After more than 10 years of working in Los Angeles in a variety of fields, including theater, restaurants, talent agencies and non-profits, SIUE alumna Angela Ohren Kurian (B.S. ’94, Theater) has launched a new career as small business owner and children’s clothing designer.
Kurian’s company, Umma Baby, originated with an idea she had about making baby dresses out of saree fabric. Even before meeting her husband, who is from India, Kurian had always admired the beautiful Indian fabrics. After seeing the gorgeous sarees worn by her in-laws, she was inspired to use the fabrics in an innovative and original form. “The idea just came to me one day that the fabric would look really beautiful on little babies,” Kurian said.
Umma Baby is further distinguished from many other children’s clothing lines in that all of its dresses are made by hand. Most of the dresses are made in India by several talented women, who are encouraged to create their own designs. The company has also begun to develop a social entrepreneurship program in India. “We have several ideas, and we’re just narrowing it down to the best, most effective effort we can put forth there,” said Kurian.
Kurian’s father-in-law, described as the mastermind behind many of Umma Baby’s business objectives, is helping to investigate and pursue the company’s social entrepreneurship goals. He is “a very smart man [and] our inspiration to keep going with this and see Umma Baby through to its full potential,” Kurian said.
Umma Baby made a successful debut in December 2006 at the Bazaar Bizarre, a big shopping even held annually in Los Angeles. “It went really well,” said Kurian. “Not only did we sell a lot of dresses, but we got a lot of ‘buzz’ from it and found that people really loved the designs.”
Kurian is already planning on significant company growth within the next few years, beginning with a move into baby boy clothes. “Then, we’ll start making clothing for mommies, daddies, puppies and anyone else in the family who needs an Umma,” said Kurian.
“Umma” means “kiss” in Malayalam, a language that is spoken in Kerala, India, where Kurian’s in-laws are from. “We just love the word,” she said.
Kurian said she has great memories, particularly of the musicals, from her years in the SIUE Theater Department. She played Patti Simcox, the “obnoxious cheerleader that everyone hated,” in her first SIUE production, “Grease.” Later, she played Prudie Cupp in “Pump Boys & Dinettes,” which she recalls as a particularly challenging show filled with singing and tap dancing.
After graduating from SIUE in 1994, Kurian initially pursued a career in theater and landed some commercial work along with work in various St. Louis theater companies. About a decade ago, she moved to Los Angeles and started a small theater company with friends, waited tables and went to auditions.
Kurian then took a job in a talent agency, first assisting an agent and then managing actors herself. “It was only when I decided to work at an agency to see what it was like from the ‘other side’ of the table that I realized acting might not be in the cards for me any longer,” Kurian said.
Still, when a casting director Kurian met at the talent agency told her about a job at the Geffen Playhouse, a large non-profit theater in Los Angeles, she took the leap. Kurian worked at the Geffen for more than four years, and “it was a great experience to be in theater again,” she said.
Kurian added that she sees some surprising similarities between her current role as a small business owner and her former role as an actress. “As an actress, I sort of did own my own business—me,” Kurian said. “I had to sell myself as an actress to people every day in auditions…Now as a small business owner, I do a very similar thing selling our product line and doing my best to represent it well. And it’s all creative—if you want to create, it doesn’t always matter how you do it, as long as you do.”
In addition to running Umma Baby, Kurian also works as Coordinator for Partnerships & Marketing at the X PRIZE Foundation, a nonprofit international prize institution. The organization is dedicated to spurring innovation in the field’s that affect today’s biggest challenges for humanity by offering large prizes that anyone can compete to win.
In March, for instance, X PRIZE will launch a prize for the first company to produce a fully marketable car that will get 100 miles per gallon. Other prizes to be awarded over the next five years will focus on issues such as education, water, energy, and social entrepreneurship.
In her role at the foundation, Kurian works to brand and identify X PRIZE as well as gain key partnerships with individuals and corporations who “might be interested in joining us on our crusade to bring about breakthroughs to benefit humanity. It’s pretty cool stuff.”
For more information on Umma Baby, visit www.ummababy.com.