Small Talk with The Ibu Movement’s Susan Hull Walker

November 11, 2020

A former Harvard-trained minister, Susan Hull Walker is now the founder and creative genius behind the six-year-old apparel and home-decor brand The Ibu Movement. Not only are her embroidered caftans, beaded necklaces and handwoven cocktail napkins exquisitely crafted and highly-sought after (she counts Ali McGraw and Charlotte Moss as devotees), but each piece provides her cadre of 101 women artisans across the globe financial stability while preserving ancient textile techniques. As huge Ibu fans, we couldn’t wait to ask her 37 of our burning questions.

What’s something people are most surprised to learn about you? That I went to Divinity School and served as a minister for 18 years.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received (from family, mentor or boss)? What you judge harshly in others is a quality disowned in yourself. Likewise, what you admire in others is your own unacknowledged light. Stop projecting. Own it all.

What’s the most revealing thing you can ask someone? Tell me about your childhood.

What’s the highest compliment paid to you about your work? Your work is changing the lives of so many women.

Who was your first style crush? Meryanne Loum-Martin. Staying in her Dar Tamsna villa 23 years ago fired my design imagination, plus her ongoing friendship. Her inspiring new book, Inside Marrakesh, was just published by Rizzoli!

What is your current style crush? The artisanal work of indigenous women in Colombia is richly traditional yet stunningly modern, textural, gorgeous and bold.

What’s your favorite room, anywhere, of all time, and why? The living space of the Kasliwals’ country home (they are the family behind Munnu The Gem Palace) on the outskirts of Jaipur. Being surrounded by that radical white simplicity changed my layered, patterned, color-loving self such that I am now renovating a weekend home with that much more clean, honest, hand-made and monkish sobriety.

What do you collect? Children’s hats from Guizhou, China. Ethiopian head rests. Punjab Phulkari shawls. Painted Pichhwai from Rajasthan.

What is your most prized possession? A tiny 300-year-old double adobe house in Santa Fe. It’s my happy place.

Ibu Movement’s Himroo jacket from the F/W 2020 collection.

What was your last big textile discovery? Himroo, an elaborate weaving tradition that was for centuries the lifeblood of Aurangabad, India, teetered on extinction, and is being revived. Young women are learning this complex skill and Ibu is designing jackets with them. It’s proving to be a wild success!

What’s overrated in textile design? Machine knock-offs of culturally significant hand-crafted embroidery.

What’s underrated in textile design? The language of women that can be read in hand-made cloth. It’s where their stories have always lived.

If your textiles were tagged on Instagram, what keywords would you use to describe them? #changeyoucanwear #womensupportingwomen #artisanwomen #self-authorizedlives #wearitlikeyoumeanit

Just a few of the incredibly talented women artisans who are part of the Ibu Movement.

We’re sitting in your living room—what’s the soundtrack playing? Brenda Fassie. Miriam Makeba. Van Morrison.

Where is your favorite place to unwind? Wadmalaw Island, a sea island 30 minutes from Charleston with tidal marshlands and grand live oaks.

What do you do to find inspiration? A day trip alone in the privacy of nature—meandering on a long, isolated beach or up a mountain trail.

Something you keep on your desk for inspiration: A handmade journal with my name in Arabic on the front. It was a gift from a friend and my wildest thoughts tumble onto those pages.

Susan’s inspiration board with its layers of clippings featuring fashion, art and design.

What are the three things you’d take with you to a desert island? My husband, my journal and my favorite caftan.

What’s your guilty pleasure? The flea markets of Santa Fe.

What item do you find a necessary luxury? A sumptuous vintage textile. I throw it over a sofa, a table, a bed or my shoulders.

Best hotel or restaurant interior, and why? In Batopilas Canyon, Mexico, our lovely hotel set up an overnight stay for us in a nearby cave with a tall iron bed dressed in the dreamiest white linens and sprinkled with fresh flowers, glowing in candlelight all night. Sexiest hotel room ever.

Fantasy lunch or dinner companion(s): Malala Yousafzai. Sonia Sotomayor. Indra Nooyi. Melinda Gates. Oprah. Michelle…I’d ask them to join our amazing Ibu Ambassadors carrying the flag for global women rising into self-authorized lives.

Part of your daily routine you positively cannot miss: Morning coffee in peace and quiet.

Biggest pet peeve: Dismissing others because they don’t agree with you.

I just can’t get enough of: Stripes upon stripes.

Favorite color: It’s the collision of colors I love best. Zingy chartreuse with a mature pink, plaster white with deep malachite green—my wedding dress was a sari I dyed golden amber and added deep coral beading!

Ibu’s colorful showroom in Charleston, South Carolina.Julia Lynn Photography

Favorite accessory: A big scarf. Everyday. It gives me layers, texture, tangy color and a piece of the world.

Favorite book: Fashion by Cathy Newman stays on my coffee table year after year. It shows how the people of the world really dress. Sartorial stupendousness!

Favorite place in your house: The porch, piazza or portal. Always inside out.

Favorite artwork or artist: Olga De Amaral, an artist and weaver in Bogota.

Favorite museum: The Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Favorite TV show: I confess to a Bohemian Rhapsody obsession.

Favorite flower: The enormous camellias in my garden bringing pink joy inside all winter.

Entertaining must-have: Ibu cocktail napkins.

Favorite piece found on your travels: An Indian balcony I had made into a bed.

Favorite movie set: Out of Africa.

Favorite drink: Gin and Tonic with a juicy slice of lime.