From Dye To Design Meet Upstate's Kalen Kaminski
"I used to think that we needed to reinvent the wheel each season for the design," says designer Kalen Kaminski, "While we do introduce new colors, fabrics and shapes each season I think it's important to keep making what your buyer and store come to you for."
For Kalen and her brand Upstate, that sought after element includes a nod to craftsmanship (the brand prides itself on preserving shibori and other hand dyeing techniques while infusing a contemporary flair) along with each piece's versatility. In fact when we visited Kalen at her cozy studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn she immediately showed us Upstate's signature sarong. There, the beaming designer claimed that this beloved piece is a "gateway drug" for most when it comes to truly falling in love with and further understanding the brand as whole - and after we spent some time there ourselves we can see why.
Kalen's passion and skilled approach to her craft shines through in each piece. From lush velvet overalls to multipurpose accessories, Upstate is a brand one can turn to when looking for a well-made and lively staple. If you're not convinced, our chat with Kalen should prove otherwise as she touched more on Upstate's origins and her design process along with her holiday picks. Read on for more and visit The Style Line for an exclusive follow up to our interview.
Please introduce yourself!
My name is Kalen Kaminski. I'm a New Yorker living in a Colorado Mountain state of mind! I value family, friends, honesty, respect, being a woman, our earth, the importance of being able to laugh it off, art, music, cool shit, people making cool shit, health but also dumplings, pizza, matcha lattes, yoga and meditation.
Walk us through the inspiration and inception of Upstate. What makes Upstate a truly contemporary brand?
Upstate, since the beginning, has always eluded to escape, relaxation and the imagination which are still the roots of the brand. Our brand isn't just a womenswear line because we focus on the traditional hand dye processes and other artistic processes on fabric - we think of our brand more as wearable art. We also love to collaborate with our peers both inside and outside of the fashion industry. Creative collaboration in general has been an incredible way to turn something into something it's never been and something authentic. Workshops have also been a fun way to introduce our brand to our customer and teach them a little more about the textile process (and usually they leave with a larger appreciation of the steps we take in our creative process). Because we aren't relying on the wholesale model of producing a few collections a year and are looking into other avenues to expand our reach (like the examples above) I think this is what makes us a truly contemporary/modern brand.
How would you describe your design process and what role does it play in telling the story of Upstate?
The design process is pretty unconventional. It usually starts with mood boards, collaging and a wish-list of everything I want to make. This is usually narrowed down but it's fun to start big! Once we have our shapes figured out we will start looking at fabrics and which fabrics go best with certain shapes. Once we have the fabrics we will start the dye design process. Each fabric reacts to dye differently so we will go through a series of testing and creating our colors. Our colors are usually derived from our mood board started in the beginning but are often subject to change! The most compelling part of our brand is that every piece of fabric is hand dyed, painted, marbled on etc. by us!
How did you first connect with Brand Assembly and what has been the most rewarding aspect of being part of the designer community?
I first connected with Hillary at Brand Assembly when she spoke at a panel I went to for DENYC. Upstate was part of FIT's DENYC class in 2014. She ended up buying a top from us and we've been in touch ever since!
From NYFW to market season what was your (recent) experience in terms of how people related to or interpreted Upstate? Generally has there been any interesting feedback or conversations that have influenced how you will approach the brand moving into next year/season?
I used to think that we needed to reinvent the wheel each season for the design. While we do introduce new colors, fabrics and shapes each season I think it's important to keep making what your buyer and store come to you for.
With the holiday season fast-approaching what are three core pieces you would recommend as holiday gifts for the Upstate woman?
Well, we just launched a home collection of velvet floor and throw pillows, the wrap dress and an oldie but goody piece, a sarong! The sarong is a gateway drug to any other Upstate piece, it can be used as a wrap, sarong, shawl, blanket, towel etc.
What do you assemble daily?
The dye process.