Mili Suleman’s KUFRI studio feels just like I expected it would. Like Suleman herself, it’s warm and immediately welcoming. KUFRI gets its name from a hill station in India, which Suleman describes as tranquil.
The name is well suited. A candle burns in a bright cobalt blue ceramic candle holder (her design). Linen samples in sandy browns, warm golds, and ocean blues hang from hooks around the room’s perimeter. A bookshelf on the far wall displays pillows in a variety of shapes and sizes. Everything is arranged in a way that seems coordinated but casually so. Well-designed but not stuffy.
Suleman would have it no other way.
Suleman Seeks Uniqueness Over Perfection
Perfection holds no interest for the textile designer.
“I’m all about wabi-sabi,” she said. “It means beauty in imperfection. All of our designs are produced with that in mind. If something is going to look too perfect, we don’t want to do it. We want it to come across as handmade. The process of hand-weaving automatically lends itself to imperfections that make them unique. We love beauty in imperfections and we embrace these imperfections.”
When I ask if her appreciation for imperfection extends beyond textiles into life itself, she’s quick to answer. “Oh, totally. I don’t like for home to feel too perfect. You have to bring in character—the way you live, cook, the things you make — that’s all character. If all products come out of a showroom, it’s going to look too sterile.”
‘I Just Go for It’
Suleman, who was born in India and raised in Oman, graduated from Texas Christian University with a degree in graphic design — a passion she still pursues. But textile design came to her outside of the classroom.
“I have no formal training,” she confessed. “I learned weaving by traveling all over India and working with weavers. That’s how I learn. I immerse myself and just go for it.”
Clearly, it worked. Six years later, she runs a successful shop out of the Dallas Design District, with weavers in India reproducing her studio’s original designs. Her clients come, predominantly, in the form of residential interior designers and the occasional commercial job. Her textiles cost, on average, about $120 per yard. Custom designs require a 40-yard minimum purchase. There’s also a new wallpaper line and hand-thrown ceramics.
A SHIFT in the Dallas Design World
What’s most intriguing about Suleman is that behind her laid-back exterior, she’s not laid back at all. In the short time we spent in her studio, I watched her go from casual hostess to savvy side hustler, keenly assessing how she could do more. Suleman is, at the heart of things, a business woman. And she’s accustomed to making things happen.
Eighteen months ago, when Suleman was looking for support within the design trade, she felt disappointed. While these professional groups existed, they felt too big and too impersonal for her. “I wasn’t making any genuine connections,” she said.
Ultimately, Suleman and a friend co-founded SHIFT, a new group that hosts monthly roundtables for local designers and to-the-trade professionals.
The name SHIFT came from what Suleman sees as the group’s purpose: to shift the perception of Dallas’ place in the design world. With SHIFT, she strives to bring a new energy that challenges the status quo, directing focus away from the old guard. “I wanted to bring attention to other great design talent, new product lines that are fresh an emerging,” she said.
So, now mixed in with happy hours are how-to’s from PR professionals on branding for interior designers, or media editors on how to pitch stories. With participation open to anyone in the trade, but limited to 15 people per session, these meetings all take place in a friendly, intimate setting.
“It has given me a chance to build something for the community and build genuine friendships in our industry,” Suleman said. Which sounds perfect. But not too perfect.