Words Jillian Scheinfeld Images Michael Mundy
“Just to live in the country is a full-time job,” wrote E.B. White and Ambika Conroy is living proof. The 36-year-old entrepreneur has managed to create an online avatar that is a reflection of her actual self—no small feat at a time when everyone we know seems to be more concerned with their social media image than just about anything else. Ambika, whose Hindi name translates to “goddess of the moon,” embodies the self-assertive female who practices what she preaches—and happens to look really cool while doing it.
She lives on 100 acres she won in a tax auction, in a 250-square-foot Winnebago that previously served as a traveling sex education van. She spotted the rusting trailer by its lonesome, adorned with spray paint and dirty carpet coated in flyers for STD awareness, and decided to make it her temporary home. “We gutted it and put all wood inside, so it looks like a little wooden cabin on wheels,” she said. A jack-of-many-trades, Ambika was raised in an ashram in the Catskills and split her time between South Fallsburg, NY, and the countryside outside of Mumbai. Though her upbringing was non-traditional, she wasn’t taught how to refurbish an old mobile home, nor how to siphon spring water into the holding tank in which she bathes every day. “I didn’t grow up in a family that was always homesteading. I really started to learn all of this stuff in the last 10 years, when I moved out of Brooklyn and came back home. That’s when I got into things like foraging, farming and living off the land.”
When she was 19 years old, Ambika dropped out of the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan and started crocheting fancy swimwear. It was soon spotted on the derrières of cover models in Sports Illustrated and written about in the pages of Vogue. “I was very much in the fashion world and hated it—it was never my thing,” she explains. “Now I focus on making swimwear for girls who would rather not wear swimwear, those who would rather swim naked most of the time.”
When Ambika spotted some angora rabbits at a fair, she became completely obsessed. At first, she kept two in her apartment in Brooklyn, but soon after moved upstate with the bunnies. Because they needed to be sheared on a regular basis, she was accumulating a lot of fiber. Inspiration struck and she started designing incredibly sumptuous fur hats and vests to wholesale, although the business now operates on a custom-made basis. The swimwear and angora line grew into Ambika Boutique, a sustainable, earth-friendly fashion brand.
A typical day for Ambika currently involves balancing three different jobs—four if you include living day-to-day in the country. “I make angora clothing and have the rabbits and other animals to look after. Then, I typically get on a call with my crocheters. And I’m also launching a website called “The Well-Made Life,” which is going to be in-person workshops and job sourcing for sustainable jobs,” says Ambika. “After that, I go for a good hike, go mushroom hunting and work on plans for my house here. I’m also cooking and chopping wood. And figuring out how to take a hot bath!”
Although she’s a certified badass, even the goddess of the moon can’t endure a winter in a Winnebago in upstate, NY. She keeps warm with a woodstove and hopes to get another week of running water before she has to “go bucketing it out of the spring.” Soon she’ll head south of the border. “We’re driving our truck to Mexico with the dogs. Hopefully by next year I’ll be in my new house.”