The Malee Scholarship: Interview with Chantra Malee Montoya-Pimolwatana

screenshot of malee scholarship homepage

The Malee Scholarship awards $6000 USD annually to a woman of color ages 16 and over. The deadline for the first application is April 15, 2020. We asked Chantra Malee Montoya-Pimolwatana, co-founder of Sharp Type and namesake of the scholarship, a few questions about how the idea started, the site’s beautiful branding, and the application process.

When did you realize the scholarship was necessary to help address the lack of representation of women of color in type design?
I grew up in a small New England town that was heavily rooted in the Anglo-American tradition and culture. I was part of a small percentage of people of color there, and I often felt isolated. I’ve taken that experience with me everywhere in my personal and professional life. When I first got into the type business, it was not much different than other industries I had worked in, primarily represented by a single demographic. But this time I was in a position to make a difference.

“Pay it forward” is mentioned on the site. What made you want to pay it forward with this scholarship?
This is a very important aspect of our philosophy at Malee. In my last year of high school, I was a recipient of a college fund by the Urban League of Rhode Island. The money was a great help, but what was most profound to me was the recognition and support, and vote of confidence in myself. That was a formative experience for me as I was entering a new stage of my life. Malee Scholarship is my form of paying it forward. So I ask those who are awarded by us to think of it when they are in the position to help and find their own way to give back.

What was the inspiration for the typefaces Malee and Malee Sans?
Both custom typefaces originated from a single logotype drawn by Tien Min Liao. She is a talented designer, lettering artist, and type designer from Taiwan based in NYC. We were fortunate to meet her the previous year and decided to commission her to draw a custom logotype that felt classic and scholarly, much like Roman lettering on an academic diploma. We gave Liao some image references from our recent trip to Lyon, France, where they have one of the best stone carving museums in the world. She took it and developed a beautiful style for us, that would become the framework for a complete custom serif and sans typeface.

Malee Serif and Malee Sans

My-Lan Thuong is one of the most recent additions to Sharp Type, the type foundry I co-founded with Lucas Sharp. She is an incredible type designer and stone carver, so developing Malee came naturally to her. She took Liao’s work and created a full ASCII to use for the website and branding assets. When we were developing the website, we recognized the need for greater typographic contrast on the site. Our designers longingly wished for a complimentary sans, to which we replied, “We can do that!”. Malee Sans was then designed using the skeleton of the Serif.

Tell us a bit more about the design of the Malee Scholarship website? How did the branding and design develop? Was it a collaborative process?
The Malee Scholarship was a very fun project as we got to collaborate with incredible talent throughout the entire process. For branding and website design, we worked with What The Studio. We first came across their work after seeing their beautiful execution of a branding project for the ​Netherlands Theater Festival​, which also uses Sharp Grotesk. Beyond design, we discovered we had much in common. Sara and Ekhiñe, are like Lucas and myself, partners in life and work. They are Spanish designers based in Amsterdam, and we met them in Madrid where we were based at the time. When Malee began to develop I thought of them straightaway. I gave What The a loose outline of what I was looking for, aesthetically and conceptually.They came back with one of the most thorough presentations I’d ever seen, and we selected a solid direction straight away.

The theme was education, so the website references classic paper folders, like the ones we used in school. This influenced the pastel color palette and system of tabs. What The proposed the idea of a “Women of Type” section to showcase existing typefaces designed by historic and contemporary female type designers from around the world. We reached out to some of our favorite designers in hopes that we could include their typeface, and we got an amazing response. The beauty of this section is that it will continue to grow with many other fonts by women, and with the work of our future applicants.

screenshot of Dunkel Sans from the Malee Scholarship websites

Can applicants ask for feedback on their application prior to applying?
We are not actively offering this right now, but we are willing to adapt to our applicant’s needs.For example, the original age limit was from 16–29. We had heard from several potential applicants asking if they could apply even if they were about to turn 30 or were a bit older. We then realized this was an arbitrary restriction, so we removed it entirely and opened it up to all ages 16 and up.

For more information about the scholarship or to apply, visit: https://themaleescholarship.org/

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