CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE COMMUNITY YOU’RE BUILDING WITH SEEK IN INDIA? I feel incredibly fortunate for all the people and places that I work with as they all inspire me! I work with several different communities throughout India. The silk crepe I use comes from Bangalore and Mysore in South India. All my printing is done in the town of Bagru located outside of the northwestern city of Jaipur, where hand block printing has been done for over 350 years. The handloom woven fabric is done with a charitable trust dedicated to women empowerment in central India. Some natural dye work is done with a group started by a molecular biologist in South India and I’m about to begin work with a group in Mumbai that does natural dyes and tie-dyeing as well as employs women from the slums. I work with a factory in New York City as well as with a factory in India, the latter having a water treatment facility to recycle and reduce water usage and adheres to government mandated minimum wages as a starting point. I’m also beginning to look into working with artisan communities outside of India, which I’m very excited about. It’s really important to me to have a close relationship with everyone I work with so when I’m there, at least two times a year, while I’m focused on production, I really spend time to meet with the managers, visit with the artisans, and generally check in with everyone, all while drinking far too much chai! Many of the people I work with feel like extended family to me at this point and I look forward to seeing them each visit.
YOU’VE TRAVELED ALL OVER THE WORLD. WHAT MADE YOU CHOOSE INDIA AS THE PLACE TO SET UP SHOP? I got the travel bug young and since then traveling has always been important to me so I feel lucky to have visited so many places. When I was still in college at Parsons, I began to study textiles and as I did I kept coming back to India as a sort of mother ship with so many incredible textile heritages. [India employs about 34.5 million artisans.] By senior year, I knew I wanted to get there but the trip honestly seemed daunting and in the meantime I had to work so I threw myself into textile research and textile courses on the side. On my first trip to India, years after college and with many years of work under my belt at companies like Calvin Klein Jeans, Anne Valerie Hash, Converse and Armani Exchange, I traveled to India for an artist residency to work on my paintings in the state of Gujurat. I then spent several months exploring the country as well as meeting with various artisan groups. Seek Collective began to take shape on that initial journey to Hindustan!
CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT THE DYES YOU WORK WITH? I work with natural dyes as much as possible, which means dyes that are derived from plants and minerals. While 40,000-50,000 tons of synthetic dyestuff containing heavy metals, benzene, and formaldehyde end up in rivers and waters systems a year, natural dyes are not always perfect but in comparison cause much less environmental harm. They also create interesting challenges because there is a certain limit to colors but every season it is a fun exploration to see what can be done with them and leads to unexpected solutions and results. In terms of final product, it means there will always be slight variations in color due to the natural dyes as well as the nature of hand done work, so each piece truly is unique and special.