peachy hues and avocado seeds
Creating vibrant shades by extracting colours from vegetables, flowers and seeds sounds almost like magic to us -
Often when speaking of natural dyes it's the vague yellowy brown colours we start to think of. Nothing too exiting or a tad too ''hippie''. But once you start to look into it, you soon learn that the world of natural colours is as wide as your imagination runs, and definitely fun to explore!
We've had our eyes on Fragmentario for the past couple of months, which has been inspiring us with its beautiful colour schemes using natural dyeing. Fragmentario is a Brooklyn based creative studio where beautiful designs are created with textiles and colours extracted from plants ranging from flowers and spices to seeds and vegetables. It inspires us to look at natural dyes in a new light. Would you have guessed that the beautiful peachy hues of the SS18 collection are created using avocado seeds?
We had a chat with the lovely founder María Elena Pombo and were curious to learn more about natural dyes and what it is that inspires her work.
Hi Maria, can you please introduce yourself to our readers
My name is María Elena, but most people call me Mari. Under the moniker Fragmentario, I use plants to color fabric and create independent and commissioned work. I also teach natural dye workshops in my Brooklyn studio and elsewhere.
I am originally from Venezuela and moved to New York to study fashion design at Parsons. Afterwards I worked for some time as a designer for different companies here until I started working on Fragmentario full-time.
What sparked your inspiration to establish Fragmentario?
I come from a fashion background so my work will always relate to that industry in some way, but my most important inspirations for this project were found outside of fashion. Art book fairs, independent film festivals and the slow food movement gave me the perspective that questioning ideas that are normalized in society and proposing new systems can be very powerful, fulfilling and fun.
Can you tell us more about natural dyes?
Using plants and other natural sources for color was once a widespread practice across all cultures. When people think of natural dyes today, they think mostly of Mexico, Peru and India, but everywhere in the world, humans were making colors with what was available in their environments. The practice was also not limited to fiber, even cave paintings were done with a mix of animal, vegetable and mineral sources.
With the accidental invention of faster-acting and more consistent synthetic dyes in 1856, natural dyes were quickly replaced. In recent years, natural dyes have had a slow resurgence. Beyond the environmental appeal, they provide a greater connection between process and product and a way to connect with civilization's history.
How did you come up with the idea of using avocado seeds for dyeing?
After I graduated from Parsons I was helping my husband make bags inspired by vintage workwear. He didn’t like the colors we found when looking for organic cotton and proposed that we dye the fabric ourselves with nuts and onions. I was curious mostly theoretically. I imagined dull colors and a very complicated process.
He then showed me the work of Maura Grace Ambrose, a natural dyer in Austin who makes amazing quilts as Folk Fibers. With her work, I understood that the colors made with natural-dyes were very vibrant. I was most surprised by the color drawn from avocado seeds. The avocado is such an integral part of the culture in Venezuela where I grew up, yet I had never heard of its color properties.
We love the look of your first clothing collection!
What inspired you for when it comes for the design?
Thank you! As I said before, avocados were an important aspect of my upbringing, we even had an avocado tree at home, so using them brings good associations. I have also become very obsessed with their current ubiquity and the effects (good, bad and ugly) of their popularity. I wanted to explore working with them and using apparel as a medium to start conversations about waste, cultural heritage and time.
The silk and linen fabrics used are very luxurious but were found via deadstock fabric providers, so just as the avocado seeds, they are having a second life with this collection. Similarly, the design details share with the natural-dyeing process, a resistance to today’s obsession with speed. Using buttons, instead of zippers, and silk and cotton thread instead of polyester, it encourages both the maker and the wearer to slow down. It was important for me that these garments were recognizable as objects but that their time and context would be more challenging to identify.
How do you try to be sustainable?
Sustainability means something different for many people. For this reason, while I try to be as conscious as possible, I don’t talk about my work as “sustainable” but focus instead on the specific measures I take: using food waste and deadstock fabrics, minimizing my water usage, working with a local factory that treats its employees with dignity… To me, focusing on the concrete actions I take, instead of vague notions, feels more honest and encouraging.
Finally, while there are serious reasons behind the way I work, there can be a lot of humor behind it. Stalking friends so they save their “trash” for me, visiting my factory when it’s one of their employee’s birthday and staying with them for cake, getting a good work-out with the physicality involved in natural dyes. I enjoy the process and emphasize this when talking about my work, as I feel this will be more sustainable in the long run.
What would a perfect workday look like for you?
It would start with an early run and then being able to work with my hands and away from the computer and administrative tasks. Very simple but it rarely happens
what are three of those slightly random things that give you joy?
- Being near the water.
If we were visiting New York what three places would we definitively have to check out?
I think the magic of New York lies more in the experiences than on specific places. I am also a big fan of the East River, so anything that involves it I think is always a good idea.
First, you could take the Roosevelt Island Tramway from Manhattan to Roosevelt Island. It’s a commuter tramway so you can use the Metrocard (which is less than $3) and get some of the most unique views of the city.
You could then walk around Roosevelt Island itself. It has some of the most interesting architecture in New York City and plenty of secret little spots. We took the collection’s photos there for this reason! I run there often and I still discover new things every time I go.
Finally, you could take the ferry towards Wall Street for more amazing views and to experience being in the East River. You could stop your journey there, or continue to Rockaway Beach for a day at the beach!
YOU can shop the new Fragmentario's collection here, check out the stunning lookbook here and learn about the inspiration behind this collection here.