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I Am MSGL: Shriya Samavai Manian
 


A recent photo of Shriya in 2016

     As a preschooler, Shriya Samavai Manian appreciated spending her days surrounded by colorful, beautiful things in her classroom at MSGL. Now, twenty years later, she spends her days creating beautiful things for others.

     The West Lafayette native works as a photographer, writer, fashion designer, and DJ on New York’s Upper West Side. And that’s just her freelance work. After graduating from Columbia University in 2015, Shriya was hired by designer Ellen Van Dusen to assist her at Dusen Dusen, a womenswear and homegoods studio in Brooklyn.

     “The team is really small, just the designer, myself and a salesperson, but the output is really large,” Shriya said. “It’s nice to be working on a small team and learning about clothing design from the ground up.”

     Being one-third of the team requires Shriya to participate in all aspects of the production of Dusen’s colorful and boldly-patterned fabric designs, which are manufactured in New York’s garment district.

     “I picked up 100 yards of elastic yesterday and delivered it to a production house,” she said. “I have unloaded giant bolts of fabric into a factory. We just did a lookbook shoot last Saturday and I assisted the photographer, steamed the clothing, and helped the models get dressed.”

     Shriya has always wanted to run her own business, which is evidenced by the number of entrepreneurship competitions in which she competed in high school and college. She placed in the top three at the Columbia Engineering Fast Pitch Contest, the Edens SmART Retail Challenge, and Purdue’s Entrepreneurship Academy. She understands that this wide variety of experience in New York’s fashion world is helping her organize her own design company.

     “Every week I’m learning something completely different. I’m thinking, okay, when it gets to this point for me, how do I want to do this?”

     That point looms just around the corner for Shriya and her friend, Lauren Field, a senior at Barnard College. The duo is collaborating on a clothing line right now that should be ready for launch in April, called Studio Lucien. They both have a deep interest in art history and want to make clothes inspired by works of art. Their first project is a rain jacket with Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai’s painting, “Under the Wave Off Kanagawa (Great Wave),” printed on the inside lining of the jacket.

     “We’re working with a factory in the garment district that is currently in the process of sewing all the jackets,” she said. “We started with a sample, which was made by a pattern-maker in New York. We sketched out the idea of what we wanted and worked with her to create the initial jacket. We bought the fabric in New York and got it printed at a factory in New Jersey. Hopefully, the first round of jackets will be delivered to us in March.”


Studio Lucien's Hokusai Jacket coming out in April 2016.

 

     Shriya didn’t set out to be a fashion designer. She always presumed she would be an engineer. She graduated from West Lafayette High School in 2011 and moved to New York to study engineering at Columbia. While studying subjects planted firmly in the STEM department, she spent her free time going to museums, galleries, and concerts and hanging out with friends who were studying art history.

     “It wasn’t until college that I even learned that art history was a viable major,” she said. “I thought, what is this thing where you get to sit in class and look at paintings all day? I was friends with a bunch of artists but was going to class and studying engineering.”

     When she began to visualize herself studying something besides engineering, she talked with her parents about changing her major to art history and business management.

     “Everybody in my family has done engineering. My brother did engineering at Purdue, my father is a professor of chemical engineering, my mom has a masters in engineering,” she said.

     But her parents could tell she wasn’t really happy or excited about what she was studying at Columbia and they encouraged her to follow her interests.

     “I just had to convince them that it (art history) was a real thing to study and a real thing to pursue after school,” she said. “Now, they are so supportive. Really supportive of my photography and writing and my design. I think they just had to come around to it because it was so new to them. Studying art isn’t common in India, and honestly it’s not a big field in the midwest, either,” she said.


Shriya and her dad celebrate her 3rd birthday in the Toddler Room in 1996.

 

     In April, 2015, her parents’ doubt was erased for good when Shriya and Lauren won first place in Columbia Venture Competition’s Undergraduate Challenge with their idea of taking art history and translating it into clothing. They competed against six other teams in the final round and every other team’s project was based on science, medicine, or engineering.

     “We were stressed out because we thought nobody probably cared about this idea besides us,” she said.

     Winning first prize was a big confidence booster for the team and for Shriya personally. “It’s good to have that validation when you’re working with an idea and you’re not sure how other people will respond to it,” she said.

     The validation included a $25,000 prize that Shriya and Lauren tapped into to make Studio Lucien a reality.

     “We’ve spent very little of the money so far,” she said. “It’s only gone into the jacket.”

     In most start-up business ventures, inexperience is considered a liability, but Shriya credits her lack of design experience with keeping her mind open to creative - and now successful - ideas.

     “It’s nice when you don’t know what you’re doing because you’re willing to try anything,” she said.

     Shriya attended MSGL toddler and preprimary classes in the late 1990’s. Although she left before her Kindergarten year, she has memories of the time she spent here.


Shriya celebrates her 4th birthday in Maureen Northacker's class at MSGL in 1997.

 

     “I have great memories of playing in the gym with those little scooters. I recall having a very long scroll of paper and writing every number. I loved counting beads. I remember learning how to wash my hands,” she said, laughing. “There were lots of practical things I learned at Montessori. I loved that building (Morton Community Center.) I thought it was so beautiful. I remember Maureen, I remember Zainab, I remember Suman, I remember Durga. Honestly, I wasn’t there for very long, maybe 3 or 4 years max, but I have really good memories of being there. And I loved how hands-on everything was. I remember you could learn how to zip a zipper, braid, button stuff up, and tie your shoes. I think that really is the best way to learn. It’s not boring and it shouldn’t be.”

     Accurately self-described as “having more than one thing happening,” Shriya is simultaneously working on a separate clothing line set to launch in late 2016 or 2017. It is a line of unisex outerwear that she describes as “really nice jackets that are made for anyone of any gender.” Shriya enjoys the many creative directions her life is spinning off into right now, and she plans to continue her design work in the foreseeable future.


Alyeesha Puri, Shriya, and Sejal Sheth on the MSGL
playground at Morton Community Center in approx. 1997.

 

     “Ideally, I would love to be living in some metropolitan area, whether it’s New York or a different part of the world, and making clothes or being somehow involved with art,” she said. “I think that’s what really drives me the most. Being able to create something that evokes some kind of visceral reaction. And I like to collaborate with people.”

     Best wishes from all of your old friends at MSGL, Shriya! We can’t wait to see what you do next.

     Photos courtesy of Shriya.

     This post is part of a series "I Am MSGL" featuring alumni of the Montessori School of Greater Lafayette. If you or someone you know would like to be featured in this series, please contact me at heather@msgl.org.







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