ART

Botanical Dyeing with

Cara Marie Piazza

 

 

It is nothing new for brands to claim a commitment to creating a "sustainable fashion industry," only for the results to bear an eerie resemblance to conventional fashion. Sure, some new sustainable fabrics are touted, clothing recycling programs are introduced and new language is added to websites, but clothing production and purchasing remain as frictionless, mindless, and pervasive as ever. So, has anything really changed? What if a truly disruptive approach to fashion wasn’t about trying to bend an old, broken system into a more sustainable shape, but was as simple as just slowing down?

 

When Cara Marie Piazza was studying fashion at the Chelsea College of Art and Design, she was taught the importance of sustainable production practices and the harm the industry causes when it doesn’t adhere to them. Then, when she graduated, she realized that the industry at-large had little interest in anything truly sustainable — a revelation that “disillusioned” Piazza. This realization motivated her to reject wasteful norms of the industry, and pursue a unique form of fashion production: natural dyeing.

ART

Botanical Dyeing with
Cara Marie Piazza

 

It is nothing new for brands to claim a commitment to creating a "sustainable fashion industry," only for the results to bear an eerie resemblance to conventional fashion. Sure, some new sustainable fabrics are touted, clothing recycling programs are introduced and new language is added to websites, but clothing production and purchasing remain as frictionless, mindless, and pervasive as ever. So, has anything really changed? What if a truly disruptive approach to fashion wasn’t about trying to bend an old, broken system into a more sustainable shape, but was as simple as just slowing down?

 

When Cara Marie Piazza was studying fashion at the Chelsea College of Art and Design, she was taught the importance of sustainable production practices and the harm the industry causes when it doesn’t adhere to them. Then, when she graduated, she realized that the industry at-large had little interest in anything truly sustainable — a revelation that “disillusioned” Piazza. This realization motivated her to reject wasteful norms of the industry, and pursue a unique form of fashion production: natural dyeing.

 

Cara Marie Piazza at the Mara Hoffman Store

Photo Credit: Theodore Samuels

Cara Marie Piazza at Mara Hoffman Store

Photo Credit: Theodore Samuels

 

When Piazza re-discovered the natural dyeing process, it was like “a light bulb went off," particularly when it came to botanical dyeing. “Something clicked, I started dyeing in my friend's vintage store basement, and that worked. And then, another person asked me to dye eye pillows for her. And then, someone else saw that and it just snowballed. I haven't looked back since, and that was about 12 years ago.”


In those 12 years, she’s collaborated with dozens of designers and artists, creating an array of one-of-a-kind textiles, dyed with natural materials — plant matter, minerals, botanicals, non-toxic metals and more — and treating them using achemical methods, ancient Shibori techniques and bundle dyeing. For our second collaboration with Cara, we have two dreamy renditions of the Zoya Dress — one ice-dyed with lac, chestnut, iron and soda Ash, and the other hand-dyed with indigo; every single piece is completely unique, each destined to wear for years.

When Piazza re-discovered the natural dyeing process, it was like “a light bulb went off," particularly when it came to botanical dyeing. “Something clicked, I started dyeing in my friend's vintage store basement, and that worked. And then, another person asked me to dye eye pillows for her. And then, someone else saw that and it just snowballed. I haven't looked back since, and that was about 12 years ago.”


In those 12 years, she’s collaborated with dozens of designers and artists, creating an array of one-of-a-kind textiles, dyed with natural materials — plant matter, minerals, botanicals, non-toxic metals and more — and treating them using achemical methods, ancient Shibori techniques and bundle dyeing. For our second collaboration with Cara, we have two dreamy renditions of the Zoya Dress — one ice-dyed with lac, chestnut, iron and soda Ash, and the other hand-dyed with indigo; every single piece is completely unique, each destined to wear for years.

We recently visited Cara at her studio to witness the slow magic of the process for ourselves — and it is slow. Once the fabric and ice bombs of natural dye and chemicals have been combined in the large claw foot tub in her studio there is only one thing to do — wait. “Every time I cheat and I try and look at it too soon, it never comes out well, every freaking time,” Cara said, “so you really do have to [wait], which is an exercise in meditation and patience.” When asked about how she thinks about scaling her business Cara is quick to point out the flaws in that thinking, “I think there is no need to scale at the rate that we're scaling, production wise, for clothing companies.” As she puts it, “if these disposable, fast-fashion brands were ever to implement natural dyes, they would wipe out the entire ecosystem of the dye plant that was being harvested. The thing that can be scaled is education, and I think that there's a way to give people the power and the information to do it on a much more local, regional level.”

We recently visited Cara at her studio to witness the slow magic of the process for ourselves — and it is slow. Once the fabric and ice bombs of natural dye and chemicals have been combined in the large claw foot tub in her studio there is only one thing to do — wait. “Every time I cheat and I try and look at it too soon, it never comes out well, every freaking time,” Cara said, “so you really do have to [wait], which is an exercise in meditation and patience.” When asked about how she thinks about scaling her business Cara is quick to point out the flaws in that thinking, “I think there is no need to scale at the rate that we're scaling, production wise, for clothing companies.” As she puts it, “if these disposable, fast-fashion brands were ever to implement natural dyes, they would wipe out the entire ecosystem of the dye plant that was being harvested. The thing that can be scaled is education, and I think that there's a way to give people the power and the information to do it on a much more local, regional level.”

Due to the process, those pieces are limited, but you can also try botanical dyeing out for yourself: Cara recently hosted a workshop at our Soho store, and it’s easy for you to experiment at home. You can give old pieces new life, cover up stains or reimagine the once-familiar. All you need is cloth, flower petals, a mordant, a large bowl, heat, steam and something to hold the rolled fabric in place with. To create these prints, the petals are first laid onto your textile, then rolled, bundled and steamed for two to three hours and then you let nature do its thing. You can also keep adding to whatever you create, further making it your own.

 

And the best part? You’re eschewing mindless consumption and embracing a slower, more mindful approach. “I'm a New Yorker. I am not a patient person. I am rushing, I run around everywhere. I think the joke is that I've kind of stumbled into this career path,” she said. “There's that Audre Lorde quote, ‘We teach what we need to learn,’ and I'm not getting the lesson, but it's there. The workings are there.”

Due to the process, those pieces are limited, but you can also try botanical dyeing out for yourself: Cara recently hosted a workshop at our Soho store, and it’s easy for you to experiment at home. You can give old pieces new life, cover up stains or reimagine the once-familiar. All you need is cloth, flower petals, a mordant, a large bowl, heat, steam, and something to hold the rolled fabric in place with. To create these prints, the petals are first laid onto your textile, then rolled, bundled and steamed for two to three hours and then you let nature do its thing. You can also keep adding to whatever you create, further making it your own.

 

And the best part? You’re eschewing mindless consumption and embracing a slower, more mindful approach. “I'm a New Yorker. I am not a patient person. I am rushing, I run around everywhere. I think the joke is that I've kind of stumbled into this career path,” she said. “There's that Audre Lorde quote, ‘We teach what we need to learn,’ and I'm not getting the lesson, but it's there. The workings are there.”

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