“I want to see BIPOC, particularly women, as leaders and in positions of power.”
While the design industry commonly portrays beauty and diversity through its work, there is little to be said about those same standards when it comes to looking behind the scenes. “.1% of design studios are owned by women and 3% of creative directors are women….If these numbers are so low…imagine what that means for BIPOC women,” explains graphic designer and creative entrepreneur Badal Patel. Creative leadership roles are not primarily held by people of color, let alone women of color. Badal Patel, is combatting this bleak statistic by shifting the perspective of what the typical creative leader looks like.
As a first-generation Indian woman, Badal is navigating her way through the design industry on her own terms. She is currently making a name for herself as a woman of color (WOC) independent branding and creative consultant, designer and creative entrepreneur by representing strong female leadership in an industry that fails to do so. Below we chat with Badal about her experiences as a WOC entrepreneur, the lack of diverse leadership in the design industry, and the importance of incorporating our own identities into our work.
Designed by Badal Patel for Kulfi Beauty.
Tell us a bit about your background, upbringing, and what drew you to the creative industry?
I was born and raised outside of Philadelphia, PA to immigrant parents. As a first-generation Indian American, I grew up trying to grasp two cultures at once. When I was little I’d always ask for crayons and paper for Christmas. And as I grew up, I was always trying new things. You could find me creating wooden boats out of fallen branches in the backyard, sewing my own purses, doodling over my notebooks during class.
I was lucky to be surrounded by so much creativity every day. My dada (grandfather) would photograph with a film camera and paint in those black and white photos with color. He also worked in his garage on mechanical and woodworking projects. My dad drew, painted, and created mixed media artworks. The women in my family sewed beautiful pieces. I was born into such a creative family so it was inevitable that I was drawn to the industry.
What does being a woman mean to you? How do you express your womanhood?
I don’t think there’s any singular way to be a woman, and that’s the beauty of it. It’s different for everyone. To me, being a woman is being able to do whatever I want. My womanhood comes down to expressing myself as a human being with complexities and everything I do is an extension of that.
How did you get started in graphic design/branding/and photography, and how do incorporate your identity into your work?
I got into graphic design quite unexpectedly during college. I had started as a biochemistry major but 2 years in I had an unfortunate experience with a lab professor which led me to realize that I hated it all along (so blessing in disguise). I ended up graduating with [a degree in] graphic design and 3 classes shy of a photography minor.
Incorporating my cultural identity into my work didn’t come until much later. At some point in my professional career, I realized I never tapped into my cultural identity when it came to designing things. Finally, the lightbulb went off and I knew there was so much opportunity so I took it into my own hands starting with passion projects which then turned into full-on branding projects. This is a little bit of a double edged sword because while I do take on projects that speak to cultural identity, I don’t want to become niched into this type of design only. It’s an unfortunate problem that a lot of POC experience in many different professions.
As a creative entrepreneur, how do you balance owning/building a business and creating authentically? What advice would you give fellow creatives of color trying to break out on their own?
My advice would be to make sure to stay true to yourself and to your craft. It’s really hard with social media because you’re inundated with people doing all sorts of things all the time and it makes you feel like you’re not doing enough. But remember that everyone is on their own journey and social media is a highlight reel. Don’t do what other people are doing, and don’t do it for the likes. Keep pushing to develop your style, your voice, your vision. That’s what will make you and your work valuable and distinguished — and that’s what people will come to you for.
In your opinion how far has the design/creative industry come in terms of representing marginalized/POC/South Asian people? What do you think needs to be improved moving forward?
I think there’s a lot to be done within the design industry. Ultimately, I want to see representation at the top of these industries. I want to see BIPOC, particularly women, as leaders and in positions of power. I remembered reading something along the lines of .1% of design studios are owned by women and 3% of creative directors are women. If these numbers are so low, imagine what that means for BIPOC women. Promoting women into leadership roles is definitely one way along with mentorship to assist in the process.
“Ultimately, I want to see representation at the top of these industries. I want to see BIPOC, particularly women, as leaders and in positions of power. Promoting women into leadership roles is definitely one way along with mentorship to assist in the process.”
Designed by Badal Patel for Korai Kitchen.
Talk to us about ādara. What inspired you to start this passion project, and why is it important to you?
ādara started out as a passion project because I realized there was really not much tasteful and accessible wedding stationery for Indian Americans or South Asians. My cousin was getting married and all I could find were congratulation cards with white dresses on them. That’s when the switch flipped for me, and I realized that I needed to start incorporating my identity into self-projects. While I don’t focus as much on this project (and only take on a very limited number of projects/year), it was a crucial part of my journey.
How have you been staying inspired throughout the past year? Any advice for people in a creative rut?
Not very successfully. Last year was rough. My advice would be to cut yourself some slack, know that you’re surviving a pandemic, and you’re doing the best you can. So take that break, really step away from it and let your brain breathe for a bit. Go outside, go on a walk, try to do something different, and get away from that pressure. And then when you come back to it, find what excites you about the project, and go have fun with it!