Sonal Patel-Cochran loves creating spaces and products that bring people joy, and she’s turned that passion into a growing business. The Mercer University alumna, who graduated with degrees in communications and art in 2002, is the owner of home decor brand Tribe, which is based in Atlanta.
Patel-Cochran began her career journey at Mercer, where she took her first full-time job after graduation. For nearly two years, she did communications work on the Atlanta campus for the Georgia Baptist College of Nursing, College of Pharmacy and School of Medicine.
She loved working for Mercer but found herself drawn to a new opportunity that aligned with one of her biggest interests: fashion. She joined the clothing buyer training program at Macy’s South corporate office, where she worked in the juniors division and advanced quickly to the buyer level.
“I fell in love with that. That job is a mix of creativity, data analysis and customer understanding,” she said.
After five years at Macy’s, Patel-Cochran became a buyer at K&G Fashion Superstore in Atlanta. In this role, she developed the young women’s department and enjoyed the creative and design opportunities. After she and her husband, Russ, had their first child, she began a new position with the company that involved styling and social media work and less travel.
When her time at K&G came to a close, her focus “flipped from fashion to the world of interiors.” With her second child on the way and a new house under construction, she dove into the customization of her home. She found it refreshing to work with something besides clothing.
“When you transform the space you’re in, it can change your day; it can change your mood; it can make you feel like yourself,” Patel-Cochran said. “As I was building my house, I couldn’t find a lot of things that felt like me, that had the colors I wanted or the originality I wanted. So I started making those things for myself. I saw how many people were so excited by what I had, and I really wanted to be able to do that for other people.”
She helped a friend launch the wholesale division of her brand, Grace Graffiti, and created some designs for her, and she still manages that part of the business today. This connection led Patel-Cochran to begin doing custom textile patterns, product sourcing and interior design jobs for clients, and to eventually start Tribe.
She had always wanted to have her own brand but kept putting it off. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she finally had time to finish everything and launch Tribe.
Through her travels, Patel-Cochran had forged relationships with artisans and amassed a collection of items for her interior design clients and retail/home projects. With tourism at a halt amid the pandemic, the artisans she knew were struggling, and Tribe was a way to help them.
“I put myself in a position where we would create products together, and I would do some pop-up shops here in Atlanta to try to help give some consistent income to the people I was working with because they had lost those opportunities,” she said.
Patel-Cochran works directly with local and international artisans who make the items and collaborates with them on designs. She is dedicated to using fair trade and ethical sourcing practices and “creating inspired spaces that embrace the spirit of cultures around the world,” according to her website.
In addition to handmade items, Tribe also focuses on vintage items and materials, some of which are repurposed. The products contain bold colors, vibrant patterns, and global and Bohemian elements.
“A lot of the products we carry are inspired or created by places that I’ve been and my personal background,” Patel-Cochran said. “Being Indian American, the way I connect most with my culture is through textiles and the history of all the different tribes surrounding the region of India where my family comes from. All of our product is definitely rooted in traditional processes, people creating all these wonderful methods to express themselves. It’s lots of things to ground spaces and give places a sense of culture and history.”
Tribe products can be found online as well as in booths in Atlanta’s Ponce City Market, Westside Market Midtown and Westside Market Toco Hills. Items for sale include baskets, blankets, pillows, art, pottery, rugs, dishes, handbags, ottomans, floor poufs and accessories.
“The response to all of our products has been so great,” said Patel-Cochran, who was named one of Product Culture’s 50 South Asian Women Founders to Know in July. “Almost everything is one of a kind. I love having my own brand and keeping it small. Quantity of orders is not as important as quality.”
Patel-Cochran is currently working to expand her website and grow her online customer base. She looks forward to traveling again in the future so she can meet new artists, and she plans to get back to hand-dying and crafting her own products from scratch for her shop.
“I love the opportunity to really teach people about where things come from,” she said. “All of the patterns that you see (in my products) have come from years and years of art that people have done. I love being able to go back to the culture that created those types of patterns, images, colors and bring that into a modern setting and really let those artists and cultures shine.”