The People Behind Our Products: Peepal Tree

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Peepal Tree Olson House
“I went back to something I had learned in art class in 6th grade in India, the art of block printing using hand carved wood blocks for printing on paper and fabric, I went to India to do a quick workshop and realized that like riding a bike, one never forgets even after years of not block printing!Peepal ( pronounced People) tree hence was born.” – Ruchita, owner

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Meet Ruchita Varma, the passionate woman behind Peepal Tree. Multi-cultural trained architect turned mom & small business owner, Ruchita loves the flexibility of Peepal Tree and loves learning and creating every day.

Olson House: What we know about your story is so fascinating! You originally studied architecture in India; what drew you to this career?

Ruchita: I was always fascinated by space and forms and in my head drew up my dream home. I would work on it everyday on the bus ride back and to school, I think I even did some landscaping:-) I knew architecture was how I would mix my love for science, technology, art and spatial design.

Olson House: Do you have plans to go back into architecture or are you content with Peepal Tree right now?

Ruchita: I always want to do more and everything, so in that sense I feel I’m never ‘ content’ :-) I do love the fact that Peepal tree is my baby and I can nurture it and see it grow slowly. Having said that, architecture does call me from time to time, so in short, it could happen.

Olson House: How was the cultural transition to the United States for you? How old were you when you moved?

Ruchita: I was around 25 when I moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan to do my Masters at University of Michigan- go blue! I was newly married and everything was fresh and exciting, a new life in every way. There was a drastic difference between New Delhi and Ann Arbor in terms of size of city and number of people and of course the weather! Having lived in a multicultural and cosmopolitan city like Delhi, it really wasn’t a huge cultural transition though.

Peepal Tree Olson House

Olson House: Do you still have family in India and how often do you travel back?

Ruchita: I do have family there and am fortunate to go every year to visit them and for work

Olson House: Tell us how the partnership with the coop in India and Peepal tree began and how it is sustained.

Ruchita: I contacted them some years ago to see the process of natural dyeing and hand printing, I spent a few days in the Village where the coop is based to experience first hand the process starting from printing with mud, dyeing in natural dyes, drying on the fields or roads there, re printing and maybe going in for second round of dyeing, I also met with wood carvers who could translate my design beautifully with simple tools. It’s a self sustained village that is dedicated to this ancient art and both men and women are involved in this beautiful craft to support their families.

Peepal Tree Olson House

Olson House: Where do you find the inspiration behind your designs?

Ruchita: They can be literally anywhere, last year I did jury duty for the first time and saw amazing tile work in the court house, I came back and translated those into some scarves. Just the other day I was having lunch at one of my favorite restaurants La Miranda in their patio, there were beautiful colorful flowers and I printed some Wisconsin towels inspired from those colors.

Peepal Tree Olson House

Olson House: Can you tell us a little about your printing process?

Ruchita: It’s like stamping with hand carved wood blocks, it’s deliberate, precise and never perfect which is the beauty of block printing.

Olson House: Is there anything new you would like to try this year for Peepal Tree?

Ruchita: I would love to try carving my own block, I’m very impatient as a person so don’t know if I can do it but do want to give it a shot.

Peepal Tree Olson House

Olson House: What is one of the most memorable pieces you have made?

Ruchita: One that comes to mind is a scarf I made many years ago which I dyed myself after printing and it did not come out at all as I had envisioned it but I loved it, I also love my Naughty Rooster flour sack towels, they are sassy and a great pick me up.

Olson House: What advice do you have for someone wanting to explore their creative side?

Ruchita: I would say always go for it, you have nothing to lose. A favorite quote from Rumi says it all “When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.” But remember, it’s a lot of hard work and not everyone will like what you do, believe in yourself, listen to any advice ( its free after all), but always listen to your heart and work your butt off.

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