Deepali Kalia began Filling Spaces with a passion for textiles and interior design—and an unwavering commitment to her dream. From there, her business has evolved over two decades of growth. She shared her story with us and offered some beautiful insights along the way.
When did you get the urge to start Filling Spaces? What were the first steps you took?
Deepali: To answer that, I will have to take you 20 years back. I was working in India, surrounded by textiles, creating product lines for buyers from various fashion and home brands. I then had an arranged marriage, moved to the US, and started looking for a job in textile or fashion-related studios. My first job was working in a fabric store as a sales associate, because that was all I could find. I also decided to go back to school for an interior design degree. I was missing my high-paced work environment in India; I yearned to work with textiles and create products.
After I finished school, I decided to reach out to my textile contacts in India and to begin designing textiles again—that was the start of Filling Spaces. I visited with my friends, designed some textiles, and approached the interior design community in Portland to introduce them to the custom options and availability in my fabric designs.
So, you’ve operated your business between the US and India from the start. How have you made that work?
Deepali: After working with acquaintances in India for a few years, I realized that there were so many limitations to what I could do without being there myself. I approached my younger sister Nanu, who lives in India. She is now my business partner and we design and manufacture products as we desire. This way we will have more quality control over our products, along with using the best practices when we hire our artisans in India. We wanted to create our designs and have exclusive products made ethically.
There are challenges when working with your family members—the work time never stops! I will call her in the middle of the night if needed; it’s work 24/7, especially when we were starting up our business. Working with a family member, especially my sister, was the best decision I made. We have been through all the ups and downs together, and we see the best and worst of each other! We understand each other; I am the design and marketing part of the company, she is the manufacturing side, and we bring the best of both worlds.
How did your journey as a business owner coincide with your motherhood journey?
Deepali: When I started doing textile design and working with interior designers in Portland, I decided to open a retail store as well. That was when I had my first child, Annika; she just turned 10. I was experiencing retail for the very first time and being a mom as well! It wasn’t easy! Every single day was a challenge, trying to cope with understanding a new business and a new baby. But time flies and you grow out of all the pains. I was learning motherhood and also expanding my products. I started creating product lines for different brands and selling some of my designs online; the response was great. It was encouraging to see our products doing well in different cities and online. My sister and I planned to show our products in trade shows, around the same time I found out I was pregnant with my second child. It was then I realized I had to let go of my retail business and expand my wholesale presence!
How has your business evolved over time?
Deepali: It has evolved a lot! From selling furniture to selling lights, I think I’ve done it all. It seems like I have found my real passion in what got me started in the first place—love for textiles. We’ve gone from a small 800 sqft store space to 500+ stockists and 700+ to-trade interior designers using our products in their stores and design projects.
In what ways do the choices you’ve made in your career help you be the mama you want to be?
Deepali: My career is exactly how motherhood is: no two days are the same. It’s about being adventurous and trying again and again until you succeed. When you fail, you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try again. I let my children be themselves—I celebrate their every victory, as well as every failure, and I cheer them up along the way.
How do your values around community impact the way you run Filling Spaces?
Deepali: I firmly believe in paying our artisans fairly and acknowledging the incredible skill and patience that goes into their craft. The community’s appreciative responses to our ethical business practices encourage us to keep going.
What do you find most joyful about your work?
Deepali: Seeing my designs come to life, from a simple sketch to end product. Working for myself, along with talented ladies in Filling Spaces USA and India offices, is the most joyful thing and I am so grateful for that every single day.
What advice would you give a mama (or mama-to-be) who’s thinking about starting a business, but is afraid to get started?
Deepali: Follow your instincts. If you love something and want to pursue your dream, go for it! Take baby steps at first and then dive in full-heartedly. The universe will carve your way if you don’t give up. Never be afraid to ask for help from the community around you, especially like-minded mamas who can relate to you and understand you. Make a business plan, review it from time to time, and then tweak it as your needs start to change. Stay focused when your hard work begins to show results.
What does the power of community mean to you as a mama?
Deepali: The people in your community are your cheerleaders, supporters, and living Google! Our communities shape our mindsets, passions, hobbies, and they encourage us. They help us become better than we ever believed possible. That is a huge part of the power of community.
Motherhood is the most challenging and rewarding aspect of your life. There is no good parenting or bad parenting; we are all doing our best for our kids. Trying to compete with the Pinterest board is not worth it.
Time does fly! Enjoy your kids and keep the phone away in the evening, so you are physically and mentally present for your family.
Pamper yourself, and surround yourself with positive-minded people.