Some of the most inspiring people are people that own small businesses. They are tending to so many facets of a business, not only the fun or creative aspects. I’ve known this for quite some time myself and it’s always a negotiation on what needs to be done next. So, with this next interview, I want to share a fellow maker that I came across. Being a lover of all things indigo I was immediately drawn to her Shibori craftsmanship.
Katrin Reifeiss founded her handmade apparel company in 2007. She focuses on simple, relaxed silhouettes that complement and showcase hand-dyed patterns. She works with various dye techniques utilizing both natural dyes and Japanese Shibori. Traditional Shibori is a Japanese dyeing technique utilizing indigo that involves manipulating fabric by folding, binding, and so on to create unique textile designs. There are a variety of names for each type of Shibori whether it is pleated like Kumo or stitched like Nui.
Katrin is dedicated to craftsmanship and learning along the way. She wants to inspire folks to think more seriously about their garments and truly invest in them. From her studio in upstate NY, Katrin shared with us her story and what she’d like to see more of in the future. Check out the interview!
Katrin Reifeiss: The joy and satisfaction of creating fabric for my designs was the inspiration to start my own line of hand-dyed clothing.
While I attended Mass College of Art in Boston, I shifted from a painting major and graduated as a fashion design major (painting and fashion are two great loves of mine). I took a textile class learning a variety of dye techniques and I realized I could combine my love of painting with fashion by creating my own patterns and designs on fabric as if it was a canvas. Japanese Shibori was the technique I enjoyed the most.
Was there a learning curve and what steps did you take to hone your craft? Maybe there was an element that took time to perfect?
Katrin: After college, I continued to read a lot of books on Shibori, highly recommend Shibori: The Inventive Art of Japanese Shaped Resist Dyeing by Yoshiko Wada, and to dye, dye, dye creating many swatch books of colors and patterns over time. Ultimately the best way to hone a craft is by doing, trying again and again, keeping copious notes and being open to learning through relentless experimentation.
Had you always set-out to start a business and if so what was the vision at that time? Do you see things differently now 10+ years later?
Katrin: I have always wanted to work for myself, create a business that I love, that I feel good about and make a living at. With the depth of knowledge I have accumulated since I first became interested in Shibori, my line has grown.
I’m a curious person and look forward to growing my business, embracing different paths like sustainable fashion and new opportunities like teaching Shibori, that is exciting!
How do you choose what to design, add, or create? Is it based around a season, theme, etc?
Katrin: I have so many ideas that it is hard to narrow down a design or pattern but I try and keep to a few simple rules.
For my made-to-order Katrin Reifeiss line, I focus on the square for my silhouette as I want the Shibori pattern to stand out and be celebrated. For WEAR UPSTATE by Katrin Reifeiss Limited Edition line, it is a line inspired by living in the Hudson Valley and natural dyes are used whenever possible.
There is no season I adhere to for either collection. I strive to create pieces that transcend seasons and hope people see them as timeless as well, an item they would love to wear again and again for many years.
Can you walk us through the lifecycle of one of your garments and what it means to you?
Katrin: My Katrin Reifeiss line is made-to-order, my customers receive an item made just for them. Once I receive the order I manipulate the fabric with the Shibori technique required, dye the fabric, cut out the pattern, sew and then ship it. From start to finish this process can take a couple of days to a week depending on my schedule.
When dye enters shaped cloth one never knows how the pattern will turn out, you never know what you will get! This creates a truly unique piece every time. No two items in my collection are exactly the same. What I also like about made-to-order is it helps keep down textile waste and eliminates excess inventory too.
WEAR UPSTATE by Katrin Reifeiss is a limited-edition line, 4-5 pieces per style. Inspired by living in the beautiful Hudson Valley, I sew each piece then garment dye them. Working with natural dyes has been so much fun! It also is a long process from mordanting the garment, extracting dye from the natural material then dyeing the garment. For example, my Belle Tops dyed in marigold petals took 2-3 days to dye, not including sewing time. With WEAR UPSTATE I plan to offer new LE pieces every couple of months.
Since you are literally doing all of the hand dyeing do you find it can be a sustainable way of doing business or does it have its challenges?
Katrin: Doing everything myself definitely has its challenges. I have just begun working with a local factory so I no longer sew everything leaving me time to dye and try out new techniques, work on my website and more.
And I have a young son and time for him and my work is a huge challenge. I do my best, and I have to be good about making time and routines that work for both of us.
Do you think there is a great understanding of the cost or value of making goods slow and sustainable?
Katrin: As a small business, it is very important to educate my customer. Not by just telling them how their item is made but also showing a video on my social media site featuring how long it takes to manipulate fabric using a Shibori technique or interacting one-on-one with customers letting them know they are purchasing a hand-dyed item by me. It is letting people know what exactly goes into making a garment, it is about being credible and transparent about what I stand for.
I think everything takes time to become socially acceptable or normal like it is now to recycle plastic and paper. Continued education is key to understanding the lifecycle of an object whether it is clothing or a plastic bag. We care about food – how it is grown, sourced, travel time to store and if the store pays its employees well. We should care about our clothing the same way and any consumer product we buy.
The future being handmade is something you feel pretty strongly about so do you see this as a movement where folks will be creating more on their own and truly be able to put convenience aside? Share with us what that looks like to you.
Katrin: I think there are many conveniences that can be set aside for sustainability and handmade. It can be as simple as re-dyeing a t-shirt instead of throwing it out or reinforcing a hole in jeans with Sashiko, a decorative reinforcement stitching (Check out Katrina Rodabaugh’s Mending Matters).
Each of these is a practical way, and not a new way, to keep a favorite item longer and out of a landfill. By doing this, there can be a newfound appreciation for and value in handmade by spending time revitalizing or repurposing something one already owns.
I just learned recently that on June 8th of this year Herbel Essences will partner with TerraCycle in a nationwide take-back program to ensure every Herbel Essence bottle is recycled and does not end up in the ocean. This is where a company is working with an organization and with the help from its customers to do good. Everyone needs to be thoughtful about the lifecycle of any consumer product and it’s great to see a large company and organization work together, with consumers help, to reuse and recycle items that normally would have been thrown out in a landfill.
With convenience comes cost to the environment, working conditions, and retail. For example, a single fast-fashion t-shirt takes over 700 gallons of water to make, not including the amount of water it will take over the t-shirts lifetime to wash. I recommend clothing be hung after each wear, spot cleaned and only when needed hand washed in cold water.
Another cost is ethical production and a living wage for workers. I don’t think anyone wants to buy a cheap piece of clothing knowing that those who made it are not treated fairly and work in horrible conditions just so one could buy a cheap garment that is then tossed away after being worn a few times. But fast-fashion still rules, another Rana Plaza catastrophe may occur again, unfortunately. How can an inexpensive garment take precedence over humane working conditions or livable wage I don’t understand.
Lastly the retail cost of handmade vs. fast-fashion. Fast-fashion is quickly and inexpensively made to respond to trends. One can buy a few t-shirts for $20. And I get that. I’ve been between jobs before with no money coming in. And I wanted to buy clothing, it made me happy to shop and to be able to afford a few new items of clothing, so I understand the attraction of fast-fashion.
But fast-fashion also means that the clothing is not well made and will end up in the trash just as quickly as additional items are made. I price my items as affordable as possible. My pieces cost from $65 to over $250 for a hand-dyed item made in the USA. I don’t want my pieces to be only within reach of those that have a lot of money, I don’t want the idea of sustainability to be elitist. I don’t want slow fashion to be for or assumed only for a select group of people. I know not everyone will be able to afford my pieces but my pricing is within reason for what the customer is receiving, a hand-dyed item made by me in the Hudson Valley.
If you had one wish or goal what would you like to see happen in the industry?
Katrin: I hope that small designers like myself can influence large clothing manufactures into realizing that consumers care about the human, social and environmental costs of fast-fashion. I would love to see consumers shift to buying just a few pieces of new clothing per season while focusing on “true costs,” sustainability and the durability of those pieces. I want my consumers to celebrate the JOY of those few pieces they’ve invested in… I LOVE FASHION! Always will. But there needs to be a different relationship with fashion like the relationship with food has been for many years.
A need for an understanding and education from the industry about how clothing is made, its complete lifecycle – from the source of the material, farming practices, the ethical production and the finality of the piece. This gives the clothing value. That apparel and accessories are things to hold onto and take care of, not to dispose of. And most of all valued because the item is well made and you love it! Loved clothes last, I believe.
I don’t think it is just the industry that needs to step up but customers too. Customers need to demand that the fast-fashion industry change its ways, that customers want a well-made garment, for a decent and fair price, and the industries workers are paid a livable wage.
The best way for customers to demand this is with their wallets. To move sustainability forward, don't buy a product that was made by an industry that pollutes, that doesn’t pay its workers well and doesn’t supply decent working conditions.
Collectively people have the power, the power to not purchase.
Lastly, after a long day what is your favorite way to unwind?
Katrin: My favorite way to unwind is to spend time with my son and my husband. From hanging out in the house, hiking local trails, exploring Hudson Valley farms, parks, and the Hudson Valley’s general awesomeness. At night I like to read, especially murder mysteries!
We love celebrating makers and to check out more of Katrin's work head here!