Tanwi Nandini Islam is a force to be reckoned with. Navigating the worlds of writing, publishing, and botany, she has found a way to seamlessly combine her passions and create a life that truly speaks to her. Her brands focus not just on the beautiful, but also on the meaningful, as she makes a difference by creating space for people and themes close to her heart.
We had the opportunity to chat with Tanwi about Hi Wildflower, her upcoming book, Bright Lines, where she finds inspiration, and much more. Get to know our newest leading lady in our exclusive interview below!
What was the inspiration behind Hi WildFlower, and can you tell us a bit about how you transitioned the brand from a magazine to also including botanic products?
The spirit of Hi Wildflower is to embrace freedom, difference, adventure, color, and creativity. This is my philosophy as a writer, and I always knew that there would be a shop component of the magazine. Once I started formulating my perfumes, the focus as a botanicals-inspired beauty brand really started to take over. I still want to find a way to balance the content of Hi Wildflower magazine and Hi Wildflower the beauty brand, but one only has so many hours in a day!
You’re also an author. What type of writing do you focus on—and let’s talk about your upcoming book Bright Lines? Do you feel like your two passions overlap? Does your writing affect your other creations, vice versa?
I want to write about culture, feminism and fashion—but not just a one-sided, dominant-culture picture of those things. I want to explore artists creating their work on the fringe of the mainstream, so I try to interview people whose work speaks to me on that level. Bright Lines is something I've been working on for so many years (nearly a decade), that it has become a part of how I think of the world. There's history in there, some of it the history of Bangladesh, my motherland, Brooklyn, my home. And the themes—of botany, sexuality, gender, and coming-of-age—running through the novel are all profoundly and endlessly interesting to me. Hi Wildflower is a company born out of years of hustling, writing, searching for something greater in my life that was simultaneously fun and beautiful to create. While I worked in nonprofit, burnout was such a real thing. So my brand is also for people who need some self-care, love, ritual and beauty to wash away the gritty lives we live in the city. (If you're not in a city, then I think you're very, very lucky!)
What does a normal day look like for you? How do you manage your time as both an entrepreneur as well as author?
I actually divvy up days into sections. Writing comes to me pretty late at night, and I let myself go there if I need to go there. That might even mean working until 4 in the morning. Hi Wildflower is something I give 110% to 7 days a week, that's what a business requires in the first few years—so I'm not always getting enough sleep! When I'm making batches of perfumes, I only focus on perfumes (candles will knock your nose out for days), so it's very regimented in terms of what I'm working on.
Wildflowers—what is it about them that really draws you in?
Wildflowers are symbolic of everyday beauty, tenacity and ultimate freedom. There's nowhere that they cannot thrive, especially when you drive along the California coast. All important human rituals—birth, marriage, death—use flowers to commemorate them. Wildflowers are the forgotten, low-fi flowers that are everywhere.
How have your past experiences brought you to where you are now? Did you ever imagine yourself pursuing these dreams?
I think I've wanted to write a book since at least 2nd grade! It was just that real for me. We had a book binding corner and I would write and bind little books on animals or aliens—so making the time and space to make it happen has been so wondrous. This has meant struggles to find meaningful work that still gave me the time to write, and also it's meant sacrificing a lot of the things you get when you work in an industry and grow within one space—I've been much more of a floater. That's very much our millennial spirit though, so now I've come to embrace that.
Where do you normally find inspiration?
Everywhere. I find time to be alone every week. I need space and solitude to just imagine things—new stories, new products, new ideas. The East River State Park has been a wonderful place to find quietude at sunset. One time I remember we actually saw the Perseids meteor shower (there were dozens!) and I was just so happy that, in the heart of a city, I could find the universe.
Tell us a bit about the creative process of making your products. How do you decide which scents to use? What different places and experiences do you draw in when creating a new product?
Everything begins with a story. There's so many gorgeous raw materials I'm always incorporating in my perfumes. Recently I acquired Mitti Attar, a baked earth and sandalwood attar made from Ganges riverbed dirt. I mean, building on that, I added some eucalyptus absolute, some oud and nutmeg—and immediately I was taken back to fresh rain on earth. The composition is built slowly until there is a synergy of all the notes. I'm inspired by place, by mythology, ritual and vibe—and I want my scents to encompass all of that.
If you had to describe your lifestyle in three words, what would they be?
Irreverent. Loving. Creative.
In your writing, you focus a bit on feminism. How do you suggest that women continue to support one another in the creative world and everyday life?
I focus a lot on feminism. It's probably one of the only things I've cared about profoundly for 20 years. All of my writing and work is to further the feminist cause—that no one's freedom can be had unless everyone has their freedom—and this is for women, queer, and trans people across the board. I think we are in a cultural moment where this is so necessary, and possible, and as a brand I always want to be in support of social causes that will help different freedom struggles and do some social good. This is so critical. For women entrepreneurs, we must build each other up, dialogue, collaborate, and be open and transparent with our visions for our brands and selves.
What advice do you have for others who want to do what they’re truly passionate about?
There will never be enough money, time or energy, so whatever you can muster, give your energy to your art and passions. Give yourself to your craft, and things will start to take shape. Just showing up to the page has been the hardest thing for me, and once you make the things you dream up in your head tangible goals, things start to get more exciting!
I've been super fortunate to have a loving family who has seen me through hardship, both personally and financially. My mother works very hard as a Bengali language interpreter, and when I told her I wanted to start a business, she listened and counseled me to go for it. Her investment is now a growing brand—and I think often we don't ask for help, because either we can't or we are afraid. Kickstarting our dreams through crowd funding (which I haven't yet done) is also a real possibility. Ask for help when you need help, and invest in your visions. Believe that your initial bit of money will grow—that has been the hardest part.
What’s next for you? What can we be expecting in the next couple of years?
I would love Hi Wildflower to be available in all 50 states and worldwide! I'm also working on my second novel, tentatively called THE RIVERS, which explores virtual reality, 1920s Harlem, and migration.
When do you feel most wild?
Wild is most definitely a state of mind for me. It's when walking alone in the woods, when I've been writing for days on end, or when I find the perfect shade of lipstick.