Daughters of Others: Katrin Reifeiss
Katrin Reifeiss is an artist in every sense of the word. You can see it in her clothing: the impeccable way her textiles drape over the human form doesn’t happen by accident. You can also sense it in the way she observes the world, pulling inspiration from not only the visual patterns of nature but from impactful moments in time. She practices Shibori, the Japanese technique of resist dyeing through various hand-manipulated methods to produce organic, delicate, and oftentimes complex patterns. We caught up with her in her home studio in Beacon, NY ahead of her spring collection launch to talk about fashion, sustainability, and of course, motherhood.
D: Give us a little history on your business.
E: I went in as a painting major at Mass College of Art in Boston and came out with a BFA in fashion design. I took a textile course my sophomore year where I learned different painting and dye techniques including Shibori. I was excited that I found a way to satisfy both my passions by dyeing or painting fabric then using it to create my own designs.
Around 2008 I created a few silk wrap skirts using the Shibori technique of pole wrapping, Arashi, and sold these to friends and a couple stores in NYC and thought I may be onto something. From then on I kept creating.
D: What is your biggest business challenge?
K: Currently time, balancing work with being a mom. Not just having time in the studio but making sure I enjoy life, enjoy Lukas and my husband Tom.
Fashion is a strain on natural resources, it’s a big polluter and has some of the worst working conditions around the world. I make most of my items to order as I don’t believe in disposable fashion and it can be challenging to have customers understand why I do this especially via an online shop vs in person. I believe made-to-order hurts my sales but what I would like to impart to customers is that once their order is placed that item is then hand-dyed, by me, and that I take conservation and waste into consideration when creating their garment or accessory. I have challenged myself to find ways to consume smaller amounts of water when dyeing and washing out fabric. Most of my patterns are very simple so I can take advantage of using all the fabric with as little waste left over as possible. I don’t have inventory unless the item sells extremely well as I believe it is a waste of time, money and space on Earth if an item sits around. I do my best to impart all this information and more to customers so they understand what is required to produce their order. Also extremely important to impart is how to take care of their item so that it lasts a long time.
D: What has been your most profound lesson in running your business?
K: Trying to do it all is neither a sustainable business model nor productive. I believe if I have the ability to do it myself there is no need to rely on others. But when running a business I have had to learn that it is okay to delegate things which I don’t need to specifically do like sewing or web design, I can hire people to do that, while continuing to focus on what I love to do most which is dyeing fabric and designing.
D: Where do you find your inspiration?
K: I find patterns I want to replicate in fabric in nature, a remembered moment from a trip, the lines or brush strokes in a painting or something I have sketched. I look at the pattern and I imagine how I could manipulate fabric to get that.
My silhouettes are very simple giving me the opportunity to really show off the hand-dyed pattern. One of my favorites was inspired by the evening light settling over the Ngong Hills in Nairobi, Kenya, a two-color pattern that I dyed on organic cotton and made into a clutch. The pattern is very personal and it fills me with joy as I recall that moment in time.
Most of my fabrics feature traditional Japanese Shibori patterns that are always inspiring. I like to imagine how the pattern will lay on the shoulder, I like to play with the size of a pattern or how can I alter a Shibori technique to make it my own.
I love that I get to work with my hands each day to create something!
D: What, who, or where is inspiring you right now?
K: Pattern and color are always inspiring. Although my fabrics are primarily indigo and black on white I am inspired currently to over dye the fabric or finished garment with color.
D: How do you balance parenthood, relationships, and owning a small business?
K: I don’t! Lol! Being mom to Lukas is one of the most amazing things I will ever get to do in my life. Being a parent is also one of the toughest things I will ever do. My husband and I are very supportive of each other and very thankful for family and my mom, aka Nana, who is happy to hang with Lukas anytime. Date night! Very important is that Tom and I have a date night once in awhile too.
I have a daybook that each Sunday I write down items I need to accomplish that week and I do my best to keep to this list. I am realistic about what I can actually accomplish and when I do finish something what a satisfying feeling and with a smile I cross it off!
Routines are incredibly important for both Lukas and myself. I make sure every day I spend plenty of time with him, go to the rec center or we hang out with his buddies. I rely mainly on his naptime to dye or sew and accomplish things on my list. Luckily my studio is in our house. I count on our routines if I am to accomplish anything.
D: How do you re-center?
K: I take a day off. Routines are great but after awhile can get boring! No dyeing, no housework, no errands. Goal is to get out of the house. Sometimes doing the same thing every day I start to feel detached, not connected to the outside world.
I meet up with friends or have lunch out with Lukas in town. As a family we love to walk the trails along the Hudson, visit the Dia Beacon Museum; visit a farm or friends. It is always really good to get away from the house and studio. It’s invigorating and gives me a chance to take a step back, breath, think, connect as a family and as always look for patterns.
D: What excites you most about 2018?
K: In 2018 and every day I have a goal to make my business be more transparent, socially and environmentally conscious while creating well-made clothing and accessories each with a hand-dyed element to it. I am looking forward to delving into natural dyes this year to working with new suppliers who are transparent about their fabrics and continue with sewing or other production locally or within NYC area.
D: Is there anything else you’d like us to include?
K: I love to teach! I teach Shibori at Garrison Art Center and have also taught at the Textile Arts Center in NYC. It is so cool to see the joy and wow factor on students’ faces when they open up their first Shibori dyed fabric. It’s awesome.