To Dye For: Upstate Reinvents Shibori


Kalen and Astrid of Upstate

Kalen Kaminski and Astrid Chastka are the designers behind Upstate, a line of strikingly sophisticated (and slightly cosmic) hand-dyed dresses, home accessories, scarves, and more. The Brooklynites put their own take on dip-dyeing and Shibori — a Japanese tradition of dyeing cloth using several different methods of binding, folding, or compressing the fabric. We visited their studio to find out more about the fledgling business.

So how’d you get started?

Kalen: We both quit our 9-to-5 jobs and entered the scary world of freelance. We started spending our days off going to museums, galleries, vintage shops, and thrifting. Originally, we wanted to make large wraps with vintage fabrics but were never able to find the perfect fabric or textile to work with. At that point, it was more of a creative outlet than “starting a company.”

In 2010 we discovered a friend’s hand-dyed shibori tapestry and started studying the art of shibori by making scarves and wraps mostly for ourselves and friends. That summer a friend’s shop in California (Gravel & Gold) placed an order and it kind of snowballed from there.

Upstate Quilt

What’s the best part of what you do?

Astrid: I really enjoy the photo shoots. It is so much fun to watch a collection come together in the end and to work with people we love to document it. Also, being able to create something working with a close friend adds another dimension to our friendship. I’ve learned so much from Kalen since we started Upstate.

And the most miserable part?

Kalen: Production management and coordination with our vendors and factory.

Astrid: I totally agree … My least favorite is also keeping track of everything from orders to money when all I really want to be doing is designing and dyeing.

Who and what inspires what you do?

Kalen: I just went to the Francesca Woodman photo exhibit. The combination of light and rich texture in each photo is so beautiful. Sonia Delauney — always.  Negative spaces, especially in forests. The beautiful botany prints of Dries Van Noten. I also love everything from Bloom magazine. It shows the relationship between flowers and plants to fashion and design. So lovely.

Astrid: Some other recent inspirations include Patricia Urquiola’s furniture, Chip Kidd’s graphic design/book jackets, and the colors and shapes at Celine. I love everything found on the art blog But Does it Float.

Do you obsess about the product and business —  and does your love of it consume you?

Kalen: It used to consume me all hours of the day. Now I work really hard to only let it consume me during certain hours while I’m working and really focusing, then I have to flip the switch off. Otherwise, there’s no room left for inspiration. Being able to take steps back has made me love and appreciate the business even more.

Upstate Clothing

What’s your long-term hope for the business?

Kalen: It would be great to have a successful large-scale clothing and home line that is still hand-dyed and made in America and not sourced out. Hopefully more helpers and a big studio with bathtubs, washing machines, and maybe even a rooftop garden to grow natural dyes.

What does Upstate bring to your life (besides an ability to pay the bills)?

Kalen: Does it sounds cliche to say fullfillment? Having full creative control of something so special is really awesome and watching your hard work pay off ignites that passion.

Astrid: I love being able to start with an idea and make it a reality. The idea that others might be excited about what we do, or might want to own a piece, is really exciting and worth working for.

If you weren’t doing this, what would you do?

Astrid: Making things. I just can’t stop. I’d love to buy a big intaglio etching press and print all day long … or draw … or design myself a perfect shack to live in … probably next door to Kalen, somewhere upstate.

Upstate Pillow


(Photo by Matthew Hranek, products courtesy of Upstate)

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