Sumalini Khullar describes the complicated art of leathercraft

Matter + Form

When does what you make, make you? It's a question that all creators must ask themselves. But for the entrepreneur and driving force behind her company, Baroque, it's Sumalini Khullar's raison d'être. The Delhi-based designer creates handmade leather that represents quality and utility in the very purest sense. Her beautiful items follow her whims and the situations she's encountered. She crafts with a contemporary purpose, and designing for those who live left of center.

We spoke to her about her business and the complexities of the industry:

How would you describe leathercraft?

It's the art of seeing a plain leather hide and envisioning a product. Then working to translate your idea into something with a distinct personality. Leather is one of the oldest natural materials, and is very unique to work with. Even after all the finishes are done, it continues to age and change color, texture, and feel.

A new leather bag is great, but personally, I grow to appreciate it more with time. I love how it changes with the person using it, and really becomes your own.

If you could create a piece for anyone in the world – alive or dead, who would it be and why?

Madonna! She’s said before that she doesn’t wear fashion, just to wear fashion. I find that inspiring. She always has a character in mind and a story to tell. She is bold, experimenting and always giving us something completely out of the box. And I feel it would be a true challenge to be able to translate her dynamic personality into a bag - and that’s what would be the thrill of it.

Do you see the brand as an extension of your style, or a solution to a gap you saw in the market?

A couple of years ago, we saw a rising trend of people who wanted to stand apart and assert their own individual personality in everyday living. We wanted to help them on their journey of self-expression and creativity. Our craftsmen are trained to pay attention to every tuck, zip and pocket detail – we sweat the small stuff! All our products have a few things in common: effortless appeal, a focus on functional style and are built to last. All of which are things that I care for as well.

Are there any differences when working with different types of leather?

Yes, there most definitely is. In India, we primarily work with cow, sheep and goat leather. Each leather has its own unique characteristics and attributes. Depending on the product we are working on and the final look we are working towards, we decide on the leather. Typically a larger more roughly used bag like weekend bags and briefcases we use cow leather, as it is harder and more sturdy. For slings and totes, we use both goat and sheep, and for wallets and passport cases or travel kits, we mostly use sheep.

There are also different finishes - matte or glossy, vintage or distressed, snakeskin or denim effect. The variety is huge, so each time I go leather sourcing I actually feel like a kid in a candy store, as my imagination starts to take over. But as inspiring as it is, it can get distracting. So I schedule different visits for different purposes. Specific sourcing - for when an order has been placed and we are going to get exactly what the client wants. And inspiration visits, where we allow ourselves to get lost and explore and usually come back with a lot more leather than required!

Where do you source your leather and materials from?

We source our leather from from tanneries in Chennai and Kanpur, and on occasion, we use imported leather from New Zealand.

Do you always have a clear vision for each shoot?

By the time we are actually shooting, we mostly have a clear vision for what we want to do, but we aren’t too strict with ourselves and allow ourselves to be flexible and experiment. We usually have a specific mood in mind, which we try and stick with - but then again once the creative process starts, there are no rules!

What’s your favorite product in your line?

My most favorite product is the CHER fringe bag. I remember looking at a whole lot of waste leather lying around and was wondering how we could use it, which is how we created the fringe. So the beauty of this bag is that the exact pieces are left to chance, since we only used the waste material. The likelihood of being able to make an exact replica is not possible. To me, it feels like its alive and colorful.

If you were to start your business all over again, what would you do differently?

To be honest, Baroque happened to me out of nowhere. Someone asked me where they could get a nice leather iPad cover from, and just like that I got together with a friend and we decided we could start a brand and make iPad covers. That was six years ago, and the brand has been through quite a journey and a whole lot of changes since then.

While I would not change a lot of things, as the process itself was so enriching, the things I learned and know today are solely because of that - I do wish I was a little more organized and strategic. We sort of took it as a blank canvas and painted it along the way, but today if I were to give advice to someone who is starting up, I would definitely say: know that you have the freedom to explore your options in any business, but whatever you start with, focus on. Research, plan, do more research, and most importantly, don't shy away from asking for help.

We all want to prove ourselves and sometimes hesitate to reach out - but do it! You'll get the most valuable lessons from people's personal experiences, and that will teach you so much along the way.


Images by Baroque.

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