All around us there are businesses small and big headed up by inspiring women. Some work online, some work in a physical space, some work during the days, some work during the nights, some work alone, some work together: the more we share, the more we can learn from each other. And the more we learn from each other, the more we can teach the ones following in our footsteps. May these women inspire you as they inspire us.
Today on the blog we talk to textile designer Jess Chan. Enjoy!
I’m Jess, lover of all things pattern and colour! After studying my BA and MA in Textile Design, I immediately started freelancing within Fashion and Textile houses, where I would print and dye fabrics. Alongside this, I also taught short courses at Central Saint Martins. In 2018, I decided to start making again, where I now produce small batches of hand printed products and also hand dyed items using natural dyes. I also work at Wimbledon College of Art as a Dye Technician.
You sell hand printed items such as toiletry bags, cushions and scarves at markets and online. Can you tell us a little bit about how you work and what motivated you to start your own business?
After my MA, I went straight into employment and started working with Tamasyn Gambell as a Print Production Manager, where I stayed for 5 years. I loved this as I still got to be creative within my role. However when I started working as a Dye Technician, I realised that I missed making and was in need of a creative outlet, so I set up a small business making silkscreen printed and hand dyed products using natural dyes. I am very much inspired by botanical nature and architectural patterns and drawing is the first thing I do when creating a new collection. This is done by mark making, using inks/charcoal and pens to creature texture within my drawings. These are then made into repeat patterns either by kodatrace or using Photoshop. All Textiles are silkscreen printed or hand dyed by me in South West London.
You are an avid user of natural dyes. What sparked your interest in natural dyeing techniques?
As part of the Print room induction at Leeds College of Art, where I studied my BA, we were set a project to forage our own natural dyes and create a ‘natural dye bible’. I adored the colours that were achieved from natural dyes and started using them throughout my studies. I love technical processes also (being a Tech and all), so it’s the process of extracting the colour that I love the most, definitely a labour of love, but worth it. I especially love bundle dyeing/eco printing with natural dyes!
You teach textile printing at university and have freelanced in the costume and fashion industry. Have you seen a change in customers’ or students’ attitudes towards the dyeing and printing aspect of textile production?
Students are making a conscious effort to want to use natural dyes instead of the synthetic dyes. However time restraints and also money affects their choice, which I understand can be a problem when costumes have to be made within their strict deadlines and budgets. I will happily teach students more sustainable processes if they are willing to learn. It is really important to outline the advantages and disadvantages of the processes that I teach. A digital printer for fabric would be a necessity if we are to move forward and be sustainable within the course I work with.
Within my own practice I have clients wanting things done as soon as possible and unfortunately this is where I am faced with limitations to use certain processes that aren’t sustainable. However I do try to use more sustainable and organically sourced fabrics when making, which has been well received by customers who buy my products. We do need to make changes to the way we approach design, even if it is small.
What are the challenges in using natural dyes versus synthetic dyes?
Maintaining the colour fastness is definitely a challenge with natural dyes. Synthetic dyes can be more reliable with this, especially if a garment is washed frequently. Synthetic dyes tend to be quicker in process, therefore you need to invest more time when using natural dyes. But the process of extracting the colour from the natural dye is a joy, for me anyway! Natural dyes are deemed more sustainable and environmentally friendly than synthetic dyes, but both use a large amount of water. I have a personal preference of using natural dyes because of the colours you can achieve with them and how they can be affected by PH or a mordant, not to mention I forage for a majority of my dyes, so they are cost effective for me!
How do you see the future of your textile designs, and the future of more sustainable fabric printing?
I love silkscreen printing and although the process creates waste and requires a lot of water, all pigments and binders that I use are water based and are GNA® certified by Oeko Tex and I use certified organic and ethically sourced fabrics. I am still a firm believer in making small batches of products and made to order items, so I don’t have excess. This will not change I hope. Further down the line, I would like to develop my research into natural dyes and start creating products just using natural dyes through silk screen printing and eliminate chemicals, only using plant based thickeners and fixatives. I will never stop using natural dyes!