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15 Minutes With: AmMu Cherian

By Nan Bialek

Sept. 2017

When GE Healthcare asked Ammu Cherian’s husband to transfer from his post in India to Wisconsin last year, she saw an opportunity to pursue her dream of becoming a designer. She quickly absorbed the basics of American entrepreneurship at Waukesha County Technical College business workshops and launched her own label, called Amu. Look for Cherian’s fresh line of collectible classics during Milwaukee Fashion Week. 

What is your “elevator speech” about Amu?

We make handprinted, artisanal clothing inspired by India. A whole part of this is to empower women. When you buy our clothes, you have helped so many other people in the process, because 10 percent of our sales go to organizations that fight sex trafficking and homelessness.

What type of person do you have in mind as you design?

The woman I imagine is a person who is sensuous, who likes to dress up, but doesn’t always wear high heels — a woman who likes to be unique, but not uncomfortable. She wants to stand out; she enjoys color because she’s adventuresome. She likely has a bohemian spirit, but is not every day over the top. She might be a teacher, a business executive, an artist — somebody who has a strong personality but has a creative outlook.

Where do you find inspiration for your work?

A lot of my clothes are based out of what I feel. There’s a lot of color — the fall and spring colors. Just seeing that makes me happy. For custom work, I try to get to know (the customer) as a person — what they like to do, what kind of wardrobe they have, favorite colors. I always ask lots of questions. I want the design to be a timeless piece, to grow with you as a person. I think clothes reflect personality, so I try to design quality.

Your pieces are block-printed by hand.  Tell us about the process.

The blocks that I use are hand-carved blocks designed by artisans in India. I use those blocks to create patterns. So I spread the ink on the block and stamp on the fabric. Usually I design the outfit and print the pattern according to the outfit. I don’t print on yards of fabric and then sew; I design and then print. The blocks are about 4-by-4 inches, so the patterns are quite small. I like to put the blocks together to create new patterns.

Where would you like Amu to be in five years?

The idea is to help local economy through our business, to bring artistry back and empower women through the whole process. We want to teach women how to print on clothes, and we want to have a manufacturing unit, hopefully in Milwaukee. It’s not that we want to be large-scale manufacturers. Each design is less than 10 or 12 of the same design. Everything is made ethically, and we try to get ourselves involved in fashion that’s sustainable. I would like to bring handmade clothing back, and make it in a more affordable manner.

What do you do just for fun?

My husband and I travel a lot. We’ve been to Detroit, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Indiana and Minnesota. He plays soccer, and I hang out with friends. And we see lots of movies.

For more on the Amu fashion line, go to

My Five Favorite Things!

1 Baking cakes and fancy desserts

2 Collecting fabric — I love my fabric collection

3 Traveling

4 Collecting stationery

5 Block printing; seeing how the blocks can work together

This story ran in the Sept. 2017 issue of: