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Art rebel adds personal touch to budding cashmere shawl business Queenmark

As a young wife living in a foreign country, Mrs Mehta decided to study in Israel, where her use of bright colours went against the grain of art movements there. She now infuses her vibrant style in many of the designs of the cashmere shawls that her
As a young wife living in a foreign country, Mrs Mehta decided to study in Israel, where her use of bright colours went against the grain of art movements there. She now infuses her vibrant style in many of the designs of the cashmere shawls that her company, Queenmark, produces.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Queenmark founder finds herself going places as she works to grow her cashmere shawl company

The schedule for the weeks ahead is looking mighty packed for Mrs Rajul Mehta, as she readies her cashmere shawl company, Queenmark, for fashion shows in Paris and Dubai, both next month.

But Mrs Mehta - founder and director of Queenmark - would have it no other way. In this latest phase of her personal journey, the 40-something professionally trained artist and mother of three is happily embracing the pulsating life of a rising entrepreneur.

"Queenmark takes part in many road shows overseas, so it's quite normal for me to be away from home. Even when I'm in Singapore, I often spend half my day in the office and another half at my studio."

The result of her commitment is a fashion brand that sells to department stores in 15 countries, from Britain and India to Singapore, where Queenmark's shawls can be found at some 10 outlets.

With an annual turnover of nearly $1 million, Queenmark is on the cusp of faster growth, she believes.

SUPPORT COUNTS

The first thing is of course never give up. Also surround yourself with family and friends who are supportive and make you feel great about what you're trying to achieve.

MRS RAJUL MEHTA, on being a woman entrepreneur.

"We're still a small company and we have many opportunities. Just a couple of months ago, I had Japanese senior buyers showing interest. I'm not going to go in immediately. I want to make sure I prepare the suitable products that fit the subtle differences in their taste.

"We're in early talks with a big brand for Queenmark to do licensing for it, so I'm trying to see if I can triple my production and manage two brands at the same time."

Given all that Mrs Mehta is planning for her company - founded in 2013 and now with around a dozen staff - getting the artistic appeal right for her products is the one thing she will not compromise on.

After all, that same persistence was what she relied on as she strove to find her place in Beit Berl Art College in Tel Aviv, Israel.

After getting married at 19, she left her hometown of Mumbai and moved to Israel in 1989 when her husband moved his business there.

"It was not easy. We had no relations in that country. In fact, there wasn't even an Indian embassy there then. We were completely cut off from home, in a sense."

But she did not wallow in loneliness. Reconnecting with her childhood passion in art, Mrs Mehta took night courses at Beit Berl to obtain a teacher's degree in art.

It was eight years before she earned the degree, a process that is often challenging for someone outside of Israel's art scene.

"As someone coming from India, where the culture is woven in vibrant colours, it was not easy establishing myself in an art school in Israel, where bright colours were often shunned by art movements.

"But I can't change my art, no more than I can change who I am. So I went through it being a rebel."

Her bold mix of contemporary Western and Asian images painted in expressive colours eventually got her enough recognition to be invited to mount a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Ramat Gan - a city near Tel Aviv - in 2006.

Mrs Mehta and her husband decided to move to Singapore in 2008, and she had no regrets.

"Living in Israel is one of the best things to happen to me. I learnt so much there. But the kids were growing up, and we are not Jewish, so we decided to have a fresh start, a new journey... We chose Singapore because this is a place where we can assimilate and feel at home easily."

The birth of Queenmark was somewhat accidental, but still an extension of her work as an artist.

"After a trip to Mongolia, I tried putting some of my art on cashmere shawls and gave them out as gifts. The response was much better than expected. Naturally, it grew into a line, and then a business."

Many of Queenmark's shawls - most of which are designed personally by Mrs Mehta - bring the same surprise that her paintings do.

Meanwhile, Queenmark has been trying to innovate with different fabrics and materials to ensure the shawls are comfortable to wear in tropical weather.

As she tries to take her firm to new heights, Mrs Mehta knows she did not come this far without the support of her family. "My husband has always been very supportive - in Israel, when I tried to juggle between the children and my studies, and now, as I often spend time away from home to focus on my business."

Still, she knows the path of a woman entrepreneur will not be smooth. "The first thing is of course never give up. Also, surround yourself with family and friends who are supportive and make you feel great about what you're trying to achieve."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2016, with the headline 'Art rebel adds personal touch to budding business '. Print Edition | Subscribe