People

Big dreams of Little People

Hoihnu Hauzel 29 Jan 2014

The ‘small town girl from Shillong’, the Scotland of the East, has created a niche for herself in the UK with her innovative designs using traditional weaves, fabrics, beads and handicrafts from the Northeast. Manchester-based Stacey Aydeniz, 30, may have left her homeland years ago but continues to return to it regularly through her work. Her stylish fashion brand, The Little Hill People, is popular among British youth. They swear by her designs and love the bright and bold colours. Stacey grew up in Shillong in a large happy family with eight siblings. Her schooling was in KendriyaVidyalaya –Nehu, a government school and later shifted to Pine Mount for pre-university. She “flunked” but managed to complete her Bachelor of Arts from Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). She worked part time at her uncle’s shop, Raps Mansion, a landmark departmental store in the city, and got her first lesson in economics. For now, Aydeniz works with individual weavers from the Northeast but would love to expand her operation in the future. When she is not designing, she is aloving wife and mother.Speaking to NE Travel and Life, Aydeniz talks about her inspiration and her journey.

When and how did Little Hill People begin? What has been the inspiration behind it?

In 2011, I attended a fashion show in Mumbai with my friends where I saw the models wearing clothes made from fabrics from the Northeast. Obviously, I was happy to see something of the Northeast culture after many years. I was so excited that I met some of the models and designers. Their designs were amazing. My American friend, who is also a designer, was raving on about the Northeastern designs and style. She told me that it’s a shame that a lot of people are not aware about our handlooms and handicraft traditions. Sadly, people in the mainland and foreign countries don’t get to know the products from the Northeast; the most that they know is the Assam tea. That’s when I decided to change this perception. I turned my house upside down searching for my sketchbook which I hadn’t opened in years and got busy.

Why did you decide to call your company Little Hill People?

My husband christened the company. After going through hundreds of names, we came up with this. My husband thought that Little Hill People would be an ideal name as it suits me very well. I am from the hills and people from there are small in size as compared to the rest of the country. We Northeasterners are petite in size.

Do you work with a dedicated group of people from Mizoram and other parts of the Northeast?

Ideally, I would love to work with a dedicated group from Mizoram. At present, I mostly source the puan (a woven wraparound worn by women) from individual ‘mumpreneurs’ (mothers who are entrepreneurs).Also, I work with North East Network (NEN) an umbrella for small NGOs and self-help groups from the region.

Where do you do the production and designing?

My products are designed in my home office in the UK, often on a simple sketch pad. Once a design is finalised, it is sent to my manufacturing partner in Mumbai for production and then it is shipped to me. I design from home, get the materials from the Northeast and have it manufactured in Mumbai. I hope our local ministers, government can set up at least small factories to manufacture goods in our region so that we don’t have to outsource.If this is made possible, just think how many people will be employed and how many families can be fed. We need to circulate our money within our state, it’s the only way our economy will be strong and thrive like in the rest of the country. 

Who are your clients? Which part of the globe are they from?

My client base is varied, but so far they have all been university students and working professionals from the UK. Their age group ranges from 18 years to 40 years. My target market is predominately customers who are interested in ethnic products with a real story behind them.

Along with clothes, you also have accessories and bags. Do you plan to expand further in terms of products and design?

I do have some other ideas for products, including clothing, footwear and bags with specific uses, like laptop bags. All of these will combine the designs from the Northeast with fashionable styling.

Your designs with NE motifs seem to be doing well. What is it that your clients love about your design and the products?

I think there are two things that draw people to our products. First, the uniqueness of the designs – both in that they are different from other designer’s offerings, and that each product is individual. Second, the bold, beautiful patterns and colours attract a lot of customers. Especially in the UK, a lot of fashion seems to be characterised by blacks, browns and greys. The yellows, greens, and reds of our designs are likea breath of fresh air!

Do you retail from a store or sell online?

Our bags can be found in a number of retail outlets, primarily boutiques in the North of England. However, our main retail presence is via ourwebsite,www.littlehillpeople.com, and ASOS,Britain’s leading online shopping for independent designer labels.

What’s the most sought-after item from your range of products?

We’ve had a lot of interest in our tote and feather clutch bags, which, I believe, is because of their high quality finish and exciting, bold designs.

How would you categorise your products? How affordable are they?

Our products are ethical, sustainable and affordable. We do not believe in exploiting the villagers who create the wonderful materials we use in our products. We make sure our bags are priced in such a way that they are competitive and available to a wide market. We believe that the more people access our products, the more they will become aware of the Northeast and its amazing potential.

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