WOMANday Exclusive: Tanwi Nandini Islam of Hi Wildflower Botanica Chats Writing & Entrepreneurship, Supporting Local, Social Activism & More!

FOUNDER OF HI WILDFLOWER BOTANICA, TANWI NANDINI ISLAM. CREDIT: RAHIL ASHRUFF

For this edition of WOMANday I wanted to introduce you to an extraordinary woman, Tanwi Nandini Islam. Tanwi is a published writer with a novel on the way, and the creator of artisan beauty line, Hi Wildflower Botanica, which includes a product range of perfumes, candles, and skincare. In my interview, we chatted about the road to entrepreneurship, the local small business community in Brooklyn, writing, social activism and more.

Get into our conversation below!

What was the turning point in which you decided to start Hi Wildflower Botanica?

Last year I presented four scents at Bushwick Open Studios. I had been experimenting a lot with perfumery because I was doing a lot of research for my new book that I’m working on, and I kind of wanted to see if people would be into the product. Bushwick Open Studios draws hundreds of people into your studio, which I share with three other artists. A lot of people were into it, so I felt like I hit a certain nerve in regards to the fragrances I had made, and it felt like something that could be a viable source of income, and perhaps a new business.

I’m a writer professionally, and that’s not necessarily the easiest way to make a living, especially when you are writing fiction or working on freelance projects, so this kind of became something that I saw myself doing as a fun, indie business. I initially thought it would just be an Etsy or an extra source of income; I wasn’t thinking wholesale or getting stores, new accounts, or anything like that. It kind of really grew fast because I decided to do a launch at Renegade Craft Fair in late August [2014], and it was awesome. I had a really simple array of product. I had my perfume and I had skincare, and people were feeling it and buying it, and I was like ‘Wow! I’m on to something here. This is really cool.’ Since then, I’ve really expanded a lot. Now I’m in ten different stores, and I believe a lot of that has to do with the fact that A) I live in Williamsburg in Brooklyn, and it’s a really great location I think to be a new business, and to be an entrepreneur and share it with other small businesses, usually store owners who are all my peers. They are usually women my age who are looking for the next line to carry, whether it be for perfume or skincare, or candles.

Since this is WOMANday, I would love to know the feedback you’ve been getting from fellow female entrepreneurs in your community, as well as consumers?   

It has been really, really interesting. I think that the customer is really drawn to the packaging, so the colorful nature of the packaging is really inspired directly by wildflowers. That’s pretty much the central philosophy of the brand, to grow free everywhere, to be the one who is a little bit different than the mainstream, and I think that concept is really beautiful because it’s like every product has its own mini-story and its own aesthetic. I think traditionally that can be seen as ‘Hey! Everything should be super cohesive and one story’ but it’s many stories. This is fun for me. I’m drawn to old botanical drawings, and I think my customer [also] is drawn to that and is really into the idea of ‘this is my signature scent, this is something that really speaks to my personality’; every thing has a different appeal for a different person. If you were to take Night Blossom, which is one of my perfumes that has really deep notes that are floral which I call ‘sex florals’ , and jasmine, neroli, rose; really sexy scents, it’s all understated and it dries down into this leathery ember scent, and it’s for a certain kind of person. Then you have something like West Indies which is grassy, herbaceous, has notes of Bay Rum and lavender; it’s really fresh, and for someone else. I think that’s something that really appeals to people, that they can find their piece within the brand that’s just for them.

For women, I think self-care rituals and finding time in your day to moisturize with body oil, or light a candle and chill, or dab yourself with perfume-oil; it’s all about re-centering and getting in touch with yourself. I would say my customer is someone who appreciates that moment of respite and peace.

http://i1369.photobucket.com/albums/ag217/andreakcastillo/IMG_4663_zpsxzxvi3ye.jpg

HI WILDFLOWER BOTANICA ‘LOVERS ROCK’ RANGE

Do you feel that in this current age of sensory overload from a technological/everyday standpoint, that you can help bring back more old-school care routines & rituals with your brand?

What’s happening now is that we are very much into our brains and on the computer all the time; we’re on our phones, we’re just really connected. This [Hi Wildflower Botanica] is a moment to disconnect. I think this harkens back to something older in that sense. I think a lot of people are really into making things with their hands right now, and I think that there are a lot of people in our generation who are like, ‘Hey! I remember life without my phone. I remember life without my computer.’, because we are kind of the last generation [to experience this]. We may be the only generation [Gen-Y] that straddles both worlds of being super-digital but also super-analog. I think that it is really interesting to get back in touch with things that are made in nature, or things that are tactile, or things that represent a small business owner. But in another way, I think it’s really fun, my joke is ‘I love doing really obscure things’, like writing a novel, and working on a business like this, they could either work or be quiet projects that happened. What I’m trying to do with Hi Wildflower is to get it to as many people as I possibly can, just as I want my writing to reach as many people as I possibly can.

There’s so much thought and purpose behind the brand, and I’ve noticed that you recently dedicated one of your candles to Ferguson, with proceeds benefiting the Ferguson Legal Defense Fund. Can you tell us why you decided to go this particular route?

I really came into this work because of other work that I have done. As a youth educator and teaching artist, working at non-profits for ten years, I think my background is more of an organizer/activist/educator, and entrepreneur/artist/writer are things that are now emerging to the forefront, but have always been secondary to my activism and organizing. I kind of don’t ever want to be to far from that [activism & organizing]. Through certain projects, like the Ferguson Candle Project, I can connect to that social justice, and social good that I believe every brand should represent. I’m really inspired by this awe-inspiring social protest that is happening in our country around police brutality, around the innocent killings of Black people, and I think that is something that why not address that through something beautiful like a candle? Why not raise money through a physical object? People are often hesitant to donate money to something because they don’t know if it’s a good cause, or they don’t know if the money is going to the right place, and I’m totally one of those people sometimes too. I wanted to play with the whole hashtag “#letitburn”, and I thought it would be cool to do a candle. A candle burns and serves as a physical reminder, and has beautiful artwork on it that can serve as a reminder of the struggle. I want to do it quarterly, which might be hard, but I at least want to do it once or twice a year, do something that is for social good, maybe around the holidays.

HI WILDFLOWER BOTANICA ‘ANCIENT WATER LOTUS’ HAND-POURED CANDLE

Are there any new collaborations or products we can look out for in the coming year?

I’m really excited for some upcoming collaborations I have with some online curated sites for makers. So one is Madesmith and another is Young & Able, and both have amazing people making things in the city and it’s a curated group of people that are selling their stuff in these spaces. Definitely check them out. I’m excited to join those communities and expand my reach into different stores. I love meeting new clients and store owners, and bringing my stuff to them, and that keeps happening and building.

I love to collaborate with different artists. The collaboration I’m working on now is with an artist who is also a writer, her name is Nayomi Munaweera. We are going to do a candle for her book that just came out, Island of A Thousand Mirrorswhich is about her native Sri Lanka. One of the things I love about this collaboration is that I see it being a series of candles with authors, and the series is called “#GetLit”. That is in the works.


It was a pleasure speaking with Tanwi for this edition of WOMANday! Be sure to follow her business, Hi Wildflower Botanica on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

*Photos Courtesy of Hi Wildflower Botanica

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