Weaving a Legacy

Words by Jen Jory

Photos by Annie Barnett

Words by Jen Jory

Embroidered textiles and colorful woven fabrics flow from floor to ceiling at SHALINI B. Tucked within the rustic barn at the back of Menlo Park’s Allied Arts Guild, the shop feels like a treasure cave waiting to be explored. Vibrant quilts, Moroccan pillow covers, hand-stamped, block print cottons—everywhere and all around, a kaleidoscope of captivating stacks and displays.

Owner Shalini Bitzer brings a global sensibility to her craft, designing and curating fabrics from all over the world. “Global is how I feel, think and is my life in general,” reveals Shalini. Her story is a legacy of a hard-working family of entrepreneurs spanning decades and continents whose labor of love now extends to the Peninsula.

As a third-generation textile designer and business owner, Shalini runs the family company India Silk with the same passion that her grandfather Sunderlal did for 60 years in Bangalore, India. “My grandfather would go to the airport in India with his bags of silk and check what flights were departing to other countries that day and buy a ticket,” she recounts. “He was so successful traveling and selling to Europe, Australia and many countries worldwide.” After partnering with Sunderlal until his passing, Shalini’s mother Madhu Mehta took over as the second generation leading the business. Equally driven, she brought India Silk to the U.S., where the company grew a coast-to-coast client base including large fabric houses such as Fabricut and Kravet.

Born to a German father and Indian mother, Shalini traces her own roots to Baden-Baden, Germany, and the Himalayan mountains, where she attended an international boarding school. “My design and inspiration come from my life in India and Germany and the diversity there,” she says. “Today, we travel to India and Morocco for business once or twice a year. We still have an office in Germany as well.”

After Shalini studied interior design in Hamburg, Germany, her brother encouraged her to apply to a U.S. green card lottery program, which opened doors for her to attend the University of San Francisco (USF) to further her studies. At USF, she met her future husband Hatim, originally from Morocco. True to their international lifestyle, the couple celebrated their nuptials in dual weddings in India and Morocco. “My husband rode in on an elephant in India that was adorned in jewels,” smiles Shalini.

After USF, she broadened her exposure to the design world and beat out dozens of applicants for a coveted editorial assistant position at Vogue italia. “It was like The Devil Wears Prada movie with 30 girls lined up to apply for the same job,” she recalls. Shalini noted the editor’s German accent and used her native language in the interview, which clinched the job: “It was a lot working 12 hours a day for the magazine.”

Several years later, she left the frantic pace behind to start a family and her own business, Shalini Design, which began with a line of pashmina scarves sourced from Kathmandu, Nepal. She sold her first 600-piece order to a large Canadian fur coat company, followed by sales to Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom. Shalini’s mother encouraged her to continue with Shalini Design until she was ready to join India Silk.

In 2010, Shalini found a way to blend her worlds. In addition to taking on responsibilities with India Silk, the family’s wholesale business, she expanded into SHALINI B., to capture her retail offerings and full interior design services. “I am a one-stop shop,” she emphasizes. “I love pulling fabrics, furniture layouts and upholstery together. I also think color is important. Even with my clients who are afraid of color, I find a way to introduce more.”

Shalini’s first-hand knowledge of making textiles gives her a creative advantage as she is both designer and manufacturer. “I bring my drawings and samples to India and enter them on the computer where they are transformed into designs,” she explains. ”Then they are hand-threaded into a loom and the machine starts the weaving. If someone wants a white linen in a blush, we can do that.”

Craftsmen at India Silk originally started weaving exclusively on silk and then expanded over the years, producing linen, cotton and polyester fabrics. “I love the process of block print fabric as well,” Shalini notes. “The carving of the block, the shapes and natural colors used, result in perfect pattern repeats without a seam.”

Shalini frequently teams up with Madhu, who at 85, harnesses the same family work ethic as her father before her. “My mother is still engaged in the business like a 50-year-old,” marvels Shalini. “When I see her, it’s inspiring and she amazes me in meetings. I have to tell her to take a break.” With three daughters of her own and the oldest pursuing a marketing degree at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), Shalini is likely to see a fourth generation carry on the family legacy.

With hard work and determination in her genes, Shalini’s muse continues to be Sunderlal, the family patriarch who worked into his late 90s. “His attitude was, ‘Don’t be afraid, and if you want to do something, do it.’ He was always forward-thinking,” she reflects, as her hand touches down on a shimmering pattern amidst SHALINI B.’s colorful displays of linens, shawls, wraps and scarves.

global patterns – shalinib.com