Monthly Feature // May 2021
Mehek Malhotra (she/her) is a Designer and Visual Artist currently based in Mumbai. Her work is inspired by her everyday interactions, fleeting thoughts, sights from everyday life in Mumbai, all crafted into thought-provoking pieces.
Like any other creative child, Mehek remembers doodling on the side and back of her school books. "While growing up, my grandparents were very motivating towards sort of instilling creativity in me and my sister as kids" Mehek shares, "That is how I understood that creative expression is not just a profession. It's like a part of someone's personality because I think you need to sort of instill that into a person from the beginning because a designer's job is to not just implement an idea, It's also to identify ideas around you in a way where really simple things can become really complex concepts, and then simplified again for somebody else." and that's how Mehek goes about her creative practice - from aloo bhujiya pillows and impactful poster paintings to her bold and characteristic design style across her work.
Mehek is no stranger to carving her own paths and striding towards her goals with confidence. After thorough research surrounding design as a career, what to expect when applying to design schools, understanding what concepts she would be exposed to, and so much more, Mehek applied to NIFT and was accepted. "But in the first year of college, I was like this cannot be college! It's not giving me anything at all which I came here to learn" no matter how hard you prepare, sometimes life throws you curbs "It was unfortunate because for a person who doesn't know what design is, and this is how design opens up to you, It feels like something bad happened to you like you made a bad decision." Despite the challenges presented, she stood her ground and believed in her potential. Looking on the bright side, she realized that she was in Bombay, she can apply to internships, work alongside mentors, explore the industry and absorb and grow as much as she can. It was through interning and working with a variety of different creative mentors, workplaces, and industries, Mehek realized that design, sort of, happened along the way "It wasn't an overnight college course, that taught me something, it was a lot of trial and error of different fields to understand, okay, this is what I don't want to do".
On the creation of Gigglingmonkey Studio
At just 19 years old, Mehek realized there is no office that currently exists that offers the things she likes to do, and so she started Giggling Monkey Studio. It was 19-year old Mehek telling herself "Okay, just do it. It's okay, you're 19 if something fails, you can go back and join a job later" and that's something I think we all need to truly take back to ourselves — you're still young. You have a whole life ahead of you, appreciate the privilege's to be able to experiment and explore. Nothing in life is permanent. And that's how Mehek spent her early twenties learning and implementing things. Through years of understanding what works, and what doesn't, when Mehek finally graduated, she decided to go all-in, and give Giggling Monkey Studio her all.
"For me, the design was never complicated and unapproachable. It was always something that I could feel and touch and smell and just have around me as part of my life. I like to implement that thought and that ideology into my work where I want to take away that glass that's in front of the world of design because I feel like a lot of people don't understand that design is not rocket science, but it's not easy" she says "So there is like a combination of thinking and application. But it's not like you're going to have to read 3000 books in order to be an expert, you just need to keep your eyes open".
Mehek goes on to further acknowledge the countless mentors, guides, and friends she's gotten to know over the years "I think I've also been very lucky I like different points in my life. But I have had people to like to guide me in the right direction" understanding that talent and hard work is necessary, but so is timing and just a pinch of luck "I know so many people are doing the right thing, but it's just that maybe they're not at the right place at the right time. And right now, nobody's at the right place at the right time. Everybody's in their heads. which feels okay, I must acknowledge that there is a bit of luck involved there for sure. Because when I look back, I'm like, Thank God I went for that party."
On being a woman-owned business
"If you want the world to take you seriously, you need to take yourself seriously first" After years of learning, observing, and analyzing, it was now time to set her own foot down. One of the greatest superpowers Mehek realized was saying 'no'. "I think a lot of times, we get pressured into doing things, because we feel like we might lose out on an opportunity" something we can all relate to, "So being a woman and saying no is something that took a lot of courage to grow over time to actually say, but it's a beautiful journey to understand that you can be capable on your own". Gratefully aware of her own privilege, Mehek shares empathy towards those who may have faced tougher challenges.
We've had multiple conversations at WID over the years, and a lot of those conversations with women had one thing in common; not being taken seriously in boardrooms/meetings. "But in meetings, whenever I have tried to talk and explain something in a group setting, I realized that I'm the only girl, woman, in a group of 25 people and I'm trying to make them take me seriously because I have pink hair. And that is how I have understood that, okay, you need to first stand shoulder to shoulder with somebody in order to like really make them understand that you're making a point" Mehek shared, "And for doing that, you must look at people in the eyes when you're talking". A pro tip for all the readers out there. Stand straight, share your points across proudly, look them in the eye and tell them this is your idea, provide your reasoning for it "And if they say, usually the answer is 'mazaa nahi aaya'. And I'm just like, Can you give me constructive criticism that can be applied? To reach a solution? There is usually no answer." And that's when Mehek realized that you must ask the right questions.
On inspiration and creativity
I know a lot of you must have wondered where does Mehek get these creatively innovative ideas? We did too. So we asked her, and the response was nothing short of perfection. "I love taking a stroll in a grocery store." She talks about this local grocery store called 'Patels' which has a vibrant array of packaging of food products from Hershey's, Sauces, Cheetos packets, to local Fanta cans from Thailand. Expressing her love for branding, Mehek tells us "It gives me a sense of freedom to be able to create something for an emotion that a client is trying to convey to like a product". Giving the example of a past project for the brand "El Diablo" that reached out to her with a brief to ensure the branding and packaging looked appetizing to younger audiences as well as their current market , she thought "Cool, how do we do that". For a brand with 16 flavours, each having their own unique USP's, Mehek decided she wanted to make sure they were colourfully branded, but allow the users to understand how the product would smell, taste and ignite their senses simply by glancing at the product. "So we created these geometric patterns all around associated to each flavor. So if there's like a hot chili sauce, it had like these zigzag lines that would tell you how it feels on your tongue. And you're just like, 'oh shit kya kha liya'. And then there's mango. And I think there is mango garlic sauce that has this hexagon inside another hexagon. And that hexagon is fading, that sort of shows like how the aftertaste of garlic would hit at a certain point after having this sauce." The depths of understanding Mehek has towards creativity, branding and visual expression is enough to tell you, that she's amazing.
"I realized the harder the challenges, the more fun I have sort of decoding it. So like that's how I approach projects. I like difficult ideas and then simplifying them." And that's when she realized that while people may have their own unique sources of inspiration, hers was grocery stores, murals around the city, tailor shops, and anything and everything. "That's how I approach projects because at the end of the day, it's not going to be seen on the screen. It's going to be seen in real life. So how does it feel in real life?". Something to think about, for all of us.
Takeaways for upcoming creatives
I think the most important thing is to never think that you can't work with a brand. Because I think that is where you put like a cap on to your progress on your own. If you want to work with Coldplay, make sure that you amplify it enough so that we can reach Coldplay, and you talk to them, and they will probably commission something, when you are older and good enough, probably. And then I feel like there is this entire idea of while being a young designer, you're constantly comparing yourself to like the greats, which is not a good thing to do. Because the greats have reached were ever have reached the cause of living a life through a certain time learning certain things with different circumstances. So I think that is one thing I would really advise young designers to not do is never compare their progress to anybody else's progress. Because what happens is that maybe somebody is lucky.
A little more about Mehek
Name 3 other inspirational Indian creatives that you look up to
Masaba Gupta, Daksha Salam, Rutuja Mali
A city that you’ve enjoyed traveling to.
What are you reading currently?
Hand job by Mike Perry and Against Creativity by Oli Mould
A major TV Show you recommend binging.
The office, Hera Pheri
If you could host dinner at home, who are the top 3 names on your guest list?
Taylor Swift, Alexa Chung, John Mayer
We're always open to other perspectives, opinions, and a good chat over some coffee or tea. We'd love to host a conversation with you, head on over to our Discord and get in touch!
With 🧡 Team WID.