Faces: Upstate's Kalen Kaminski On The Art Of Dyeing
UPSTATE had us with easy and stylish tie dyed ponchos when they first debuted several years ago. Now, they've sealed our undying—excuse the pun!—affection with near-perfect womenswear inspired by the spirit of that original connection. We caught up with designer Kalen Kaminski in her Brooklyn studio to learn what goes on behind the dye vats.
How did you first discover Shibori dyeing techniques and what was it that so captured your attention and imagination?
I had a roommate who was an amazing artist and was making these really beautiful intricate Shibori pieces. My business partner at the time and I were starting a scarf line but couldn't find the right textile and instantly fell in love with Shibori. We started teaching ourselves the techniques through different books and youtube videos. Shibori and hand dyed artistic processes in general captures my imagination because of it's almost 3-D affect that produces the most amazing texture. It's visually stimulating and I think therapeutic and calming to look at.
What were some of your more surprising discoveries when you initially started working with indigo?
Not to sound negative, but to be honest my most surprising discovery when I started working with indigo is that I wanted to be as far away from indigo as possible and use different dyes such as a procion fiber reactive dye that still has the same color and outcome but not nearly as toxic and difficult to work with. Pre-reduced indigo (indigo) is toxic, has a crazy odor and is high maintenance. I prefer a procion dye and would love to start doing some limited editions in natural dyes. About four years ago my roommate and I had an indigo vat on our balcony and it felt like we had adopted a small child... it needed constant attention for days at a time!
How has your relationship with dyeing changed now that you have several years and collections under your belt?
I feel like my relationship with dyeing is quite similar to a relationship with a very close friend or boyfriend. You go through ups and downs because there are always outside variables (good and bad) influencing change and growth with techniques and colors. My relationship with hand dyeing has grown throughout the years with expanding outside of Shibori techniques into other artistic process such as painting, tie-dyeing and marbling fabric. As Upstate continues to grow, it's important to standardize techniques. When we had small orders, stores understood that everything was one of a kind. Now with the growth of online shopping items need to be as standardized as possible so the customer knows what they are receiving.
When and how did you make the decision to expand UPSTATE's offerings beyond dyed scarves and shawls?
It kind of happened by accident. We designed an edition for OF A KIND and wanted to try out a top. We had such positive feedback and it sold out right away that it seemed like a no brainer to expand into womenswear.
Walk us through your design process: How do you instill the same spirit and sensibilities of that first collection, even in garments that aren't hand dyed?
The design process starts with pulling inspiration from my gigantic magazine and book collection. I'll go to vintage stores, thrift stores and shop on Ebay for inspirational pieces. Once I pull all of my inspiration together, I'll sketch and make collages of what I like. Simultaneously, I'll experiment with different hand dyed techniques and colors. Even our solid fabric has a story behind it. Maybe it's stonewashed, sandwashed, organic, woven in a particular way…
What role does color play in your life and work?
I LOVE color so much and I seem to go through color phases week to week. Most UPSTATE pieces have this vibrancy that add a pop to any outfit. I love to collect vibrant colorful tapestries, jewelry and ephemera on my travels which is reflected in both my home and studio.
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