Using jewelry to bring issues like class disparity and cultural ignorance to the forefront, Kali Arulpragasam, the creative mind behind the line called Super Fertile, has people buzzing for all the right reasons. If her last name sounds familiar it should, she’s the sister of “it girl” M.I.A and clearly talent runs in the family. In any case, we’d be more than glad to make room in our jewelry box for these impressive statement making pieces.
Q: When did you start designing jewelry?
After graduated from Central Saint Martins, then a Creative director for an advertising agency in New York and at the height of my career I started designing jewelry to start something more profound, important and precious. I guess, I was always designing and communicating a message, so the move from advertising campaigns to highlighting global issue using people as my billboard is not that different and I made the move back to London, to grow Super Fertile into a fashion house. Our headquarters is in east London, where all the magic takes place.
Q: Being a Sri Lankan native, how has your culture influenced your designs?
I was born in London and spent the greater part of my life in the UK and the US though from three to ten years old I lived in Sri Lanka and India. If there is one thing that I remember is that Sri Lankan culture is being ruined by war and primitive uncompromising traditional views. I guess this sentiment is echoed by many people who originate from a country that has been ravaged by post colonial corruption and war. I relate to the natural beauty of cultures and people the world over and this influences my designs. That aside, I do have a close affinity for India and her rich cultural past from where the Sri Lankan Tamils descend.
Q: As a well traveled trendsetter, what is your favorite place on earth that gives you the most creative energy and inspiration?
There are so many places. India is beautifully rich in art, music, colour, architecture, needlework, natural materials, etc. It’s like a 24/7 factory of arts. What is unusual about India is that it changes everyday yet hasn’t changed its essence in over 4000 years. They also have such a charming ‘can do’ attitude without having any knowledge, experience, education or tools and sometimes ability – the children really make you smile with their curiosity and joy despite the terrible poverty. The purity and strength of this innocence is an inspiration to Super Fertile and an intrinsic part of me, and I take inspiration from the art and works of Jaipur, Agra and Rajistan.
In Europe I love to visit the art works of Spain and Paris.
Q: Tell us about your latest collection “Tourism”?
The collection came about from being frustrated by not being able to visit Sri Lanka because of a stupid war that has been going on for the last 20 years. I simply wanted to reverse the media trend of showing only violence in this country and the promotion of men carrying guns as somehow heroic. This small minority causing trouble is now the iconic representation of Sri Lanka. I wanted to speak for the majority, for the women and children, for the beautiful landscapes, the amazing wildlife that are now largely forgotten or undiscovered.
The media seems to focus on the negative, so when you Google Iraq, for example, you get images of American soldiers with guns in rubble. This is not Iraq! Iraq has culture, music, fashion, children playing, sports champions, great architecture, etc. I wanted to create a positive tourism poster for the most dangerous countries that we cannot visit.
I started googling for positive elements of countries which are portrayed as being too dangerous to visit. Did you know that Iraq is a great sporting nation in weight lifting? Total surprise! I became a bit obsessed searching the internet, books and libraries. Surely there must be more to Lebanon? What are we missing about Colombia? The cultural diversity in the Central African Republic? Women’s fashion in Afghanistan? Amazing fishing community and tropical fish in the middle of Sudan? Finding all these little wonders from parts of countries becomes addictive. It was a duty and a mission to design a necklace showing the precious beauty of these nations in the form of a tourist poster portraying a proud identity. For example, Sudan in silver or gold becomes instantly precious. Anyone who comes across this collection gasps and wows, they pick their favorite countries by comparing the other countries, they pay attention to the subjects, images, details and cultures. The truth is that these little wonders have been there all along. These necklaces are to be cherished as are these nations.
Q: What type of materials, crafting skills and technologies do you use in your designs?
The first thing is always the message. From this, the idea, the design, the form, the materials and even the size are derived to create a piece that helps to communicate the message with maximum impact. Yet precious and durable and affordable.
We have a highly skilled production team in India that hand crafts every piece using traditional cutting, plating and molding methods. It’s always a challenge to find techniques to create such unique designs that are affordable, highly artistic , unique and precious. We work with silver and gold but the handcrafting, workmanship, concept and design are the more precious aspects of the piece.
Q: Your company is named “Super Fertile.” Is there a meaning behind the name?
I wanted a name that reflected the magic of fresh new life and flourishing growth, both in the physical sense and the creative concepts and ideas. For me, a new born child, a plant and a wonderful creative idea are all miracles that come forward despite all the odds. The ‘Super’ is our way of turbo charging this natural process!
Q: Who are some of your favorite designers?
I pay more attention to great artists and I don’t mean a flash in the pan recording artist. Pablo Picasso is always an inspiration to me, Escher is a mind-blowing visual genius, Freda Khalo for honesty, the Chapman brothers for innovative sculptures and authentic traditional art forms from all over the developing world despite their limited access to materials and technology. In Africa, children make their toys from tin cans, they are my favourite designers!
Q: Out of all of your collections, what is your favorite and why?
The current one ‘Tourism.” From the original concept, the research, the designs, the production down to the photo shoot for the look book, I adhered to original concept with determination, conviction and creative drive. At one point I was scouting the UK for nine models of the nations in question. That’s hard enough but dressing them in national costume really tests your creativity – they don’t do Columbian dress in Wal-Mart and Iraqi national dress hasn’t hit the high street yet! Joking aside I went to every length to maintain the authenticity of the collection and communicate the message in the clearest terms.
Q: We are dying to know – what artists are currently in rotation in your iPod?
Bombay Jayashri to calm me down and Spank Rock to get my heart racing again.
Q: What’s one thing you want people to know about you?
My local council (Merton) educated me, and gave me the foundation to go after my dreams, I never forget the people who really helped me.
Q: What’s next for you and “Super Fertile”?
We have so much to do — you have to wait and see! And as long as there’s issues, we will do a collection, and right now, there are just so many to do! And we will keep going!