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Studio Stories No.3: Seek Collective's Carol Miltimore

Posted on July 19 2014

Our monthly feature Studio Series highlights the strong voices of unique brands we carry at Bhoomki. Each month we’ll sit down with a company's founder whose product we carry, and discuss how he or she is making a positive social and environmental impact through their business and within the fashion industry-at-large.

Carol Miltimore with master block printer Vijendra in Bagru, Rajasthan.

This month we are excited to introduce you to Carol Miltimore, founder of Seek Collective, a brand new ethical fashion brand which partners with Rajasthani master artisans to produce  gorgeous silk and cotton separates hand block printed with natural dyes. The effect is sophisticated and modern with a focused foundation in traditional craftsmanship. We asked Carol to share with us her design background, her creative process and her love affair with craft.  These pieces have been flying out of Bhoomki since they arrived two weeks ago. Enjoy! - Swati :)

 Left to right: Kerry Top with Madhavi Pants, Alpana Romper, and Sukie Dress.

Tell us about your design background.

I graduated from Parsons School of Design, majoring in fashion design. During that time I interned for Michael Kors and spent a year studying fashion and textiles in Paris. While there I worked for the couture designer Anne Valerie Hash, which was one of my favorite work experiences to date. Post graduation, I explored product and graphic design. Architecture had always intrigued me also, so I enrolled in a pre-grad program at Harvard Graduate School of Design. But I missed the tactile nature of clothing, and the speed you can create and see results, so, I returned to fashion. Over the last 8 years I’ve been designing for Calvin Klein Jeans, Converse, and Armani Exchange. For me, all design is inter-related and collectively contributes to who I am as a designer today.

What inspired you to begin designing?

Clothing, as a mode of expression, has been my inspiration since high school. I’m drawn to the personal, intimate nature of clothing; its proximity to your body, senses and mood. Growing up in a town where ‘prep’ was the overwhelming style, I wore leather pants, brightly colored patterns and patchwork skirts. Fashion was my form of adventure and experimentation.

When did the love affair with block printing begin?

I have a love affair with craft in general. By the time I graduated from Parsons in 2006, I had a dream of traveling to India, to learn and experience the craft of textiles. From the start I was inspired by the connection between techniques, colors, and patterns and how they distinguish cultures and geographical areas. For me, India represents the origin: a place where textiles and centuries’ old techniques first developed. In the years before traveling to India, I took courses in natural dyes, screen-printing, weaving and block printing. I find the process of such crafts uniquely rare, meditative and continually inspiring.

Bagru, Rajasthan

How did Bagru – outside of Jaipur, Rajasthan, India – become your base?

The first time I went to India was for an artist residency. I bought a one-way ticket and went to work on my paintings for a month in the state of Gujurat. After the residency I traveled throughout the country. I left with block printed prototypes of naturally dyed silk crepe pants from a place in Jaipur. Then, just before leaving, I heard about a cooperative of block printers in Bagru that were operating in a way more in line with my goals.

Back in New York, I reached out to the artisans in Bagru. I came to learn that the founder of the cooperative was an alumni from my father’s college. It felt destined.

Less than a year later, I flew back to India and began working on prototypes with this cooperative. I fell in love with the community, the people, and the creative process. They’ve welcomed me into their homes and hearts and my base has been in Bagru and Jaipur ever since.

Seek Collective-dedicated window at Bhoomki. Photo courtesy of Jynne Martin.

What makes Seek Collective an ethical fashion brand?

At Seek Collective we use natural dyes. We focus on transparency within the entire production process. And we work with cooperatives, so that our artisans get fair trade wages, which empowers the individual and their community. Our printing cooperative reinvests 30% of its proceeds back into the community, and our cooperative of weavers provides healthcare and daycare for the weavers’ children.

Submersion of printed fabric in a vat of indigo. 

Tell us about your journey with natural dyes. How do you arrive at a certain shade or color?

Natural dyes are not as stable as most mass-production chemical colors. Each dye batch comes out slightly different. The dye is affected by subtleties like water acidity and temperature. You have to embrace these qualities. I enjoy working with this unknown. I feel it brings me closer to nature.

When beginning the new seasons prints, I spend quite a lot of time in Bagru experimenting with Vijendra, our main printer. We try different combinations of printing and dying to discover a range of colors. Sometimes it doesn’t work out. Sometimes it comes out perfectly. Usually, we’re both surprised by the results. It is a rewarding collaborative process full of challenges, wonder and… chai. Lots of chai.

What is the best way to care for clothes with natural dyes?

I recommend dry-cleaning or hand washing, cold, with like colors.

How color fast are natural dyes?

Our natural dyes have good colorfastness, but certain shades will shift slightly over time, depending on exposure to sun, and washing frequency. Typically, indigo will bleed slightly in the first couple washes.

Personally, I’ve always embraced this transition. I find beauty and unique-ness in it. We ask that our customers also understand and embrace this. The alternative of using chemical dyes that are harsh not only to the environment but also to your skin always seems less appealing.

What is your vision for Seek Collective?

At Seek the main objective is to bring the highest quality goods to the consumer while fortifying a meaningful relationship between the consumer, artisan, and product.

I am continuously seeking ways to further the transparency and authenticity of our materials, sources, and processes.

Seek Collective would like to continue working with groups of artisans from around the world. For our next collection, we’ll be working with a cooperative of women weavers based in Maheshwar, in addition to our cooperative block printers in Bagru.

Our long-term plans entail further involvement in the communities of collaborating artisans, specifically regarding the education for girls. As a brand, Seek Collective is not limiting itself to fashion. Culture, travel and art will be progressively incorporated as we expand.

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