**UPDATE: We are so humbled and thrilled to be on the cover of RedEye Chicago! Check out the feature below.
"Harish Patel wears his travels on his back - Indian heritage became inspiration for Ishi Vest"
Harish Patel was just 15 years old when he immigrated to Chicago from Gujarat, India. His American dream revolved around becoming a doctor—until he got to college and realized he liked philosophy courses a lot more than his pre-med textbooks.
As Patel grappled with telling his mother—who still lived in India—he also struggled to figure out who he was.
“I went through this identity crisis in college, wondering, ‘Am I Indian? Am I American? Am I both? What does that mean?’” he said. “The U.S. does that to people. It makes you question who you are.”
Questions like these led Patel to scrap Plan A. He graduated from UIC with a degree in political science and a minor in philosophy. Later, he’d return for a master’s degree in urban planning and policy.
Today, 29-year-old Patel’s business card totes the title of chief connector of Ishi Vest, his own line of chemical-free, fair-trade, organic vests and scarves. Although the Albany Park resident shrugs off the idea of being a fashion designer, he’s involved in every aspect of his vests: the design, manufacturing process, sale and message.
It all started when Patel returned from a yearlong trip to India, where he was working with the Association for India’s Development. He traveled the country doing site visits to show donors where their money was going. Patel learned a lot about his homeland—he met farmers, visited their fields and found out about the health problems they faced. Pesticide-heavy farming had wreaked havoc on the land and its caretakers, sometimes leading to cancer. The pesticides and chemicals would work to the farmers’ advantage for several years, but Patel heard stories of land that stopped producing. With their livelihoods and incomes at stake, some farmers sink into depression. Since 1995, about 300,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide.
“I’m learning all of this and trying to figure out how I’m going to allow myself to change—my food habits and clothing habits—but then also how I’m going to tell these stories of the people I’d met,” Patel said. “I didn’t want it to be just through reports—very few people read reports and academic journals.”