If you ever meet Astrid Chastka or Kalen Kaminski, it’s very likely that you’ll shake a blue-tinted hand. The co-founders of Upstate create their stunning, one of a kind scarves and apparel using a complex hand-dying process–often leaving their mitts temporarily stained in the same beautiful sapphires and purples found in their tie-dyed patterns.
Astrid and Kalen met about four years ago through a mutual friend and immediately bonded over a shared interest in art, design, and an appreciation of handmade goods. They soon found themselves not only living as neighbors but also working collectively as founding partners of Upstate, a name inspired by the designers’ mutual fascination of the rolling hills of upstate New York.
With such a connection, it’s no wonder that the girls sweetly list one another as their main sources of creative inspiration. But each designer also has her own influences to bring to the table. Kalen is drawn to the mountains of Colorado, New York City, vintage fabrics, and “random irregularities – broken glass, patina, rust,” while Astrid is interested in “aesthetics that are driven by an underlying system…like everything in nature, equal parts beauty and science.”
The Upstate designers hand dye their pieces in their Brooklyn studio using a process similar to that of shibori, a time-honored Japanase dying process. “[Shibori] is the traditional and disciplined way of folding and binding each piece, which is how we started. But once we began to understand the process more and wanted different patterns or color, we were able to manipulate the folding and dying to vary our results from tradition,” Kalen explains.
“We actually think that when the folding is done with a bit less care and more slop, the patterns turn out to be much more interesting and detailed,” Astrid adds.
In making one of their signature Arashi Scarves, the girls begin by folding raw silk into an accordion. Next, the fabric is wrapped around a tube and then clamped, scrunched, and fastened with twine to keep it from coming undone as it settles into the dye bath. Once the dye is rinsed out in their studio, the designers haul the fabric to the local laundromat for drying–a part of the process which they admit elicits some odd stares from fellow launderers. Finally, the dry, dyed fabric is taken to a tailor, who cuts and sews it into the finished product.
Upstate’s first collection in Fall 2010 was a group of more conventional accessory items, including the Arashi Scarf. Since then, Kalen and Astrid have extended their brand, developing unique garments and much more. Last summer they designed their first apparel item for Of A Kind. “We received such positive feedback from this that we decided to design a few more pretty basic yet versatile pieces you could wear to a fancy event, work, the beach, or to bed,” Kalen recalls.
With the Fall/Winter 2012 collection now in its final stages of fine-tuning sample production, Astrid and Kalen couldn’t be more excited. They will be introducing a broader material palette, resulting in a greater variety of patterns, as each fabric handles dyes differently. Meanwhile, the recently released Spring/Summer ’12 collection is already receiving positive feedback from customers and fans.
We can certainly expect to see even more great things from this ingenious duo in the coming seasons and years. In addition to creating beautiful new things, Upstate also strives to become a greener operation. “Even though we are a pretty sustainable line, we would like to become even more eco-friendly and gradually switch over to all natural dyes,” Astrid explains. She and Kalen also anticipate developing new items such as quilts, kits, and bags.
“[We are] just two friends who can’t stop making things,” Astrid smiles. “In the coming years we hope to continue to expand our range and ability to do that.”