A return to roots

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A second generation Australian Indian produces Indian goods for the modern Australian home

Meet Cheri Flewell-Smith, designer and director at The New Punjab Trading Co – the online destination showcasing an eclectic, diverse and exclusively curated collection of the finest Indian homewares, accessories, crafts and gifts.

As a second generation Australian, Cheri spent her childhood years with her family in Sydney. Armed with a Bachelor’s degree in Design and majoring in Textiles, Graphics and Jewellery from UNSW, Cheri began her career in the design industry working as an Art Director for some well-known advertising firms.

As is the case with most second generation Australians, Cheri struggled to find a balance between her Indian heritage and Australian upbringing. “I spent a good portion of my teenage years, trying to be as Aussie as I could and pretending to not be Indian,” she says.

But all that changed after a visit to India with her grandmother for three months. Cheri realised she did not have to choose between the two cultures but instead can celebrate the rich heritage and traditions that both these ancient lands have to offer. This sowed the seed and inspired her to start The New Punjab Trading Co.

The idea behind the business was born on a trip to Punjab, after visiting her grandfather’s village, Khala Sanghia. “There, I saw two men dyeing fabric in a barrel over fire in the local bazaar. The scarves they dyed were amazing,” Cheri says. “It was then I realised I wanted to create something centred around craftsmanship – limited edition products made by artisans.”

Cheri was working as the co-director of Lola&Bailey, a cult accessories label. She describes this experience as very fulfilling and gratifying, but says her heart was still in that little village in Punjab. Soon enough, she quit and started her own company.

“The New Punjab Trading Co. is dedicated to producing authentic Indian goods for the modern Australian home,” Cheri says. “They can be anything from a beautiful hand-dyed scarf made on a loom, to embroidered cushions, to our most recent collection, a small series of pendants and rings.”

Cheri says she works in close association with the local Indian artisans, and the design process is a collaborative effort. Cheri might have a particular design aesthetic in mind, which she expresses in the form of rough sketches, and then it’s a team effort discussing with the manufacturers and craftsmen to finally translate that initial idea into the completed product.

“I was a little sick of the blingy, stereotyped products that we see in stores representing India,” Cheri says. “As we all know, India is quite modern despite how it can sometimes be represented, and I really wanted to convey that in my design aesthetic but also as a brand. That’s also why I called it The New Punjab Trading Co.”

Currently, Cheri works only with Indian craftsmen and artisans, but in future she hopes to work with craftsmen from other countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. Eventually, she hopes to start her own workshop in India, a small way of giving back to the society which has in turn given her so much.

Cheri is currently also working on an Indian cookbook which focuses on traditional recipes and there are also plans for a pop-up Punjabi-themed café on the cards.

The New Punjab Trading Co. operates as an online store and Cheri has no plans for a retail space. With the world shifting online, she believes that the web is the best space to showcase her products to Australian society.