cistanthe in miami

Out Of Office: Cistanthe in Miami.

Endless sheets of rain descended upon the state of Florida just in time for my arrival, but that wasn’t going to stop me from getting my fill of art, ocean, and amazing Cuban food…here’s a little bit of fun from my time at Art Basel Miami Beach. The beautiful Bailey Hunter (a Florida native and California transplant) of CISTANTHE provided me with all the clothes I needed for a tropical adventure (and also shared a bit of insight below into how she creates such perfectly tactile pieces for her collection and beyond).

Q / Hi Bailey! How do you usually start your day? Any routine that gets you up?
A / I always wake up really early – sometimes at 4am…I got really used to waking up then to Whats App with my production manager Bhawna in Ahmedabad, and now it’s become a habit… I usually go back to sleep and wake up again at 6am to have tea and answer more emails.

Q / Is there anything you carry with you every day?
A / I keep a journal with me all the time to write down appointments, ideas, keep swatches and photos. It’s important to me to always keep a log of ideas that I go back to and reference all the time.

Q / Is there a time of day that you feel most productive? Anything specific that helps keep you focused?

A / I don’t think my productivity is based on time of day so much. I work really well around deadlines. I love to plan and create lists and work towards solid goals and dates.

Q / What is your favorite place to work?
A / My new studio!

Q / How do you try to balance your time?
A / I run the CISTANTHE cooperative which currently includes two NGOs and a craft collective, along with other individual craftspeople. I also do a number of other commissioned projects and collaborations for other brands at the same time. I don’t have a line of what is work and what isn’t and I get very consumed by what I’m doing…especially since I’m talking with people all over the globe. I feel like people think it’s better to not be “on” all the time, but it works for me!

Q / How do you keep yourself organized with all the projects you have going on?
A / I love making lists! My journal is really important to me and if I lost it I would cry!

“So often, success is measured by huge numbers and exponential success, but to me forming quality relationships and really exploring a particular method and re-inventing yourself is very important.”

Q / What do you enjoy most about your career? What are the most challenging things about it?
A / Having my own business and working with artisans can be challenging in many ways, but I decided early on what CISTANTHE was going to be and I think I have stayed very true to that. I am not out to meet high demands or produce giant quantities with big margins. I am working in social enterprise and utilizing design to reinvest in communities and craftspeople who have become good friends.

Q / Something that’s very important to you in your work?
A / Purpose is very important to me in all my work. If something is pretty but has no greater meaning other than surface beauty, I am not very attracted to it. The process behind my work is to discover as much about the technique and community as possible by working directly with the craftspeople and incorporating their stories into the work. My favorite textile we’ve done was the hand-embroidered warli which was developed by Vandana Di in Ahmedabad and is based on ancient, indigenous warli mural paintings depicting domestic and social life of the community. The handiwork on this textile is so intricate, each embroiderer takes about 2 meters home with them and spends about a month making the piece while simultaneously caring for her family or going to school. Normally it is the combination of two or three embroiderers’ pieces that make up one dress. You can really see the hand and different stories within each piece.

Q / Where do you go to be quiet and think?
A / Since moving to Los Angeles, I sit in traffic a lot and surprisingly get a lot of self-introspection and thinking done on the I-10!

Q / How does your home and environment influence the kind and quality of work you produce?
A / It’s funny because I’ve always lived in very old apartments and houses. I am drawn to really old things because I love imperfect stuff that has a story and is weird. Right now, I am living in a very modern, industrial space but almost all my things are old and I really love the juxtaposition of the old and the hyper modern industrial materials. I think that says a lot about my work as a whole as I start with a very old, traditional technique and try to reinterpret it in a modern way.

“I am not out to meet high demands or produce giant quantities with big margins. I am working in social enterprise and utilizing design to reinvest in communities and craftspeople who have become good friends.”

Q / Where did you grow up and what led you to your current home?
A / I was born in Miami but moved to New York as a teenager and just relocated to Los Angeles this past year. I really came of age in New York and it taught me so much! I thought I would be one of those die-hard New Yorkers that strutted around the East Village smoking cigarettes at 85 and yelling at NYU kids to get off my stoop…but I sold out and moved to LA.

Q / What are your first memories of success and failure?
A / When I was in 4th grade and got the highest score on the writing standardized test in the state of Florida. It was a really big deal. Looking back, I wrote a sappy five paragraphs about how much my little sister meant to me but that experience of success was such an important milestone in my life and I think that kind of support is crucial to growing up. When kids receive such a positive response about something creative or interesting that they’ve done it gives them a deep confidence that has carried through me my entire life. I think that kind of early support is so important in terms of building self-confidence and passion in people. In terms of failure, I fail all the time and too much to keep track of, so I don’t keep track! I think it is good to not look at failure as a negative.

“When kids receive such a positive response about something creative or interesting that they’ve done it gives them a deep confidence that has carried through me my entire life.”

Q / How would you define beauty and what part does it play in your work?
A / I think something aesthetically beautiful that serves a greater purpose beyond aesthetics is true beauty. I am not really interested in creating just for the sake of creating.

Q / Does social media factor into your work at all? Is there anything you find problematic about it?
A / I really love Instagram. I don’t take it seriously, I just like posting things I am working on or find inspiring and I love connecting with cool people on it. I’ve discovered so much! I think people who talk about it as if it is all photos of lattes and selfies just aren’t following the right people!

Q / Do you use the internet on vacation or do you prefer to completely disconnect?
A / Yes, because I love the internet and am pretty good at navigating it for basically everything. It gives me anxiety to feel too disconnected but I do enjoy being without it for short intervals, I suppose…

“It gives me anxiety to feel too disconnected but I do enjoy being without it for short intervals, I suppose…”

Q / Is there anything in particular that you do to take care of yourself and relax?
A / I go to the Korean Spa with my best friend! I also really love cooking at home with my husband who is the best chef!

Q / Was there any particular person who helped shape your career in formative way?
A / I studied Fine Art at Parsons and all the work I created in school was about personal experience and inward struggles. I had always been very interested in politics and socio-economic issues but I had no idea how to become involved after going to four years of art school. My first real job was a design assistant for a small cashmere knitwear and textile company that worked in Italy and all over India. I learned a lot from my boss there about making things in general, working with artisans and running a sustainable business. The concept of utilizing design as a tool to tackle social problems and improve communities just made sense to me and became my biggest passion.

Q / How did your parents feel about your career path? Does anyone in your family work in the same industry?
A / My father is an Air Rescue helicopter pilot and really paved his own way which has always been inspiring to me. His career always had such a strong purpose and contribution to society, it has always inspired me to do something with humanity and purpose.

Q / What’s the worst job you’ve ever had? The funniest?
A / The worst and funniest job I ever had was working at a smoothie shop and having to dress like a banana every other Saturday to lure people in.

“The concept of utilizing design as a tool to tackle social problems and improve communities just made sense to me and became my biggest passion.”

Q / Where did the idea to start CISTANTHE come about?
A / I was going to school at Parsons and studying product and textile design, but that always felt sort of empty because I found a lot of the design around me to be all about the mass market and commerciality. I took a class called Design Ethics which really turned me on to the idea of social enterprise and utilizing skills in developing parts of the world and using design as a tool to support growing economies. After school, I worked at a luxury cashmere company in New York that worked with lots of artisans around Kashmir and Bikaner and I began to learn more about running an artisan business.

Q / Can you speak a bit about your sourcing and production process?
A / Our production and sourcing process is probably the most important part of my business. I am always looking for and discovering new craftspeople and artists to work with, but I like to really hone in on one group and really develop the work which is what I have done in India and am now starting in Namibia. I partnered with an NGO in Gujarat and have been working with them for about four years now. The NGO is amazing and is run by the most wonderful woman. We work to take local women out of a bad situation and gain self-sufficiency, whether it be a domestic violence issue, a dowry issue, dire poverty, etc. The women are trained by master craftspeople to learn a specific skill whether it be dying, drawing, embroidery, appliqué, sewing, etc. Some women approach the NGO but sometimes we hear about the women through word of mouth and we seek them out to see if they are interested in the project. The work they produce is beautiful, you can really see the time and quality spent with each piece. No piece from CISTANTHE is the same, it was touched by so many hands before hanging in my studio, it’s really special.

“I am always looking for and discovering new craftspeople and artists to work with, but I like to really hone in on one group and really develop the work…”

Q / In what capacity do you work with your collaborators?
A / CISTANTHE exists solely based on the partnership of other people. I am only one entity and sort of the ‘glue’ behind the company. All of the craftspeople contribute so many ideas and inspiration. I also have been working with one sample and pattern maker for the past 4-5 years who is incredible and I’ve never found anyone like her. She can work with anything and is so technical! She works from home as well. We just moved to our new studio/showroom in Lincoln Heights in east LA and have just started working with tailors here to produce pieces in our community.

Q / What is the most fulfilling part of your job?
A / I think the combination of my two passions, design with social enterprise – and being able to work on it and evolve that everyday is really exciting!

Q / What has been your proudest career moment thus far?
A / I think the feedback and the clients that have been supporting CISTANTHE. So many amazing people who I have looked up to and admire have shown interest in the project which I am super proud of!

Q / What are you looking forward to this year?
A / Developing the new cooperative myself, marketing director Anna Haber, and anthropologist Megan Laws have set up with a group of 28 Ju’/hoansi San women in eastern Namibia. We are focusing on glass bead weaving and ostrich eggshell bead weaving, making large-scale sculptural pieces for the home and also a line of carrier bags modeled after a plastic shopping bag and large envelopes out of glass beads. We all went to Tsumkwe to set up the cooperative and have a workshop with the women in October and Megan, who is doing her field study with the San and living with a family there, was running all of the production and sampling. I’m excited to see how it develops!

“I am only one entity and sort of the ‘glue’ behind the company. All of the craftspeople contribute so many ideas and inspiration.”

Q / Lastly, ten of your favorite people, places, and things that we should discover too?
A / 1. Chettinad, south India: for the banana leaf South Indian food and the Indian Art Deco architecture.
2. The work of French-Moroccan artist, Yto Barrada.
3. I was so inspired by Duro Olowu’s exhibit in New York last year, More Material, at Salon 94.
4. Lee Dekel is an amazing artist and designer. She is currently living in Ghana working on a design project there – her Instagram is amazing and she has a beautiful eye.
5. Chinatown and East LA – I recently moved my studio to the Lincoln Heights/Chinatown border. I love the gaudy kitsch of Chinatown and how untapped it seems. I met a shopkeeper named Walter the other day who had been there since 1935 before it became the relocated Chinatown and it was just a dirt lot.
6. Tim O’Brien’s book ‘The Things They Carried’ is one of my favorite books of all time about his personal account of his time fighting in Vietnam.
7. Mark Mahoney. My best friend & I got to shoot Mark at his tattoo parlor in Hollywood a few months ago. He’s just so cool in such an unparalleled way and his work is incredible.
8. Annabelle Adie’s amazing home in Montmartre and her ceramic work.
9. My friend Oroma Elewa is a really amazing artist and curator as well. She puts out a beautiful print called Pop Africana and also is a beautiful photographer and stylist.
10. The 22-year old documentary photographer, Emily Garth Waite is amazing and I hope to work with her one day. Her series in India on underaged female trafficked sex workers is so incredible. She has recently been traveling around Romania working with an anti-human trafficking consortium and local police hoping to find and document trafficked women and children in the sex industry in Transylvania.

Interview
Catherine Litke

Photography
Catherine Litke & Peter Curtis

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