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Clothing Designer Keeps a Dying Indian Print Tradition Alive in Brooklyn

By Janet Upadhye | June 12, 2013 9:31am | Updated on June 12, 2013 8:48pm

CLINTON HILL — Samara Mahendru's children's clothing line is the epitome of East meets West.

The Brooklyn mom combines traditional Indian textiles and hand printing methods with contemporary graphics and colors to create clothing that is one-of-a-kind.

"The tradition of hand block printing is over 500 years old in India," she said. "But I have modernized the print and contemporized the colors to create a very clean look."

Mahendru was born in New Delhi and moved to Brooklyn 14 years ago to study graduate-level communications design at Pratt Institute. She also has a background in architecture. But after losing her job at an architecture firm in the recession, Mahendru mustered to courage to pursue her dream of designing clothing that paid tribute to her Indian roots and honored her New York City home.

She struck out on her own and started MUNY. The name combines Mumbai and New York to represent "a brand born out of convergence of these two parallel worlds."

The designer's work is rooted in a traditional Indian hand block printing technique where patterns are hand carved on teak wood blocks and stamped onto Indian textiles. The process was first practiced by Mughal artisans in India, according to Mahendru.

But with increased education and exposure to new professions in India, the detailed printing method is slowly dying, Mahendru said.

"The newer generations are venturing into new professional fields," she said. "They no longer want to hand print."

Mahendru is determined to introduce the technique to western design.

"I grew up with these fabulous designs and textiles," she said. "Machine printing just does not compare."

Mahendru began to create Indian-inspired children’s wear using the ancient technique. She travels to India each year to work directly with artisans to make her designs come to life.

After only two years, her business is thriving. Her clothes can be found in My Brooklyn Baby on Fulton Street, Green in BKLYN on Myrtle Avenue, Acorn Toy Shop on Atlantic Avenue and in stores as far as California.

And MUNY is not just for children. Her creations also include scarves made from old saris and traditionally woven blankets.

"People really love the feel and look of these designs," she said.

All of Mahendru's designs can be found online at MUNYShop.  Prices range from $42 for a girls dress to $150 for a hand-woven silk scarf.