In today’s sleek and technological world, a piece of hand-dyed fabric can feel almost like a loaded argument against capitalism. It refuses our pursuit of mechanized economies of scale, denies a compulsion towards exactitude. Instead, it welcomes disorder and refuses perfection. It exists on the opposite end of mass production and fast fashion. Quantities are limited. Scarcity, inherent. Then again, maybe we’re just reading too far into it. Maybe.
Upstate, an NYC-based clothing and homegoods brand founded by multi-hyphenate creative Kalen Kaminski, embraces the beautiful irregularity of hand dying. From cups to kimonos, no two products on the Upstate roster are exactly alike, though one might suspect this isn’t the result of abject lawlessness. Kaminski—as evidenced not only in Upstate but in her work as a prop stylist and set designer for clients like The Cut and Bon Appetit—possesses a particular skill for expertly manufacturing disorder. She excels in the imperfect, but perfectly so.
Since its 2011 founding, Upstate has become a favorite of the design set. Kaminski’s work has been featured in the New York Times, New York magazine, and Sight Unseen. (A recent press favorite is Upstate’s hand-dyed Kokomo cup.) Pieces from the collection are available at retailers like Moda Operandi and Love Adorned, to name just two.
Below, Kaminski spares some time to show us around her Chinatown studio and talk Matisse cut-outs, triple citrus, and the creative value in a walk down the block.
Place of residence:
Textile designer, artist, freelance set designer.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Quote to live by:
“What you think, you become. What you feel, you attract. What you imagine, you create.” — Buddha
First job you ever had:
Smoothie maker at the local health club.
Least favorite part of your day:
Probably having to get on a crowded train in the a.m., but I try to avoid that as much as possible by biking or walking.
Windows down, the song you’re playing is:
“Break It Down Again” by Tears for Fears. Sometimes even Enya’s “Orinoco Flow.”
Three guilty pleasures:
Cheese Doritos, nachos at the movies, a capri once in a while.
If you had to watch one movie on repeat for eternity, what would it be?
You have a million dollars to spend on art, you buy…
Matisse’s “Swimming Pool” room (I’m guessing this is far more than a million), or some obscure sculpture made of blown glass that can peacefully coexist in a garden.
Plane, train or automobile for a trip?
What IS your favorite trip?
The heel of Italy in Tricase, Puglia.
Personal travel ethos:
Go where the water’s warm. Be open.
Drink of choice:
Reposado tequila on the rocks with three limes.
Beach house or tree house:
Where was the best meal you ever had and what was it?
Outside of Ostuni, Italy at a seafood shack on the rocks overlooking the ocean. The freshest mussels with only pepper for seasoning, fresh tuna with fresh bread in a paper bag to dip in the broths.
What is the best news you ever received?
My parents surprising me with a horse at age eight on Christmas! Nothing has lived up to that moment.
Who or what is largely overrated? Explain.
Bananas, and maybe all of the vitamins and supplements I take?
Briefly describe the best concert you have ever gone to.
The Rolling Stones… duh.
Where do you go for inspiration, peace of mind?
I’m a believer that the experiences bring on the inspiration. Whether it’s traveling, going to a concert, forcing yourself to schlep Uptown to a museum to meet a friend, a walk around my neighborhood down to the water. Being present and alert, you never know what you will see.