As most of you may already know about me, I am a textile hoarder! I love fabrics of just about every kind – but I especially love fabric that are made by hand. Ever since I took trips to Marrakech and Istanbul, I have my stash of favorite fabrics neatly piled fabrics on shelves in my office. I’m fortunate that blue is my favorite color because many handmade fabrics are in the blue category. Recently, I stumbled across a new company – LuRu Home – that has stunning fabrics, pillows, and accessories made from incredible fabrics from China. I wanted to be sure to share them with you – they are the real deal!
Give us the story on how you guys shared and grew a mutual interest in Chinese textiles.
It was on a back alley stroll through Shanghai in 2010 that we first came across swathes of Nankeen indigo-dyed fabrics. We’d each spent a year in Asia– Liza in Shanghai, Claire in northern Thailand – and were traveling and exploring China for a bit before returning home to the states. Claire had studied textiles in college and Liza had dabbled in Shibori before it was a household word, but here we were, both unfamiliar with the indigo hand-dyeing happening in Northern China.
Indigo Nankeen prints differed from the understanding we both had of Chinese fabrics. Chinese textiles were embellished silks, detailed jacquards, saturated with color and motif. Nankeen was different. It was simple and humble, the cloth of the people. We were hooked.
We spent several years in Shanghai, studying Chinese, researching fabrics, designing prints with master artisans in the handful of remaining Nankeen indigo hand dye workshops. Our goal has always been to support the Nankeen craftsmen and women by embracing traditional Chinese design and creating textiles for our customers that present Chinese design in an unexpected way.
For those of us who aren’t familiar with Nankeen fabrics, give us a brief rundown. What makes them so special? How have these fabrics influenced the rest of your collection?
The Nankeen dyeing technique is a Chinese indigo printing process that dates back several thousand years. Indigo was introduced to northern Asia from the south through trade roughly 3,000 years ago. The land around Shanghai, in Zhejiang, Anhui and Jiangsu provinces, was ideal for farming indigo, and the bushy shrubs became the top choice for dyeing the cottons worn by farmers and peasants. Indigo was believed to possess protective properties, warding off snakes and insects.
In traditional Nankeen dyeing, artisans apply a thick soy-bean paste to cottons through hand-cut screens. When the soy paste has dried, the fabric is submerged in natural indigo baths. The dried paste creates a hard, protective barrier through which the indigo dye cannot pass; it creates a resistance, much like wax batik. Upon oxidation, the indigo-saturated fabric gains a vibrant blue and is set to dry in the sun. The paste is carefully scraped away to reveal crisp prints, and the cottons are laundered to remove excess dye.
We can print by hand on natural fibers – cotton and linen are best suited to Nankeen dyeing – though we are continually experimenting with silks, flaxes, ramies and other fabrics. The printing process can take anywhere from two weeks to several months, depending upon the prevailing weather systems. It’s best to dye during a spell of high barometric pressure, the indigo gets darker and the soy-pasted areas stay whiter and crisper. A big rain storm can slow the timeline down a month or more. Needless to say, with Nankeen dyeing, we have to plan ahead quite a bit and remain flexible. Last year, we brought on screen printing and digital printing to balance the lengthier Nankeen process. With screen and digital printing, we can offer a wider range of colors and grounds, too.
Since you guys founded LuRu in 2010, you’ve both moved back to the states. Tell us a bit about where you guys are now and how this influences your creative approach.
Claire moved from Shanghai to New York City in the summer of 2013 to open our Brooklyn studio and focus on our American clients and projects. She lives in Chinatown, with dumplings and bubble tea galore. New York is bursting with inspiration, of course, and helps us balance our love for Chinese design with what’s current. We no longer design away from our clients and customers. We’re much more accessible and thus better able to communicate a client’s ideas and needs.
Liza has just moved from Shanghai to San Francisco. Already she adores being closer to the action, able to visit boutiques and design partners of ours on a routine basis. We travel to Shanghai several times each year to check on production, but more importantly, to get inspired and create new collections.
Tell us a little about your studio space in Brooklyn.
Our NYC office is in South Williamsburg, within the Brooklyn Fashion and Design Accelerator. This puts Claire in touch with a host of apparel, product and jewelry designers, and we draw so much inspiration from their influence. There are twenty small companies in our large shared office space, and we bounce ideas, make introductions and collaborate. For example – Suzanne Rae, a fellow member, is translating a print of ours into fuchsias, blacks and grays for pieces in her Spring 2016 apparel collection.
Our space is open on two sides, as all of the BFDA company office spaces are, and this fosters much sharing and companionship. Working as a team of one or two can be isolating, and sharing common ground with other entrepreneurs brings more laughter into the day.
I hope you enjoyed meeting the founders of LuRu Home. There is so much to chose from but I promise you’ll find unique and quality pieces for your home. Happy shopping!