First generation immigrant brings global artisan shop, experience to Metro Detroit

Metro Detroit can experience international design through a new fashion, accessories and home store in Clawson, the creation of multicultural designer Ojas Akolkar.

Akolkar says India’s largest city, Mumbai, influenced her design athetic and is a major influence on her new retail location, Tribalfare.

Tribalfare is about celebrating cultures through handcrafted one-of-a-kind artisan treasures. Not only an homage to heritage craftsmanship across world cultures, but an homage to Ojas’ mother as well.

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The Troy-based entrepreneur who immigrated to the United States in the early 90s, said growing up in India has influenced her aesthetic.

“Each state in India is diverse in textiles, jewelry, food, customs and traditions. We grew up being fluent in multiple local languages, strong ties to traditional customs and practices along with a fair bit of Western influence.”

While the United States is their home base, Ojas and her family have temporarily lived in China and Mexico, introducing her to a whole new world of heritage artisans and expanding her aesthetic.

“My mother would often showcase artisan creations in our tiny apartment to support the weavers and makers of the diverse sarees and textiles she sourced.”

Creating community
But the inspiration doesn’t stop there. Tribalfare plans to impart a sense of community, offering a monthly “Chai & Chat,” cultural arts and crafts workshops, pop up dinners, travel opportunities, and more.

“I was always fascinated with the concept of tribes,” Ojas explains. “The sense of belonging and community is essential to invention and discovery. Tribes brought different people together with a common goal. So many craft processes like natural dyeing, handloom weaving, backstrap loom weaving, block carving and printing are practiced even today by the small groups or tribes where these crafts originated.”

Also setting itself apart from other retailers, is Tribalfare’s “by-appointment” model. Ojas hopes that this approach further enhances the slow, mindful and immersive shopping experience already emphasized by its warm and cozy atmosphere that encourages guests to stop and discover cultures and crafts in every room.

Home away from home
It’s an atmosphere built by design as Tribalfare’s home, ‘The House of Tribalfare’ is literally situated in a house; a two-story American Craftsman built in 1923 that has been restored to highlight the architectural vintage of the house while tastefully modernizing the décor.

When it came to finding its home, Ojas originally had her heart set on the city of Detroit. A Build Institute alumna and a TechTown Retail Boot Camp Awardee, her network and customer base was in Detroit.

“My search for this space continued in Detroit and was proving really challenging,” she explained. “Until the day I drove past this unloved yet gorgeous brick home on 14 Mile in Clawson with a ‘For Sale’ sign. Clawson has so much character and charm. Why have I not looked at any spaces outside of Detroit?”

Striving to preserve and restore the three-bedroom, two bath home’s architectural details was important to Ojas, with layout and design choices created in collaboration with Paul Karas at Ware Manufacturing. Other collaborators included Logan from Bourne Building who headed woodworking and overall project management and Matthew Fohey who contributed to the revival of the original hardwood floors.