simplicity is what I believe in.”
Yet, that soul belonging under the Bodhi tree never stops looking for answers.
“Eventually, I want to work with different techniques of weaving, art and crafts of India- combining old techniques with new and experimenting to a level that has never been done before. I want to, in time create a community of artists and weavers who can work together in unison.”
How she gets there, though, is the part of the story she has left untold, even for herself.
“I am a dreamer. I follow my heart and go with the flow.”