We had the good fortune of connecting with Colleen Swain and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Colleen, every day, we about how much execution matters, but we think ideas matter as well. How did you come up with the idea for your business?
I have always been the type of person who needs to feel productive. As a young adult, I had all the time in the world to delve into whatever creative hobby I found most interesting at the moment, whether it be teaching myself to crochet or refinishing vintage furniture – and I loved it. However, after having children, your life does a complete 180. I had zero time to devote to my creative hobbies as I had two little boys who depended on me night and day. After the birth of my second son, I was going to physical therapy twice a week for a birth related injury, and had just been diagnosed with pregnancy induced rheumatoid arthritis. As much as I adored my children, it was a low point for me personally as I felt I had lost my previous identity both creatively and physically. Where I was once an avid crocheter, not only did I have no time to devote to it, but I could also barely grip the crochet hook with my arthritic hands. In a desperate effort to both find a creative outlet and exercise my stiff hands, I taught myself to macrame. Not only were the products beautiful, but the motions used to tie knots was therapeutic for my arthritis. After making far too many pieces to possibly keep myself, I started an Etsy shop to see if anyone would be interested in my art. Along the way, I was introduced to avocado dye and became obsessed with the unique earthy blush color it produced. I started incorporating my avocado dyed rope into my macrame wall hangings and people really seemed to love it! I wanted to learn to make different colors to incorporate into my art! The more I looked into natural dyes, the further I fell down the rabbit hole. I have become dedicated to learning all about the art of natural dyeing. I love knowing that the colors I produce come from 100% natural sources. My business has morphed over time and is now going in a completely different direction. I am focused on providing various naturally dyed products including silk ribbons (used for weaving, wedding bouquets, gift wrap, etc), silk and bamboo pillowcases, baby jumpsuits and blankets, cotton market bags, and tea towels. I still do make macrame, but typically always try to incorporate some of my dyed fibers into my pieces. The creative process behind these crafts truly gave me a purpose and identity that I felt was lacking. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a mom, but I think any mom will tell you the same thing – you need to do something that is just for yourself too so you don’t totally lose your mind!
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I dye natural textiles using dyes extracted from plants, flowers, food scraps and insects. I am only about a year and a half into my natural dye education and still have a lot to learn, but I do feel as if I have good intuition for achieving colors/color combinations. I am so surprised that so many people find my quirky obsession as interesting as I do. and I am inspired that there is a market for naturally dyed textiles – it means that people care about reducing their exposure to synthetic dyes/chemicals. Natural dyeing is not a quick, simple process. There are many steps that go into achieving color from natural sources. Many steps means a lot of time, a lot of equipment, and a large investment in the materials needed. It is not a cheap business to be in by any means. There are some dye sources that I can forage myself from either food scraps (like avocado pits, onion skins, etc) or local plants – but there are many that I cannot access except by purchasing prepared extracts. In an effort to cut down on the expense of buying natural dyes, I have recently started building my own dye garden. I will be growing my own organic plants from which I can harvest my own dye stuff. I am lucky enough to have the outdoor space and resources to do this and do hope that with time, the investment will not only provide me with a majority of the dye sources I need, but also provide me with a beautiful garden that I can tend to with my children. My natural dye business is in its infancy, but just as the process of natural dyeing is long and slow, I foresee my business growing in the same way. I am dedicated to keeping my business as sustainable as possible. I purchase eco-friendly products to dye including recycled sari silk ribbon and vegan silk (bamboo) pillowcases. Because all of the dye stuff is natural, I am able to compost the exhausted dye material – which will in turn be used to fertilize my dye garden. I extract leftover pigment out of my dye baths to save for later use (ie: making paints) and then use the leftover water to water my plants. I try to not let anything go to waste – and this is something that I feel my clients can also be proud of when purchasing from my shop.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I am a complete introverted homebody and avoid crowded places! So honestly I would likely take my visitor anywhere beautiful that is not too crowded. We recently discovered an amazing quick hike down to Tijeras Creek where we can walk through the water and watch tadpoles and frogs. We love to eat out at local small businesses. Some of our favorites in this area are La Fiesta Mexican Grill in RSM and Terra Mia Pizzaria in Laguna Hills. One other place I’d love to take a friend is to see a show at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I’d like to dedicate my shoutout to my husband Jeremy. Over the last 3 years he’s been incredibly supportive of all my crazy hobbies and ideas. He is wonderful about trying to make sure I have adequate free time (aka – time to myself without the kids) to work on my projects and package my orders. He’s also allowed me to have multiple closets, garage space and kitchen space to store my overwhelming amount of supplies. He believes in me and encourages me – he understands that having my side venture is vital to my happiness and sanity – and that makes me love him even more.
Bridal Ribbon Photo: Stella Cheng Photography
Nominate someone: ShoutoutSocal is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.