Leena Mistry of bespoke wedding stationery business, Ratanji Rani, is a woman of many talents. An accountant by profession, Leena always had a creative side to her. She has been hand crafting rakhi’s (threads) for Raksha Bandhan (Hindu festival celebrating the bond between brothers and sisters) as well as creating custom invitations and wedding stationery for many years. She is now based in the beautiful beachside suburbs of Sydney, Australia and continuing her passion for creating gorgeous stationery.
We caught up with the face behind, Ratanji Rani to discuss all things wedding stationery.
Welcome to The Maharani Diaries, Leena. Tell us about yourself and your amazing talents?
I’m British born, currently living in Sydney and married to an amazing man. I had a standard Indian upbringing and an education in accounting. I was always creative but I don’t think it fully unleashed until after my year out travelling and a few years in the working world, I realised I had little interest in climbing the corporate ladder. I wanted to be my own boss and experience as much in life as I could (life is short as they say). I wanted to learn something different on the side so I took evening classes in massage therapy and beauty.
Back in London it was actually quite difficult to strike the right balance. I would work as a full time accountant and then in the evenings I would either be with a client or making stationery. It was tough and a little tiring but it is a passion of mine, so I had to make it work.
When we moved to Sydney, my priority was to find a balance between all of this. So I chose to take on part time accounting and spend the free time on building the business. I couldn’t have done it without my husband’s support – honestly he has been my rock! It can still be a struggle, but I really value the time with loved ones and now I get to spend evenings with my husband and friends.
How and when did you start Ratanji Rani?
I turned my hobby into this little venture back in 2012. I wanted to share my love for natural beauty, wellbeing and traditional crafting with everybody. I always knew I wanted to set up my own venture and after creating the stationery for our own wedding, I felt that it was time to give it a go.
Could you tell us a little about the story behind the name, ‘Ratanji Rani?’
Well I actually set up the business in memory of my maternal grandparents, Mr Ratanjibhai and Mrs Rattanben Mistry, so it’s a name close to my heart and full of childhood memories. Growing up, my mother’s side of the family would often spend weekends and holidays together. My dads side of the family is very male dominated which I love, but it was always refreshing to have some sisterly company.
The girls all had a traditional Indian upbringing (meaning learning how to be a domestic goddess and mastering how to make the perfect round roti), so during our visits, we would help my grandmother, mum and aunty. Naturally the older we became, we would enjoy spending more time getting ready and catching up on gossip than finishing our chores. My Mum and aunt would always tell us to hurry, calling us “rani’s”, meaning queens! The rani name surprisingly stuck and we’d always joke that we were the Ratanji Ranis’ – Ratanji Queens.
Such a delightful story. Take us through the various styles of wedding stationery you create.
Well, I’m not an expert digital designer, (I am slowly learning with help from my very talented cousin, Mitesh) but what I do have, is a passion for traditional crafts. I love to source pretty papers and patterns, incorporate old crafts like binding, embossing, stamping and wood block printing. More importantly, I handcraft each invitation from the first cut to placing the last embellishment.
My styles are simple. A fusion of modern print and traditional finishes, which is perfect for the modern bride looking for something a little different.
What is your design process when creating wedding stationery for the couple?
I love to sit with my clients and discuss their ideas, work with them on a one-to-one basis to create stationery that is unique to them. Sometimes it isn’t always possible to meet, so if the client is abroad or living in another city, I try my level best to keep them updated at all times. If they already like something they see, then that makes my job easier. But more often than not, I’ve found my clients come to me, as they are looking for something unique and personal.
Do you prefer that the couple has an idea of what they want to create for their wedding or do you like to work with a blank canvas?
I do love to work with a blank canvas. In fact I am in the midst of doing exactly that for an invitation I’m working on at the moment. It does help if the couple have an idea, no matter how small or silly they think it might be. I have had some brides bring in invitation samples of a concept they like. Every couple’s wedding is an opportunity for me to create something new or to mix and match my previous designs. I love that each order has been slightly different from the others.
Do you like to keep up to date with the latest trends in wedding stationery?
Yes, most definitely! I’m always researching and getting inspiration from Pinterest, Instagram and reading great bridal magazines/blogs. It’s good to know which colours are on trend or if certain themes are arising amongst the creatives. I don’t necessarily follow it but it always gives me ideas to experiment and create.
What advice can you give to a couple when choosing their wedding stationery?
Be prepared to pay a little more than you expected for your wedding stationery. Amazingly, a lot of couples don’t budget well for stationery and it ends up being one of their bigger costs. Keep it simple but striking. Having one beautiful element on your stationery can tie in your whole wedding theme and that’s what I’m here to do for you.
Also be open to ideas and don’t be afraid to share your own ideas too. Handmade stationery takes a lot longer than a digital print process, so when planning, ensure that your invitations take the first priority on the ‘to do list.’ It’s good to start this process early with your stationer if you are opting for the bespoke range.
You also create cards for various other occasions and beautiful hand made rakhi’s for raksha bhandan. Tell us more about that.
It seems the era for putting pen to paper is slowly dying so I love it when clients get in touch and ask me to make a custom greeting card. There are still a few of us out there who enjoy writing and sending things by post. Making other paper goods, keeps my creative mind active and allows me to experiment with new and old traditions. I really enjoy it.
Raksha Bandhan has definitely grown over the years! I’ve been making my own rakhis since high school. I’m very family orientated and my brothers mean the world to me, so making rakhis for them is special and my little way of saying I love them. A few years ago, I had a few requests from friends and I posted the photos on to my Facebook page and well, since then I’ve had a lot more requests.
I use 100% cotton and traditional macramé knotting techniques to hand make each rakhi. You may often find me making rakhis on the bus or in a café, just to make sure I keep on top of orders.
I believe in giving back too, so every year I donate a percentage of my rakhi sales to the Meningitis Trust. My younger brother had meningitis when he was born and without these guys, he wouldn’t be here today. I am very lucky and forever grateful.
What do you enjoy most about creating/designing and have there been any memorable moments to date?
What I enjoy most is bringing ideas to life. I love the freedom to experiment and test my ideas. Not everything works out but that’s all part of learning.
Some of my memorable moments have actually been learning. I learned an old tradition of book binding and incorporated it into my stationery. I also had an opportunity once to have a go at letterpress printing using the traditional plates. That was amazing!
Who or what inspires you?
I find a lot of inspiration on my travels too. For instance, patterns engrained on trees, the vivid colours of the ocean, printed fabrics or even tattoo art on indigenous Maori people.
Being Indian and learning about my own culture and background is also very inspirational. We come from a heritage of great craftsmanship, and its fascinating!
Thank you so much for your time Leena. You work is so inspiring and it goes to show that with a little determination, you can achieve anything in life. If people would like to get in contact with you or purchase your creations online, how can they do so?
The easiest way to get in touch is to send through an email (even just to say hello). I also have an Etsy Shop where at the moment I sell a selection of my paper goods and rakhis but I’m hoping in the next few months to add my wedding stationery collection on there too. For the social butterflies, there is always Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
If any of Leena’s work caught your fancy, check it out here, http://www.ratanjirani.com/.
Poonam is the founder and director of The Maharani Diaries blog. She has a passion for South Asian fashion and weddings. Drinking coffee is one of her favourite pass times and she also enjoys giving up her time for charity. You’ll often find her volunteering on the side for various community events.