Ami Doshi Shah was truly a pleasure to interview. Having welcomed us into her workspace in Kuona Trust (an artistic hub), surrounded by the beautiful pieces she presented at FAFA this year, you become enveloped in her work and her jolly, creative, free spirit. There is definitely an element of seriousness and excellence in her products and that is why we decided to delve further into who she is.
Ami Doshi Shah was trained as a jeweller and a silversmith, having gained a BA (Hon) in Jewellery and Silversmithing from the Birmingham School or Art & Design in the UK in 2001. “This was an amazing school of jewelry.” Ami Doshi Shah was born in Mombasa, Kenya and moved around with her family. She lived in the Middle East when she was 3 years old then moved to the United States at the age of 6 returning to Kenya in her teen years where she completed high school.
Ami Doshi Shah spent 6 months on an apprenticeship programme in Jaipur and Mumbai, India after completing her degree in Jewellry and Silversmithing. “At that point, I didn’t know anything else. I did jewellery design for almost 4 years and being creative in your own world, you are very insulated form the madness of making money.” Returning home to Kenya, Ami was struck by the pressure to earn money. “Once I finished, I was like…ok…everything I have trained for and practiced is going to cost me a lot of money to do and I don’t have a single cent.” This is when she began working. She started working with ScanGroup in the accounts department, almost 12 years ago, got into it and loved the work. Her work in advertising took her to work with Coca Cola, pursuing an MA in Marketing and Communications, working in London on the Sky TV Account until she returned home with her husband and her new born son at the end of 2008.
“You reach a point in your life when you realize your job and your career and your life are just not in direct correlation.”
“Sometimes, depending on your personality, you just meander for a while, you are reasonably good at a number of different things so you allow yourself to be pushed in one way then pushed in another way and then you never really think to yourself what is it that I really want to do. You get frustrated with what you are doing right now and not being proactive about anything.” Coming full circle to pursue her creative work, Ami Doshi resigned from her advertising job and never looked back. “You reach a point in your life when you realize your job and your career and your life are just not in direct correlation. I was not being particularly creative which was something I really missed.”
Early last year, Ami Doshi entered into the FAFA Insight Competition for Emerging Designers in June 2013 winning second place, which opened up many creative and collaborative opportunities for her. “It was so liberating and nerve wrecking making that switch after having not done it for a while. The one thing is that, because of that, you are not measuring your success on any level, you are not comparing yourself to previous work, and you are literally starting fresh.” One of these opportunities was this years FAFA where she presented a capsule collection.
“For anyone doing what they love, you find that it invigorates you and frustrates you simultaneously. You just keep at it.”
Ami Doshi Shah’s work is truly an embodiment of artistic expression, creativity and a clever use and mélange of materials and texture such as copper, rope, brass, wood, leather, semi-precious stone and metal chains turning them into truly bold statement unique wearable pieces. Her pieces are created to have a beautiful aesthetic quality on and off the body, playing with light, shadow, texture, pattern and form. “These pieces are not for the faint of heart,” she states. “My work always has been and continues to be an exploration of adornment’s ability to create and imbue sculptural form against the body, which also by default should stand beautifully, isolated, even in absence of the softness and curvature of the human skin.”
The readily available materials here in Kenya have inspired Ami Doshi’s work. She explains for example “taking a piece of olivewood, with its delicate linear wooden grain, shaping it into vessel-like forms and elevating its negligible monetary value with the application of gold leaf. It is when these materials are combined unexpectedly, that the complete aesthetic value of all elements can work in unison, creating sculptural art for the body plus a small touch of whimsy. After all, ‘the Devil is in the detail’.”
The readily available materials are not all that inspires her. The energy and the presence of a growing artistic industry in Kenya have been truly inspiring and encouraging. Ami does however recognize that, although truly creative products are being made, the real challenge, for most people, is that it is not pocket friendly. With Truworths and Woolworths bringing foreign products into the country at import prices, unfortunately, she remarks, the same goes for items designed and made here in Kenya where it just tends to be more expensive. “It is a challenge we all face as designers, how do you go into full scale production? Right now, there is a disconnect.”
“It is a challenge we all face as designers, how do you go into full scale production? Right now, there is a disconnect.”
Ami further adds that there are ways in the supply chain to cut down cost but she does not feel that we are there yet. “For designers, there is a matter to manage quality and consistency, which is a big aspect and which is why when you produce in house it does cost more.” Ami Doshi is also in the same paradigm and at the moment creates bespoke pieces, although she hopes to reach a point when she can mass-produce a diffusion range here in Kenya.
After showcasing in FAFA this year, Ami Doshi is now moving to make a concrete plan as to what she will be doing next. “I don’t want to only focus on the fashion element of my work but I am also quite keen on product design and looking at ways to create strong brand. You can surround yourself with beautiful things that are made with love without costing the earth. We have so much artistry and we need to find way to harness that.” For now, Ami is comfortable making the one off bespoke pieces until she is able to truly grasp the bigger picture for the Ami Doshi Shah brand.
“At the moment, we don’t value things that are made here as much as foreign products and the talent here.”
One of the hurdles faced by creative/designers is the market perception that foreign products are far better than local. Ami states, “there are slow baby steps in creating awareness and it has to do with consumers and designers. Moving towards aesthetics and designs. At the moment, we don’t value things that are made here as much as foreign products and the talent here.”
The reality is that the more importance we, as Kenyans pay to what we surround ourselves with, be it a lamp, jewelry or clothing, the more opportunities that we shall all have to understand what is around us better. “We have a lot of work to do, there is potential and we are moving in the right direction and Kenyans are really stylish. When it comes to fashion, there is a huge sense of awareness.”
Take a look at some her pieces below. Check out her website for more: click here.