Vv Magazine’s Neelam Champaneri talks to Toronto henna artist Divya Patel about the art of applying henna, how she got started, and what’s next.
During the school year, you can usually find Divya Patel poring over books and notes, studying neuroscience at the University of Toronto. But when summer hits, Divya dusts off her passport and flies across the globe as an in-demand henna artist with her business, Henna by Divya.
Divya has been to various parts of the US, as well as the Middle East and India. I sat down to chat with her before she hopped on her flight to Dubai, where she went to help a fellow artist apply henna on clients for Eid.
“I’m taking mehndi appointments in Dubai for a few days to celebrate Eid. I’m excited to experience this because I’m so used to travelling for bridal appointments,” exclaims Divya.
At only 20 years of age, Divya is changing the henna game one body canvas at a time.
Henna, traditionally known as mehndi, is a dye that is used for temporary tattooing. For those who alternate between the two terms like myself, it’s interesting to note that henna and mehndi are not actually synonymous. Henna is the plant from which the dye is extracted, and mehndi is the art of applying it.
Divya is a rising henna artist who specializes in bridal mehndi but can also take on more contemporary requests. Through the flexibility of her designs, her clientele is constantly growing.
Divya became famous through her social media profiles, especially her Instagram account, @HennaByDivya, which garnered over 176,000 followers within its first year. She herself can’t take in the popularity of her work. “It’s so hard for me to answer questions about my fan base because it’s a huge thing for me and it happened so quickly,” says Divya shyly.
Divya grew up in Gujarat, India, and moved to Canada when she was nine years old.
The application of henna is very popular within the Indian culture. “My mom was a makeup artist back in India. All her friends were either makeup or henna artists, so I always had henna on for the heck of it.”
This art, which originated in India, has been practiced for over 5,000 years. The henna plant contains cooling properties, which were favoured due to the warm climates. The dye is applied to the skin and dries after a few hours. Once removed, it leaves some pretty incredible patterns. This is where the idea of mehndi came from. Over the years, mehndi has been used as a beautification tool, for decorative purposes, and is also a bridal staple at wedding ceremonies.
When Divya moved to Canada, her mother brought back henna cones and how-to books so she could practice. “I‘ve always been a huge fan of painting,” says Divya. “Henna is essentially a painting tool. This became a different medium for me.”
Her family settled in Markham, where they were a part of a diverse community. “I was around people who knew and didn’t know what henna was.”
Thanks to the support from her friends and family, her name began to spread by word-of-mouth, and she received her first clients. “I started off by doing Guyanese weddings, and later when I moved to Scarborough, it was mainly Punjabi. It was a huge shift in henna styles and requests too. Bridal can get hectic because everyone wants something different but intricate.” The shift she’s referring to is that some people opt for contemporary designs, while many still prefer traditional ones.
“It’s always good to keep a balance between contemporary and traditional. When you close yourself off to traditional styles, you begin to limit your clientele. I’ve noticed that brides tend to lean towards traditional. Whereas those who are only applying it for fun choose contemporary. Then again, anyone can do anything.”
Alternating between styles often poses a challenge. “Growing up, I was so used to doing traditional that when I started getting into contemporary, I had to tell my clients to bear with me because I felt new to it, and mehndi is something you don’t want to mess up,” says Divya. It’s true—if you make a mess with the henna, you’re stuck with a wacky pattern for a few weeks.
Divya is just starting to get into the business, but overall, this is her main hobby. When her clientele grew, she began creating a portfolio of her works. Divya says that her family and friends encouraged her to publicize her works online, but she was wary of the outcome. “When I started my Instagram, I didn’t know what was going to come out of it,” explains Divya. “I wasn’t sure if it was a good medium to start a business through.”
“My followers request a lot of tutorials, which I never planned to do on my own. I never knew I would make a YouTube channel either. I love making videos and putting that art into action.”
By reaching out to her followers, she also establishes many friendships with both clients and artists. As an artist, it’s always good to have contacts.
“Brides-to-be see my pictures and ask me to do their mehndi. People always message me when I’m travelling, so I’m looking to get in touch with wedding planners to book appointments. I was in California recently doing bridal mehndi and I also got to meet a lot of artists who follow me online. I’ve also been to New York and New Jersey, there’s a huge client base there.”
Most importantly, meeting other artists allows for learning experiences. Toronto is a cultural hub, so living in the city means constant exposure to different people from different cultures. Traditionally, mehndi was limited to Indian and Egyptian brides and was therefore targeted towards a specific culture, but with international artists coming to Toronto, they are able to share their own way of decorating skin and try something new in the process.
“Different touches help evolve it. For example, I didn’t know henna could be applied on other parts of the body, including a pregnant belly. I didn’t even know that men could wear it too,” says Divya.
Aside from her in-demand henna art, Divya still has other priorities. “Henna By Divya is something I’d love to pursue later in life. But for now, it’s completely part time. I’m still a full time student, I’m going back to university this September.”
Would you try Henna by Divya? Let Vv Magazine know in the comments below, or tweet us @ViewtheVibe.