Hema Shroff Patel was born in the US but has lived in Mumbai for the past 22 years.  Her journey in the preservation and resurrection of textile traditions began nearly 20 years ago. After many years of working in the weaving industry, Patel set up her own shop—hence, the birth of Amba in 1999.  Amba’s line supports traditional forms of weaving, block printing and eco-friendly natural dyeing.  A portion of the profits earned are earmarked for specific projects where the aim is to improve the quality of the craftspeople’s professional lives.  We sat down with Hema to gain insight into her business as well as the cause she supports.



You are US born, but now are based in Bombay. What brought you there?


I came here after I finished my undergraduate degree to take a break, spend time with my family – who had moved to Bombay – and work for a year before applying to graduate school.  After a year, I felt I should live and work in Bombay for another year.  It seemed like I had lots more to discover and learn.  I met my husband during my second year of living in Bombay. 



What are the "must go to" places you take friends and family to when they are visiting you in Mumbai?


Favorite Restaurant: Swati Snacks – best Indian street food in town, served in a low key diner.


Treasure Trove: Bungalow Eight in Colaba. There’s floor upon floor of wonderful pieces  from clothing to home to lifestyle , all from near and far. It’s set on three floors which are beautifully restored warehouse-like spaces.  One can spend hours pottering around in there. 


Heritage nook in the city: Banganga Tank and sit on the steps near sunset.  It’s surrounded by old temples falling to bits.  The water tank has a wonderful feeling of calm.



How did you initially become involved in weaving scarves? What is the origin of the name "Amba?


I was invited to this lovely weaving town by the Holkars back in 1991.  Arriving on the banks of the Narmada River was a homecoming of sorts.  It just felt so right to be there.  I started working with their initiative that year and have worked in that weaving village ever since.


“Amba” is one of 101 names for the Narmada River.  My friend Pandya, in Maheshwar, found the name for me almost ten years ago.  Amba is now set up as a social entrepreneurship and gives back to projects to support craft heritage in rural India.  



Can you fill us in on Women Weave, the non-profit organization you are on the board of?


Women Weave has two main objectives:


  1. It strives to preserve the rich heritage of handloom, and works with weaving communities to improve their design banks, marketing links and quality of raw materials and work. 
  2.  It provides employment for women without any weaving background.  These women have generally been working in nearby fields doing farming-related work.  WW provides a platform for these women by training them in basic weaving skills and then helps find a market for their products. 


What is the most rewarding part of being involved in Women Weave?


Currently, one of the most satisfying aspects is working with the Young Weavers; children of weavers we have worked with for years.  Many of these children are the first to be educated in their families and have options for the first time ever .  Their debate is do they carry on the weaving tradition or do they go on to college and move to a mid-size town in India and look for work.  Some of these youngsters are already weavers, as they have helped with the weaving in and around going to school.  Our job at WW is to help them make an informed choice.