Mira Blackman pairs handmade and heritage textiles with minimal silhouettes to create dreamy one of a kind pieces. We chatted with the Oakland designer about the stories behind the traditional textiles she sources, one particular with roots in self-reliance as a tool against colonization.
Hi Mira. Can you tell us about your business and how you got started?
I launched this line just over a year ago. I first started years ago by making bowties and belts with African prints. I went to Senegal, because I knew I liked the fabrics, but I wanted to go directly to Africa and make sure I felt good about sourcing. When I was there I spotted African Indigo for the first time: I was in a little town and saw this guy riding his bike with a small folded stack of it. When I got into Eastern Senegal, there was a lot more, I brought some home but it was just folded up in my closet for years because I felt like it was too special to do anything with it. Eventually my interest shifted, I started designing a handwoven fabric when I was in Uganda and when I got back home I finally began to feel like I could use the indigo. I liked that it was handwoven and hand dyed, and a traditional craft. The prints were great, but when I got in contact with these traditional crafts it felt deep, more connected and significant, and I had more drive to be making things and putting them into the world and creating context around them.
In your new line you are using a fabric called Khadi, which has an interesting history, how does that story resonate with you?
The base meaning of Khadi is a fabric that is handwoven or handloomed but Khadi is also a movement started by Gandhi in India during British rule. The British were exporting Indian cotton back to England where they would mill it and make it into fabric, and then import it back to India but the Indians really couldn’t afford it. Gandhi encouraged people to stop buying the British fabrics and to start spinning and weaving again as a way to be more self reliant. All of that resonated with me, I’m passionate about traditional crafts in general, but this is about a revival of a very traditional way of making and living, as well as fortifying their independence.
As someone that is repurposing these traditional textiles, how do you honor the stories of these textiles in your design process?
I use the words wabi-sabi a lot. It’s a Japanese philosophy and aesthetic that celebrates the transience and imperfections of life. My work definitely does that. With the vintage fabrics especially I try to keep the character of the fabric. Where there are holes and ragged edges for instance, that shows the passage of time and that is what’s so special about these textiles.
“This fabric is different, someone wove this in the way that her great grandmother did. I think it’s important to let people know the richness of what they are looking at.”
So I try to feature those things that really show the life the fabric has lived. I also try to let people know where they are from and how they are made. All of these different traditions and schools of knowledge go into them. Where we live we’re so divorced from the lifecycle of things, people forget to think about who made something and how was it made. This fabric is different, someone wove this in the way that her great grandmother did. I think it’s important to let people know the richness of what they are looking at.
How do you source your textiles, particularly the Khadi?
The Khadi that I use I actually got in India even longer ago than I got the indigo, it’s also been folded up forever. Khadi is handwoven, handspun, and hand-dyed. Khadi is always a cottage industry, it’s done in small collectives or in people’s homes, it’s a small scale thing, and from what I remember it has fair trade prices built in.
Any plans to integrate more interesting fabrics, or use khadi more?
I’m hoping to do more Khadi coming up. I also have some traditional Hmong fabric and I haven’t used any of that yet. I’m not totally sure but I know that it will be handwoven. It feels really important to me to make sure we buy hand made fabrics as they ensure jobs. Machine made fabrics don’t. Khadi is a great way to do that. It’s traditional and it’s creating a living for people, and all those things that are important to me.