Made with Love

Made with Love
Namaq Cheeni is changing children’s clothing
Words by Paige Townley

Namaq Cheeni is a sustainable clothing brand for children that launched just last year, but it was born out of a longstanding friendship—and from an artform that dates back centuries. 

Nandhini Mehra and Maheq Khiatani have been best friends since they met at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta. Having bonded over a shared love of graphic design, food, and the TV series, The Office, the friendship continued long after they each pursued their own careers in design. “We balance each other out,” notes Nandini. “Our strengths play off each other well, and we’re always there to support one another.”

With such a strong connection, it was only natural for the best friends to work together when an opportunity came about for a new business venture: designing and manufacturing children’s clothing. The idea came to Maheq after her daughter, Rabia, was born. When searching for play-clothes that she would feel comfortable putting on Rabia, Maheq continued to come up empty-handed. “Any clothing I did find that was made with clean fabrics and dyes was so expensive,” Maheq says. “It seemed silly to spend that much on something she would outgrow so quickly.”

From that need came Namaq Cheeni, a sustainable, ethically-sourced gender-neutral line of playclothes and accessories for kids. The name comes from their shared Indian heritage—“namaq” means salt and “cheeni” means sugar—and harmonizes with the playfully sweet designs found throughout their collection. Each design is inspired by things they love: sushi, rainbows, and, of course, a peach. “Atlanta was our home for so long,” Nandhini says. “The peach design is definitely us paying homage to Georgia.”

While the design inspiration comes from things they love, the manufacturing process is just as inspired by their Indian heritage as the name. The friends chose to use traditional Indian block printing, and everything from the block carving to the fabric dying and tailoring is performed in India. “There’s so much talent in India, and we really liked having the opportunity to highlight it,” notes Nandhini, who moved back to India in early 2019.  “We’re also incredibly grateful to have access to the incredible skill sets of these talented people.”

With Nandhini back in India—she lived there for a time when she was a teen—the friends took their time to outfit their production process with all the right people. Luckily, creation of the team came about as organically as their products. “We’ve found these brilliant makers,” Maheq adds. “We’d find one artist and then that would lead us to another, and our team just slowly built itself like that. There’s something beautiful in the transparency of who is actually making everything in this process.”

After Nandhini and Maheq draw each individual pattern, they turn it over to their block carver, who separates the pattern by color and then hand carves every block. From there, it goes to their block printer, who uses the blocks to print the design on fabric. It’s then turned over to the tailors to be cut and stitched. For their solid fabrics, the company has a vegetable dyer, who hand dyes the cotton using vegetable color. “Artforms like this are woven into the Indian culture, so it’s special to have a fresh take on an old craft,” Maheq says. “Niche artforms like this are dying out, and block carvers and block printers don’t get as much work as they should. So to be able to support them and provide jobs is really special to us. As artists ourselves, to be able to empower other artists and shine a light on them is really special.”

In addition to fully employing traditional Indian block printing into their designs with everything done by hand, Nandhini and Maheq also ensure that each and every product is 100 percent sustainable and ethically sourced. They use only cotton fabrics—mainly cambric, cotton gauze, and muslin—and they even sought out accents, such as their coconut shell buttons, from local Indian markets. “We’ve put time into finding the best buttons and fabrics that are being made here in India,” Nandhini says. “It has been lovely learning so much about what India has to offer.”

In an industry not often focused on sustainability, Nandhini and Maheq have also made sure they put just as much focus on minimizing waste. The friends are proud that they are completely no-waste as they keep all their scraps to use where possible. “Scraps get turned into hang tags and labels,” Nandhini says. “Sometimes those scraps are even used to adorn packages before they go out the door. It’s important for us to be as minimally wasteful as possible.”

Being conscious of what goes into each product impacts every decision they make. No chemicals are used in the manufacturing process, and all of the dyes are vegetable based. “The finished products are done with such intention because we want them to be as clean as possible for parents who want to put the best on their children,” Nandhini says. “So much care and thought goes into every product from both of us but also by every member of our team. Namaq Cheeni truly comes from love.”