Tanwi Nandini Islam Is Everything You'd Want In A Zen Bestie
"Not only will I stare. I want my look to change reality," by bell hooks is Tanwi Nandini Islam's favorite quote. It's quite apropos considering the writer and Hi Wildflower perfumer has a way of creating new realities of fantasy, comfort and beauty with her aromatic candles and scents.
Based in Brooklyn, Tanwi has managed to balance her passions and run a successful business while still remaining incredibly zen. She's the perfect example of getting back all the positive energy one puts out, so we had to talk to her about where her inner peace comes from. Especially since she's added more to her plate with Hi Wildflower beauty and skincare products.
1. Who was your biggest source of inspiration growing up? Where do you get your work ethic from?
Both of my parents granted me my work ethic and my love of art, science and creativity. My father is a chemist and my mom a language interpreter whose worn a million career hats - so I have an abiding love of working hard and tirelessly towards my goal. In terms of inspiration growing up, two works, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon changed me. I learned to contextualize my Muslim experience with the Black American experience, and experienced prose unlike anything I'd read before. My mother gifted me a signed copy of Ms. Morrison's book when I was a teenager —something I will treasure forever.
2. In terms of worth and human rights, how can this country improve its relationships with countries like Bangladesh where we source a lot of our fashion?
I think that U.S. and European companies who work with factories in Bangladesh need to visit these spaces in person to make sure labor standards and working conditions are livable and protect the workers —mostly young women— in the factories. The lack of compliance and follow-through has allowed tragedies like factory fires or building collapses like Rana Plaza to occur.
3. As a Muslim-American, in light of the current political climate, do you feel an obligation to shift any negative stereotypes? Or is it the responsibility of another group (government, religious leaders, etc.)?
As a writer and perfumer, my work is to illuminate what hasn't been brought to light before. I'm not a religious person, but culturally and politically I consider myself a part of the Muslim diaspora. My name carries the weight of the faith I grew up in, so there's no running from that —and I want to do my part of bring as much consciousness about how my community is much more complex and vibrant than what stereotypes allow.
4. You talked about the power of saying "No" for Elle.com: How does that carry itself into the act of daily self care?
I have to say "No" to preserve my sense of self, to make time for what I love —writing, making art, being with friends in social spaces. It's hard to do that when you hustle every single day to make enough money to live. You find yourself saying "yes" because "no" feels too hard, or like it might jeopardize you in some way. But the more of myself I have, the happier and more productive I am.
5. A theme of "Bright Lines" is home: What designates a place as home to you? And how has all your traveling dictated where you call home?
"Bright Lines" is a meditation on all of these disparate yet connected parts of my life - Brooklyn, Bangladesh, coming-of-age, taboos, and home. I feel at home with people who see me, know that I am loving yet complicated person, and accept the good, the bad and hold me accountable. Traveling let me learn my independent nature, my sense of adventure, and deep appreciation of the interconnectedness of all people, no matter where we're from.
6. When did you first realize you were a Brown girl?
Very early, probably when I was first bullied in kindergarten by another light-skinned brown girl! A significant brown girl moment as a kid, around age 7, happened when I went for the "Tawny" crayon (coincidentally reminiscent of my first name) instead of "Peach". I realized I'd been drawing myself all wrong.