As a young girl growing up in Coimbatore, India, Kaviya Ravi aspired to be a creative designer, but her traditional Indian upbringing pushed her into pursuing a degree in biochemistry. Today as a creative designer and entrepreneur in Louisville, Kentucky and a star contestant on the third season of the NBC reality show, “Making It,” Ravi has taken the creative world by storm, a living example, she says, of “…women taking charge of their own lives and pursuing their true passion as a path to success.”
“Making It” is a competition featuring contestants from the arts and crafts industry, and is produced and hosted by actress and self-proclaimed craft novice Amy Poehler and woodworking guru Nick Offerman. On the show, an arts and crafts version of food or fashion competitions such as “Top Chef” or “Project Runway,” craft “makers” from across the country compete to make a variety of handmade, DIY projects. They are judged by an expert panel on their imagination, craftsmanship, and ability to tie personal stories about their craftiness and creativity.
As a contestant Ravi’s crafts showcased her Indian culture and her love for bright and bold colors, regaling judges and fellow contestants with stories, also colorful, of her upbringing, her arranged marriage and coming to America. Today, Ravi has an online shop on Etsy called Khromophilia with the motto to always stay “Unapologetically Colorful.” Her shop carries a wide range of products for people and their homes. Everything is handmade at her home studio.She works for Anthropologie as a display coordinator. During the lockdown, she transformed her entire home into a colorful happy space. We sat down with Ravi recently to talk about her journey from India and science to the United States and the world of arts and crafts.
Kaviya, take us back to your childhood. Where were you born and what values did you learn growing up?
I was born in Tamil Nadu in Coimbatore And childhood was happy. It was simple, and I felt very loved by my parents. But then again, I come from a very traditional family. Being a girl, there were a lot of rules and restrictions for me growing up. I was still a very spirited child — or spoiled, as my mom would say — because I was questioning everything.
How did you get into arts and crafts?
Growing up, I was always inclined towards the creative side of things. I was interested in a creative career, but resources were not available to me in India like they are here and my parents didn’t want me to go that way. The most I would do is color with crayons or take a painting class. I did apply to design school, but the acceptance never arrived. I was so disappointed. I thought I was just not creative enough for design school. Years later, after I moved to the US, my mom told me that I did in fact get accepted. But she just tore the letter up before I could see it because she wanted me to go into biochemistry, the traditional route. And at that point, it was too late to be mad at her.
How did you get from biochemistry to arts, architecture and interior design?
I never thought that changing careers mid-life was possible. Because I never saw anybody in my community doing it, I never saw it as an option for me. After I got married, I moved to the United States and enrolled for my masters and was just miserable. I love science even today. But I was always drawn to color and doing things with my hands. That’s what brought so much joy to me and my husband, who is my best friend and my biggest cheerleader. He encouraged me to explore and discover myself. I took the plunge, dropped out of my masters and enrolled for a bachelor’s degree in art school. That day, I felt freedom, like this burden was lifted off my shoulders. It felt amazing. And that’s when I knew this was the right path for me.
That was a lot of change. You move to Kentucky with your husband, drop out of a master’s degree in biochemistry and start over in art school. What was life like at that time?
Being in art school was not easy. I had to work twice as hard because everything was new to me, I had to learn many new skills. But I had some amazing professors who encouraged me to dig deep, to become an artist and to dream big. And I was part of the artists community and interacting with other artists, makers and designers. I started off with weavings. I think, being born in India, it’s in my blood to love textiles and colors. So I taught myself how to weave. And I made all these tapestries that I was selling in local stores, and thought, “You know what, let’s try to sell a couple on Etsy.” Now I’m always learning because there’s so much to learn. And I hope, even when I’m like a hundred years old, in a wheelchair, I’m still learning.
And now I’m into wearable art. That’s what I call my earrings and baskets. I want art to be available for everybody, because sometimes it can get expensive. So I want to make something small that everybody can be proud of owning and sporting.
How did you hear about the NBC show “Making It,” and why did you decide to apply for it?
Okay, so I’m not a person that’s big on faith, but this was a crazy story. One day, when I was working as a display coordinator for Anthropologie, a co-worker of mine told me to apply for a show called “Making It.” I was thinking about it and the next day, my husband sends me one of my favorite podcasts on NPR with Simon Doonan (I’m a big fan) talking about auditioning to be cast as a judge on “Making It.”
I decided, I’m just going to give it a shot. It was a very long, intense casting process, and when they finally invited me to LA to shoot for the show, I was so excited. I never thought I would be part of something like this. It was such a wonderful production, with the friendliest people ever.
What was it like to watch yourself on TV?
Oh my god, I was such a nervous mess. I thought that I would be so boring that they would edit me right off. And it was an awful feeling. But I had some friends over and watched it with them. And it was beautiful. I was reliving every moment because it had been almost eight months after taping. I made the cut, and they didn’t take me out and I don’t think I was boring either.
Not only were you not boring, you were exciting. What is your American dream and America has really been a land of opportunities for you?
I think there is no one, single definition of an American dream. But I’m trying to live mine. And absolutely, the US has been a land of opportunities in so many ways. It has led me to flourish, get my wings and fly and taught me that I don’t have to be behind any man just because I’m a woman. I can do whatever I want. I can be whoever I want. I can go however high I want.
What’s your message to other women, especially those coming from India, and trying to live the American dream? What are the lessons that they can take from you?
I want women to know that they are the only ones in charge of their lives. Not anybody else, just you. Do whatever makes you happy. There is just one life, and never ever compare yourself to anybody else. We are all on different paths in our lives. Our journeys are different. So it’s not fair to compare ourselves to one another. Just be supportive of one another and lead your life the way you want to.