Episode 16. Building an Impactful Fabric Shop with Sandeep Sandhu of Sister Mintaka

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Building an Impactful Fabric Shop with Sandeep Sandhu of Sister Mintaka The Asian Sewist Collective Podcast

In this episode, we're talking to Sandeep Sandhu, founder of Sister Mintaka. We talk about Sandeep's Indian heritage, her experience learning to sew in the UK and learn more about how she started and built an impactful fabric shop. Sister Mintaka is a UK-based online fabric shop that carries a unique range of fabrics. Learn more about Sister Mintaka and shop their range at sistermintaka.com. Follow @SisterMintaka on Instagram for shop updates and @SandeepBeep for Sandeep's personal updates. For show notes and a transcript of this episode, please see: https://asiansewistcollective.com/episode-16-building-an-impactful-fabric-shop-with-sandeep-sandhu-of-sister-mintaka/ If you find our podcast informative and enjoy listening, you can support us by joining our monthly membership or making a one-time donation via Ko-Fi: https://ko-fi.com/asiansewistcollective

Links 

Patterns & Designers mentioned

Sandeep Dress and Skirt by By Hand London

Sicily Slip Dress PDF Sewing Pattern by Sewing Patterns by Masin

kdornbier Grace Dolman Quilted Jacket PDF (Beginner) by kdornbier sewing patterns

B4386 Misses’/Misses’ Petite Sheath Dress by Butterick

Zeena Dress by By Hand London

Adaptive patterns

Pipit Loungewear Set by Common Stitch

Tarlee T-Shirt by Muna and Broad

Cambria Duster by Friday Pattern Co

Fabric Stores mentioned

Melanated Fabrics, based in Atlanta, carries a range of fabrics, including some vivid woven prints

Sister Mintaka, based in UK, carries a unique range of fabrics very different from fabrics seen in other UK-based stores

Resources

Sandeep’s Indian suit, from @sandeepbeep on Instagram

Dupatta, Wikipedia (aka “chunni”, one of the components of an Indian suit as Sandeep describes)

Shalwar kameez, Wikipedia (more information on the Indian suit that Sandeep describes)

Reimagining the Philippine Terno for Modern Times, by Nicole Angeline on the Seamwork magazine, Issue 38, Individuality, pages 37-46

@sistermintaka, Sandeep’s business account on Instagram

@sandeepbeep, Sandeep’s personal account on Instagram

Show transcript

Ada: My, um, my hot water boiler is, uh, Zojirushi brand and so is my, uh, my rice cooker. Brand loyalty, uh, and they both also sing.

Ada: Welcome to the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. The Asian Sewist Collective is a group of Asian people from around the world brought together by our shared appreciation for fiber and textile arts, and our desire to see more Asian representation in the sewing community. In this podcast, we explore the intersection of our identities and our shared sewing practice as we create a space for Asian sewists and our allies. I’m your co-host, Ada Chen, and I’m recording from Denver, Colorado. Denver is the traditional territory of the Ute, Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples. I’m a Taiwanese-American marketer turned entrepreneur and these days you’ll find me running my own all natural skincare business called Chuan Skincare – that’s C-H-U-A-N – and sharing my marketing tips on my blog, The Cultivate Method. Most importantly for this podcast, you can find my sewing at @i.hope.sew on Instagram.

Nicole: And I’m your co-host Nicole, I’m based out of Chicago, Illinois, the original homelands of the Council of the Three Fires: the Ojibwe, the Potawatomi, and the Odawa people. I’m Filipinx-American and I’m a woman and a lawyer by day and a sewing enthusiast the rest of the time. You can find me on Instagram at @nicoleangelinesews.

Ada: Before we dive into this week’s episode, Nicole, can you tell us a little bit about your current sewing project?

Nicole: I can. You helped me for, quite literally, hours, yesterday, to try to figure out what I was going to do next, and I don’t know, Ada, if this happens to you but I’ve suffered from analysis paralysis with regard to my next make and I guess to define it, it’s basically, like, you think… You spend so much time thinking about the decision you’re about to make but then that effort causes you to like, shut down and be overwhelmed and not be able to make a decision, so that’s where I’m at. But, thanks for helping me with that. I am moving on to a Sicily slip dress by Sewing Masin, I think it’s pronounced that way? It’s a very popular pattern. It was released last year and I was looking for something to make that I could travel with, and that would be a good transitional piece because we are recording – it’s still summer – but when this comes out it’ll be about a month into fall. So, I have decided to make that. I will say that the sizing is currently somewhat limited, it does, it is drafted for up to a 56 inch hip and when I’d asked about expanding the size range for this really popular pattern so that everyone can enjoy it, the designer said that, you know, she is aware that it is not size inclusive and she is working toward continually improving her size range as her business and knowledge about pattern making and grading grows. So, I love the pattern I’ve seen you make it I’ve seen lots of really great inspo. It remains to be seen whether it will be expanded, but I, you will have probably seen it somewhere, but I will be making it with what you see behind me. This is a podcast, of course, so you probably can’t see a lot behind me but I am making with this rayon poplin that I purchased from Melanated Fabrics, which is a fabric store that they recently opened brick and mortar in Atlanta, I believe, but that’s owned by Mimi G and Brittany Jones and I was going to make with something else, but, you know, I changed my sewing plans as we started to approach fall and I think this is pretty good right? I guess I’ll describe it for our listeners: it is lots of colors so my jam, primarily orange, pinks, purples, flecks of black and green, and it’s a very floral, that could be that could look like a lot of different things for my description and so definitely, just, you know, we’ll, maybe we’ll I’ll post something on my Instagram – that’s what I’m going to work on. I’ve taped the pattern which is… 

Ada: Okay. 

Nicole: A lot, like, it’s a lot to tape patterns, I felt yesterday and today, I will be cutting that’s…

Ada: Yeah.

Nicole: I’ll be cutting a few projects but that’s, this will come down and it will turn into a dress.

Ada: The pattern piece on, on those, on the front and the back, I remember, are like quite large because it is it is one piece for the front and one piece for the back so you don’t get the benefit of like, cutting, you know, a shape and then being like, I’m going to cut the next shape and then I hook up these together like, it’s just, it’s, it’s pretty big once you realize how many pieces of paper go into the size of a human.

Nicole: Yeah, and in the long run, you know, it’s a good thing that it’s only a three pattern pieces, or I guess technically four pattern pieces if you, with the straps. But, you know, cutting and taping was just something that we, I just wasn’t feeling yesterday like I do on some days, but, so that’s what I’m working on. What about you, Ada, are you working on anything?

Ada: I am. I am working on an actual toile, like a, with muslin fabric as you can see behind me here, this is the bodice, for a very relevant pattern for today’s guest. It is the Sandeep dress by By Hand London. I think if you follow me on Instagram, you know I’m like, a huge By Hand London stan or fan. I really like all of the, kind of, femme girly dresses. I don’t necessarily wear them all the time, but like, I do when I want to kind of feel pretty, for lack of a better word. And so when this pattern came out I love, there’s like, the bodice has these like, really interesting front darts, that instead of going from the side, it goes from like, the middle up and being a bit on the smaller busted side, I knew that that that would be difficult to get to fit for me in particular. I also have like, quite wide shoulders when compared to their, like, you always measure your chest but no one’s ever measuring the shoulders. So as I was telling Nicole yesterday, getting into my Sicily slip dress is like, this weird wrestling match of trying to slip it over my head with one shoulder, kind of getting in there. But once it’s on, it works, and so knowing that’s kind of how my body proportions work, I really wanted to nail the fit on this one before, like, I don’t usually pull my muslin fabric out for anything. I usually try to make a wearable toile, but I knew if I really messed up the bust darts on this, like, it would not be wearable toile, so we’re at the bodice stage, I already know I’m gonna have to move these these bust darts. They’re a little more generously endowed than I would say I am myself. But that’s, that’s kind of where I’m at. It’s really interesting to see, kind of, the pieces come together because when I cut it out, the pattern pieces, I was like, how does this work? Usually you can go from pattern piece to like, oh, I know where where that would go. 

Nicole: Oh, okay. Yeah.

Ada: Yeah. When I cut out the sleeve, I was like, how the heck does that…?

Nicole: How is this a sleeve? What?

Ada: Yeah.

Nicole: Yeah.

Ada: Yeah, so we’ll see. I have some really pretty, like, 10 yards of organza that I would want to make the final one out of because the skirt is quite fancy. Unfortunately, it’s like, a white organza so you can’t quite wear that to a wedding, but maybe I can dye it or something, or find a different fabric. I have plenty of fabric. We could make this and once I get the fit.

Nicole: That does sound really fancy, and I’d be interested in hearing how a dyeing experiment goes with the organza. I keep thinking I want, I’m dying to dye something. I know, I’m sorry for that joke, it was, it was, this is who I am really. But ever since we spoke with Ella about natural dyeing, like, oh, I think I’d like to take a look at that. But yeah, well, looking forward to seeing how, how that turns out.

Ada: Thanks! So, if you haven’t guessed by the pattern that I shared, that I’m working on today, we have an exciting guest with us for today’s episode. Sandeep Sandhu, of Sister Mintaka, is here with us, and she is the founder of Sister Mintaka, which is an online fabric shop based in the UK. Welcome, Sandeep. 

Sandeep: Hi, thanks for having me.

Ada: Thanks for joining us. Do you mind telling us a bit about yourself and about your South Asian heritage?

Sandeep: So I’m Sandeep, I’m 30. And I’m from Coventry. I, yeah, I’m British, and my parents are Indian, so, um, my parents are both born in India and then they moved here. My dad came over when he was eight, and my mum came when she was 19. They got married, and they had four children and I’m the youngest.

Nicole: Well, we also like to ask the majority of our guests this, but what is the story behind how you got into sewing and what sewing projects are you currently working on for yourself?

Sandeep: I’ll start with the part about what I’m working on first – so, I’m due to have an operation and by the time this comes out, the operation will have happened, hopefully successfully. But for the operation, it’s a shoulder surgery. So after the operation, I won’t be able to move my arm much or feel it, particularly on my left side. So I’m trying to find patterns that I can put on and off. So garments, I can dress in easily, kind of, almost one handed, if possible. It’s quite difficult to find patterns like that, that are just really easy to get dressed using one arm. But so far I found the Pipit Loungewear Set that might be quite a good one. And also just generally pyjamas and things like that.

Nicole: Comfy stuff, yeah.

Ada: I have two suggestions.

Sandeep: Ooh, do tell.

Ada: Adaptive pattern design, I’m a big nerd about it, because my dad was in a nursing facility for a long time, before he passed. And, getting him, they told us to bring him clothing so that they could dress him every day. But all the clothing that we brought was his normal clothing and it was very hard because he had limited mobility, like, get a polo over his arms. Muna and Broad has one pattern called the Tarlee tee where they came out with these two adaptive panels, so you basically make the back of this T-shirt into kind of an open back. So instead of slipping it over your head, you can actually go… Open? And so with one arm, you could put one arm first, get it kind of up there, and then get your other arm and you don’t have to put everything over your head because there’s an opening in the back, where your head can kind of more easily go in. And, so that, I think, maybe for shoulder stuff. I looked into it for my mom, but it turns out the port she has placed right now is in the front, so, like, it’s kind of hard to access that when the opening isn’t in the front, ironically. And then, there’s the Friday Pattern Company Cambria duster, which is kind of, like, a long duster, “swacket” type thing. I made one from my mom in a really soft linen, and she wears it to her appointments all the time because it’s so open, there’s no buttons on the front, you can slip one arm in and if, I sized up on hers, so she doesn’t have to, like twist around to get into it. But if she wanted to, she could do the whole, you know, when you’re a kid and you’re learning how to put on a jacket, and you put it on upside down and you flip it, you can do the same thing, there’s just a lot more fabric. Yeah, she she had a double mastectomy so, and they got her lymph nodes on the left side so she also can’t move her arm quite past, like, 90 degrees right now. Yeah, those are just my two cents on adaptive patterns.

Sandeep: Oh, thank you for sharing. Yeah, I’ll look into both of these.

Ada: Yeah, let me know if either of them work out. 

Sandeep: Sure.

Ada: But I digress. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got into sewing, because we’ve talked about this, but I think listeners would be very curious to know.

Sandeep: Yeah, so I’ve been wanting to say for a very long time, and I would sit at my computer at work, and I would be googling sewing blogs, and I’d read up on it all day and when I’m supposed to be working, but let’s face it, we all do that. And so yeah, I’ve just really got into the whole idea of sewing, I thought I’d try it out for myself. So I went to sign up for a class locally. I took my dad with me and we went into the shop, and I said, can I sign up to your sewing class, please? And the lady said no. And I was just like, okay, I was like, please, I, like, and she said, no, we don’t do sewing classes here. And I said, well, I know you do, um, I’ve seen people come here for sewing classes… And I know, but okay, perhaps there isn’t a class available right now, is there a waiting list? Or can I come back at a future date? And she just said no. And my dad was just like, okay let’s leave. And I couldn’t really figure out what was going on and why she was being so horrible to me. Now I remember, like, walking out and I just felt really terrible and I said to him, to my dad, like, why was that lady so horrible to us? And he said, it’s because you’re brown. And that just shocked me, I’ve never heard those words, and hopefully I never had them again. But it was just so disheartening to think that there was no other reason other than the way I looked, as to why I couldn’t go to a sewing class. And so yeah, it was just, it was heartbreaking. My heart is a bit racing now, just kind of telling that story. But thankfully, there were some better companies nearby. So I just googled “sewing classes and Leamington”, that’s like, the next town across. And I came across another company called Caroline Rose School of Sewing. I emailed them or called them, but I used the name “Sandy” rather than “Sandeep”, because when I speak, you can’t tell what colour I am or what race or anything like that. So I changed my name and I changed kind of, you know, who I was in order to try and get on a class. And I mean, I didn’t need to do that, eventually, like, when I went to the class, I realized like, there was no need because those people were so lovely, and absolutely amazing. But I kind of felt that barrier that I had to be a certain person in order to access sewing classes. And then I continue to do that, I’ve continued to call myself Sandy for a long time in the sewing community, even when signing up to classes elsewhere. I still felt the need to use that name, and that’s how I just kind of introduce myself to people – I just thought it’s, it’s easier as one way for people to make sure that people still like me. Like, I kind of felt that if I said, I’m Sandeep, people might just treat me like, oh okay, I mean a bit differently, like, perhaps not embrace me with the kind of love that, you know, if I’d said I’m Sandy or something. It sounds silly, but my guess if you’ve been in that position, it’s easier to understand why we choose to use a, perhaps, a more English name. So yeah, that was what happened. But thankfully, over time, things have just been a lot better and like, I found the right people, and that’s what I’m really grateful for. So I have slowly embraced the name Sandeep. And oh, yeah, it’s just, I’m slowly becoming me, I guess.

Nicole: I think that a lot of our listeners, you know, we all navigate the sewing world differently. But I think a lot of us do realise that it’s a very, you know, it appears to be a white-dominated craft and you know, both in the influencing space and the sewing, actually, you know, the sewing teaching space and, and that really just isn’t the case, and I am really sorry that that happened to you. That’s a really heartbreaking story. I am also grateful that you’ve told it and that you didn’t, you continued on your sewing journey despite that, because we, we’re going to talk about, you know, your practice and your store today, but in the sewing world would be different if we had Sandy instead of Sandeep, so I’m really grateful that you shared that. And I am, I’m angry on your behalf for whoever that person is, like, I want to find out who and I want to put them on blast but that’s not what we’re doing here today.

Ada: Yeah, you’re not the first guest to have had shared their name issues. And I can’t even imagine, like, the, the having to go through, kind of, the process of changing your name to… To get into a sewing class, like I just, I think when you first told me that story, I was, I was so mad. I was SO MAD! And, and just like sad, but I’m glad that you did find a space that was welcoming. And I do want to turn it back to sewing, nerding out a little bit more. I’m curious, because you share a lot of different fabrics and patterns, what clothing or styles do you find yourself personally, like, gravitating towards? And are there any inspirations for like, your sewing, personally?

Sandeep: So I really love colourful bright things. On the wall behind me is part of my fabric shop, so if you can see the video of this, you’ll see there’s tons of fairly colourful fabrics and I wish that I was sewing all of those fabrics. What, what happens is whenever I go to sew something, I always end up going into my stash, finding fabrics that are mostly black, they might have a small print on them and then I’ll sew those. They just feel safer because I mean, I don’t know, I love these fabrics, but they just kind of ended up being the easier ones to sew with, you know they’ll hide any bad seams, any like, puckerings and things. So if you go on my Instagram feed and you see anything that I’ve sewn in the last year, most of it’s black. I think, within me, I wish I was sewing like Barbie pink and purples and all of the good stuff. So my plan is to try and get more of that in my life. But yeah, in my head, I’m sewing that stuff, but it’s just, it’s not translating in real life.

Nicole: Yeah. Well, well, so speaking of colours, I actually remember seeing recently on your personal Instagram account @sandeepbeep that you made a pink Indian suit or dress outfit for a special event that you recently attended. Can you share a little bit more about that particular make?

Sandeep: Yeah. And so it’s my cousin’s wedding, and I realized I didn’t have enough outfits. So I was like, okay, I need to go find some fabric, I need to get it sewn. And I bought the fabric on Friday, and then I’d worn it the next Friday. That is the fastest I have ever…

Ada: Wow. Oh my gosh.

Sandeep: …Gone from buying to making and wearing and it was just incredible. Yeah, so I didn’t have a traditional Indian suit sewing pattern. An Indian suit is generally made up of like three things. There’s a chunni or dupatta, which you put over your head, kind of like a long veil or something, it’s like a headscarf. So that generally you don’t need to sew, it’s just a big rectangle, it’s already embroidered and things. And then the top is a bit like a darted bodice top and you can have sleeves or no sleeves and then it will have side slits. And those slits are quite high. So then you’d wear trousers with them, the trousers are, would normally be called a salwaar. And so, that is like a, if you laid the pattern flat, it would look like a big, two sets of triangles, and it’s full of like, pleats and it’s really like, a complicated garment and I have no idea how to make that, so I didn’t attempt to do that. Instead, I used a pair of elasticated waist trousers and so I used the Tilly and the Buttons Marigold trousers. It’s just one I had in my stash, and I didn’t have time to look for something else in that short amount of time. So I used that for the bottoms and then I used a Butterick, it’s the B4386 – I wrote that down – for the top. And yeah, it just turned out really well. I mean, I didn’t make it in the way that a traditional seamstress would have done but I just kind of guessed, try and get the overall look. And actually, I’ll be honest with you, when I was making this, it reminded me of an episode where… I think it was… I can’t remember which one of you it was, I’m really sorry, but one of you was making the terno sleeve.

Nicole: Oh yeah, that was me. Yeah.

Sandeep: Yeah. So you, your words came into my head, when you were making that, like, that episode, as I was sewing it, this was like, at midnight and you were talking about, I mean, I can’t quote you because I should have written this down. But the essence of it…

Nicole: I can’t “quote me” either.

Sandeep: The essence of it was that you were trying to like connect him with your culture and it was like a an important piece of your heritage, I suppose, and as I was doing that, it just it kind of it, honestly, I just kept thinking like, this is the equivalent of sewing the terno sleeve and I’m doing this with an Indian garment, and this is me connecting to my culture. And it’s not something that I normally think about or generally connect with. I, myself, I’m personally, I’m quite Westernised, I connect more with like, British kind of way of life and dressing. So when I was making this, it was very nice to feel like I was actually connecting to something that’s bigger than me and kind of, something that’s like, part of my ancestors and it was just a really beautiful moment. So yeah, thank you for helping me to reflect on that.

Nicole: Oh, gosh, you’re welcome. And, and, I love that story and can relate 100%. I also am, you know, I wonder if Filipino people may consider themselves Western. But you know, I grew up in the United States. And I, maybe I said this on the podcast, I can’t quote myself either, I don’t remember what I said. But you know, growing up, I put on like a terno, but also, you know, with the traditional patterns, which is often just like a mix of plaid or something I would have considered ugly and weird. And I would put it on for cultural shows, you know, events, where we would do dances, but I would just be like, okay, take it off, take it off, this is too weird. I don’t like it. But when I’ve, as I’ve been diving into, you know, learning more about the history of the turnout, which I did a couple of, like a month ago, because I have an article coming out in a magazine in October and putting it together, it’s a surprising amount of emotions into it. And sometimes emotions are heavy, but other times, they are something to appreciate. And I love that you felt more connected to your own culture through this, because this is what we do. It’s not some sort of artificial, forcing ourselves to try to be more Filipino or be more Indian. This is, we both love to sew, and we get to incorporate that part of ourselves into our practice. I love that, that makes me really happy.

Sandeep: Oh.

Ada: Now I feel left out and I have to make something.

Sandeep: You’ll feel the reward once you do.

Ada: There’s a lot of fitting that goes into the ones that I have. But yeah, maybe you’re right off at the end, once I nail it, it will feel really good. I will note for listeners, if you haven’t heard the episodes that Sandeep was talking about, are episodes one and six from season one, and you can find those in your feed or on our website.

Nicole: So, could you tell us more about your journey about becoming an entrepreneur and starting up Sister Minaka? Like, why did you start your business? And how, how has it been over the last few years?

Sandeep, My business journey perhaps, would be a little bit surprising, and I don’t think people will expect it. So, I didn’t have a business plan, I didn’t actually intend to start a fabric shop at any point.

Nicole: I like it. I like your style.

Sandeep: Um, so yeah, basically what happened was I’d ordered some Rifle Paper Co fabric from America, and it arrived way earlier than any fabric shop had received it over here. So I thought well, I mean, I love it, I’d like to keep it but why not stick it on Etsy and see if it sells? And so I did. And it sold! And so I was like, okay, maybe there’s something in this. And so I ordered some fabric wholesale. And truthfully, looking back on it, those prices I paid weren’t very wholesale-y, I didn’t really make very much money on those but they did sell. And so I figured, yeah, this is something I can actually do and I’m enjoying it, So slowly things have just grown organically over time. And I’ve gotten better at buying stock and finding things that I actually love to, kind of, present to people, it’s really exciting. So yeah, it’s not a really a traditional, you know, I, this is my investor. This was you know, I went to the bank, blah, blah. It’s none of that. It’s just it happened by happy accident, really.

Ada: So, it sounds like your plan wasn’t to go into this and it kind of happened organically. I’m curious, what were you doing for work before launching your Etsy shop and then growing your business over time?

Sandeep: So I was working with my dad, we have an estate agency company, which is why I was spending all of my time Googling sewing blogs. But dad, if you’re listening, I wasn’t doing that, I was working really hard.

Ada: She was working 100% of the time, the Googling was happening in her off-hours, on her phone, not her work computer.

Sandeep: Exactly. Yeah, so just, I was working on that and then slowly I just started dedicating more and more time and space to the fabric shop. So we had two rooms that were the estate agency office and then I asked the landlord if I could use one of them. And he said, yeah, that’s fine. So then we had a fabric room and an estate agency room. And then any time I would like, need a bit of a breather, I would just step out of the office, go into the fabric room. It’s just literally a door between them. And so it was amazing. It was just so nice and now the estate agency literally takes up a tiny little table in the corner of one of the rooms and that’s it, it’s all fabric everywhere.

Nicole: That sounds like a dream to me to have like, I was thinking, you know, in the future I would love to do something, like a secondhand fabric shop, just a small shop, but then like, have a law practice right next door, like I just like, pop in between the two and when I need a break from one, like, this is something I have spent a significant amount of time planning for in the future. So, you are living my dream right now. I just want to say that, and that’s, that’s amazing. So with regard to the shop, the fabric shop, where does the name Sister Mintaka come from?

Sandeep: There’s a bit of a backstory with the name, I’ll take you back to when I was 15, so about 15 years ago. I would walk home from school and it would be really dark and I hated the darkness, it just made me feel so sad. There was nothing worse than coming home from school – you’d get home and you’d miss all of the sunshine. This is in winter time, of course. And one night I noticed these three stars that were lined up in a row and then the next night, I saw them again and I was like, oh this is nice. And then I saw them again and again, and I began to realize that the stars were always there and I was always be able to see them in the sky, so it gave me something to look forward to in the darkness. And it was just like, it really filled me with joy and even to this day I still look out for those stars – I come home and it’s nighttime, I will make time to stand at my front door, look up at the stars, I mean the neighbors think, you know, what is that girl doing? But I love it. I just, I love looking for them. So when it came to choosing a name for Sister Mintaka, I… I almost went with the phrase sewingsupplier.co.uk – which I’m glad I didn’t!

Nicole: Very… Very literal.

Ada: Hey, hey, that is a really good SEO name, just as someone worked in marketing.

Sandeep: I do own that website, those, if anybody wants it, I will sell it to you!

Nicole: At a premium, because that is good for SEO.

Sandeep: So yeah, when it came to decide the name, I scrapped that one and I went by Sister Mintaka because I googled those three stars and collectively that according to Wikipedia, this is, they’re collectively, they’re known as the Three Kings or the Three Sisters. And the top one is called Mintaka, so I chose Sister Mintaka.

Nicole: That’s a really beautiful story. 

Sandeep: Thank you.

Ada: Yeah, so meaningful.

Nicole: Yeah, I love that. I, when you identified the stars, I was thinking it was like, Orion’s belt, but… 

Sandeep: Yeah, I think it is.

Nicole: …I do, like, oh, okay, well, then I’m familiar with your stars too! Beauty, so I’ve always felt that about the night sky. Like, I was the same, like, growing up I would, I was very into astronomy and like, my mom had a telescope and I love the planetarium and all that, and it’s beautiful to think about like, looking up and that we’re all seeing the same stars, we’re all seeing the same moon. So I love that, Sister Mintaka!

Ada: Is this why, Nicole, a lot of your fabric has stars on it and moons and things?

Nicole: Yeah, I love celestial like, patterns and stuff and even just like the five pointed stars that don’t look like the stars in the sky? I just like that kind of stuff, I really do. I feel you on that, my heart is so warm now.

Ada: So, we know that Sister Mintaka is a fabric shop, but can you tell us more about what people can find in your shop?

Sandeep: So you’ll find like, a nice var- I hope you’ll find a nice variety of fabrics. That’s the aim. It’s generally dressmaking fabrics with a touch of quilting stuff, but Rifle Paper Co, again, kind of, is allowed to be here because I just love their stuff. But yeah, it’s generally things that feel really soft and comfortable, mostly natural fibres. When I choose fabrics, it’s literally things that I want to wear myself. So I know that it’s like, good stuff. It feels amazing. That, that’s kind of my primary goal. It has to feel soft, it has to feel comfortable, has to look good and it has to bring you joy. And, so if a fabric isn’t joyful or isn’t comfortable, it won’t be here. There will be the exception of like, some polyester fabrics or nylon fabrics, but they generally, like, are embroidered. So they, they’re joyful, so they’re allowed. But yeah, I generally try and stock things like tencel, viscose, rayons… I mean, they’re semi-natural fibres and linens, things like that. Just, yeah, I guess it depends on the season. Comfort is kind of key, followed by joy.

Nicole: Do you find that your customers are giving you some input on like, what they’d like to see in the shop? And does that play any role in how you decide to stock what fabrics are available?

Sandeep: Sometimes, yes. I mean, more times, it’s… A customer would tell me something sold out and they want it back, then I’ll try my best to bring it back. I generally try and find the stock that you can’t find in the UK. That’s quite important to me because I don’t want to be a shop, where you can go to my shop and you can see it in 60 other shops around the UK, because then all we’re doing is just competing for the same people and then it becomes a competition on prices, and people just drill down the prices lower and lower. So I’d rather just focus on doing my own thing, finding the fabrics that you can’t find anywhere else. And then, you know, so somebody’s saying, I wanted this sort of fabric, and I can’t find it anywhere else, and I will go on a mission, and I will try and track it down and see, see what we can get. So that’s kind of my goal with Sister Mintaka.

Ada: That’s fantastic. And you’ve spoken up publicly on the Sister Mintaka page about pushing pattern companies to be more inclusive, both in size and race and representation. So, how does your identity and your experiences with racism affect the choices that you’ve made, you know, running Sister Mintaka, and as a business owner?

Sandeep: For me, it’s really important that everybody feels included in the sewing community, the sewing community is amazing. It’s such a wonderful and loving place, like, 99.9% of the time. And for me, it’s really important that everybody feels that if you come to Sister Mintaka, I want you to feel like you are part of this community and you see yourself represented. And I just I think it’s really important that happens across this community as well. And I think it’s really important to advocate for those people who do get hurt. You know, there have been instances over the past few years where the pattern company might have done something or generally, in society, we’ve decided that we’re no longer okay with certain things. So we’re calling for changes, and you know, is it’s okay for one voice to say it, but if people aren’t hearing that one voice, then other people need to amplify it. So I feel that at Sister Mintaka, I have that platform, I suppose? And the responsibility as well, to support those people who haven’t been heard. I mean, I guess it’s similar to playground bullying – if your friend was being bullied, you wouldn’t stand by or if in that situation, you couldn’t do something in the moment, I hope that afterwards, he would go and do something about it to make sure it doesn’t happen again. And so that’s what our responsibilities are, as business owners in this space, is to do something to make sure that everybody is safe, and welcome here. So yeah, I think it’s really important for me to speak up for people and make sure that this space is a welcome and loving space as much as it can be.

Nicole: I agree that it’s a really wonderful place, I don’t think you would be here because of that. However, the the need for such advocacy and amplification, you know, is, is there and people like you are very integral and helping change and getting, you know, that last 1%, you know, over the line for, for the sewing community to be truly a safe space for everybody. So I admire what you do. 

Sandeep: Thank you.

Ada: I admire that. And I think we need more people doing it, not only in the sewing community, but like, outside, like, genuinely any type of business. Like, I don’t have that platform with my business yet, hopefully. But it is something that I’ve started to do kind of from the beginning. And I put it on my signs that like events, like, 5% of my sales go to social justice organizations. And I think that, hopefully, there’s been enough change that it’ll inspire others, especially with your story to start that business or start that project, if they want to and they have the time and energy for it, whether it’s in sewing or not.

Nicole: I have a follow up question, what is the hardest part about being that voice? And if somebody else wants to speak up, you know, and say, hey, you should be more size inclusive? Or where are the people of color in your website? Do you have any advice for folks who want to use their voice and, you know, to amplify those who may not have one?

Sandeep: On a personal level, I have found it quite challenging to, to know how to have these conversations with other people. So if I’m going to a pattern designer, and I’m saying this is my concerns, and this is what the expectations are from you, I found it quite hard to convey kindness in that message and sometimes I think I need to step back and make sure that I can approach them with kindness, because it’s easy to get absorbed in all of the anger that’s from the community. And suddenly you find yourself, you’re seeing lots and lots of messages from your followers and all over your stories about the anger and the hurt that you’re, that everybody’s experiencing. And so I absorb it like a sponge, and then I want to kind of convey it back to whoever needs to hear it. But then I need to make sure that I’m saying it in a way that’s thoughtful as well. And, and not to… I don’t want to intimidate people or upset people. But there’s also a point where you’ve got to be able to convey the message clearly. So there’s trying to strike a balance and make sure that you do that very well. And I think that’s something that I need to improve on myself. But I mean, any kind of, if anybody wants to kind of advocate for others, it doesn’t matter how many followers you have, whether you have 3, 300, 3000, 300,000, or, you know, any kind of great number, using your words, you will read those people around you. And they will reach those people around them and it builds up. And every single person who speaks up, it doesn’t matter how many followers you have, if you just say something, someone will see it, and hopefully they’ll spread that message along. And, and that’s how you get people to pay attention. If one person is just saying something, it might not get heard. But if you see that your friend is hurting, tell other people about it. And, and then we can all together, do something about this sort of stuff. And I think it’s really important, if we will just do our little bit.

Nicole: I completely agree. Sometimes, people think that their voice has to be something special or unique, but it just has to be there, and it just has to be speaking and like you said, whether it’s 3 people or 300,000, you know, being, doing your part could, could look small to you but it could make a really big difference to other people. So thanks for sharing all that with us. And to your point about kindness, I think I need to work on that too. I do have a lot of anger about lots of things. And I do think that productive conversations are often more, or they’re productive, because there’s more willingness to listen. I also think that I’ve compromised a lot on my feelings in the past, so there’s a little bit for me, like, I… Why do I have to be nice about this? Like, I’m sick of being nice about this, but I appreciate what you’re saying. And you know, I… I’m trying to figure that out as well…

Sandeep: Yeah, I mean…

Nicole: …Is what I’m saying.

Sandeep: Of course, I don’t think any of us have this nailed down. Unless you are somebody who advocates for people regularly, you won’t know how to approach these conversations, or these people you don’t normally speak to. So if you’re suddenly sliding into their DMs or their emails, it’s going to take you time to learn how to do them. Like I said, I’m still learning, but I’m trying and that’s all we can expect from anyone.

Ada: Yeah, I agree. I there were a few responses, I think to some of the messages and emails I sent out about size range, size ranges being expanded, or having a more diverse set of models, or even like, appropriation of fabrics and some of the responses I got back… It was just like, I wanted to respond like, I was like, I spent so much time sending you a thoughtful note that I thought was not going to be super offensive and you’re just reacting poorly and kind of lashing out on me, and I, admittedly like some of them I just did not respond to. Like, I have a personal mental blacklist of, well, I’m not going to shop here or support this person until they change their ways if they show that. And I think it’s a good reminder that even if you are trying not to get discouraged by people kind of having that reaction and that it’s totally okay, that if somebody has, you know, a poor reaction or doesn’t receive it well, like, that is not all 100% on you because there should be other people advocating as well. And hopefully whoever you’re talking to eventually comes around.

Nicole: I’m going to completely change the topic here for semi-selfish reasons. So I shared with you that one of my goals is to have like, a law practice and, and a fabric shop and you know, just be able to switch through. Another personal goal of mine is to not make a pattern for myself, but have someone name a pattern after me. And we’ve already talked about the Sandeep skirt and dress, so I want to talk more about that. By Hand London teamed up with you to release a pattern called the Sandeep dress and skirt in June of this year. So could you tell us more about how you got involved with By Hand London and how I can get them to also name a pattern after me? Ignore the second part. That second part is not relevant. I want to hear about your experience working with By Hand London and creating this pattern.

Sandeep: To say By Hand London designed this pattern, I think, I read somewhere almost like, six years ago, so the pattern has always been there. But they can very kindly asked me if I could be their muse and the name of the pattern and honestly, it blew me away because, like you, it’s a dream come true. It’s not a dream that you actually tell people, like being on a podcast. Yeap. Having a pattern named after you. There was my two goals, and I’ve done them both.

Nicole: Congratulations.

Sandeep: Thank you.

Nicole: I love it.

Sandeep: But yeah, so it was all of them, and they said, can we have a Sandeep dress? And I said, yes, please. So that’s pretty much what happened. And I got to go down to London and have a photoshoot, and it was amazing, it was so incredible. So yeah, it’s a huge, huge honour. And thinking back on how at one point I wasn’t even identifying as Sandeep and now there is a Sandeep dress. It just, it blows my mind. And By Hand London are a really important company to me as well because when I first started sewing, I went onto Instagram and what I saw was mostly white people. White young women, they were all sewing beautiful things. And it was lovely to, like, see their garments, and you know, I loved it. But I started to browse and I couldn’t see any brown people, anybody who looked like me, and I just thought, okay, this is a very white hobby. And then, I went on to the By Hand London website, I scroll down. This is a good few years ago, then had a few patterns at that point. And I saw the Zeena dress and the Zeena dress was modelled by a girl called Zeena Shah. She was brown, and I was like, wow, my mind just literally like, exploded. It was just incredible. I’d never seen a brown model for starters, like, they just weren’t around at that time. Nobody was casting brown models. Nobody was naming things after brown people. And there was By Hand London doing all of this. And oh, it just, it was amazing. So I kind of instantly felt that connection with this company, that this company, Elisalex, she is a huge, like, role model, I guess, to the sewing community. I think she’s amazing. So yeah, it was a complete, huge honour to have a Sandeep dress from By Hand London!

Ada: I love it. I mean, I love the pattern. But like, I also, I love it that, you know, we started at in this episode, a story about how you couldn’t sign up for classes using your name. And now there’s a pattern out there by, arguably, like, one of my favorite pattern companies. I know we’re not supposed to be. This is not a paid promotion, I swear. I’m just a huge fan. And I really like the patterns and the instructions. And Elisalex is a great teacher. And I’m just like, floored that now, you know, we can go out and not only is there’s a Zeena pattern, there’s a Sandeep pattern. And they’re both beautiful. Like if, if By Hand London has a very specific design aesthetic, I think. And if that is your design aesthetic, or you need a fancy party dress, like, I cannot advocate for the Sandeep dress and skirt enough, it is fantastic, and you look fantastic in all of the photos.

Sandeep: Thank you.

Ada: Both on your feed and on the Sister Mintaka page, and on the By Hand London page. Like, it looks like, you can tell from the photos that you were having so much fun.

Sandeep: I mean, like, when I put that sample on, I was just blown away. I was like, no dress has, have felt so good in my life, this fabric feels so good! And I just felt like an absolute queen. Yeah, I love it.

Ada: So, what are some exciting things that you have in store for Sister Mintaka, in the near future?

Sandeep: I mean, things are a little bit like, unplanned. As you can tell, I didn’t plan to start this business. There is no real set plan, things will happen. I’m hoping to hire someone in the near future, which is very exciting, incredibly scary, because when you start looking at employing people, got to look at pensions, HR things and National Insurance and taxes and all sorts of different taxes and payrolls… It’s a lot. And so yeah, that’s my next big task is to try and figure out how to employ people. Because if I’m doing it, I want to do it really well, I don’t want people to come to work and not enjoy it. So I do want to be like the best workplace, I want to be Google at what they do. I want to be like, better than them.

Nicole: That’s awesome.

Sandeep: Yeah, so that’s the plan.

Ada: That’s hilarious. And so true, so true. Just… I mean, I don’t know. It sounds like it’s similarly complicated for you if it would be here in the States. But you heard it here first, listeners, keep an eye out on Sandeep’s page, I guess, it’ll be on your website or your Instagram at some point soon? If listeners are interested in applying one day?

Sandeep: Yeah, I mean, I think I already actually have somebody who wants to work for me, but they’re not even a sewist, which will be interesting. It’s the… I mean, I don’t actually if I can say because, maybe I can’t say, maybe if they do come to join me then I will tell you all about this person. But yeah, it’s, it’s a really exciting person, then I’m really hope that they do join us. So, fingers crossed.

Ada: Fingers crossed, the Sister Mintaka team is growing. So aside from your website, and your social media accounts, are there any other websites or social media accounts of yours that you would like our listeners to follow?

Sandeep: Um, yeah, so you can find me at @sandeepbeep, that’s my personal Instagram account. And then my business one is @sistermintaka. And yeah, and then the website sistermintaka.com.

Nicole: Thank you so much, Sandeep, for taking the time to chat with us, I really enjoyed talking about your business and your experiences and what to look forward to. We do have links to all the Sister Mintaka, the website, the Instagram account, Sandeep’s account, and then also the Sandeep dress and skirt pattern in our show notes. So thank you again for joining us, this was a real pleasure.

Sandeep: Thank you so much for having me. Honestly, A, It’s a dream come true. It’s on my checklist! And it’s just been so lovely to talk to you both.

Ada: Thank you so much for joining us on this week’s episode of the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. Next week, we’ll be talking about imposter syndrome and its intersection with both sewing and our Asian heritage. If you like our show, please consider supporting us on Ko-Fi. Your financial support helps us with overhead expenses and will allow us to give back to our all-volunteer team who work so hard to provide you with new content each week, plus our guests who also volunteer their time. The link to our Ko-Fi page is ko-fi.com – so ko-fi.com/asiansewistcollective – and you can find the link in the show notes on our website and on our Instagram account. You can check us out on Instagram at @asiansewistcollective – that’s one word, asiansewistcollective. And you can help us out by spreading the word and telling your friends, we would appreciate it if you could rate, review, and subscribe to this podcast on Apple Podcasts, Pocket Casts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. All of the links and resources mentioned in today’s episode will be in the show notes on our website, that’s asiansewistcollective.com And we’d love to hear from you. Email us with your questions, comments and even voice messages if you’d like to be featured on a future episode, at asiansewistcollective@gmail.com.

Nicole: This episode is brought to you by your co-hosts Ada Chen and Nicole Angeline. This episode was researched by Eileen Leung, produced by Mariko Abe and edited by Leslie Rehm Hunt and Henry Wong. Thank you so much to the other members of our Collective who made this week’s episode a reality. This is the Asian Sewist Collective podcast and we’ll see you next week.

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