Katrina Rodabaugh of Made by Katrina
Katrina Rodabaugh, artist and maker, is dedicated to the art of producing thoughtfully made, sustainable goods. Whether creating natural dyes from plants she foraged near her Hudson Valley home or mending jeans in the traditional Japanese sashiko style, Katrina consistently immerses herself in projects focused on environmental sustainability. With an interest in slow, sustainable fashion, Katrina initiated a year long fast fashion fast in 2013. Realizing the timeliness of this social art project, the fast fashion fast evolved into an ongoing project entitled Make Thrift Mend. Katrina teaches workshops on the topic of slow fashion and encourages others to begin their own fast fashion fast.
With regards to your own work, how do you define sustainability?
I think of sustainability as an overall value in my art studio to consider the wellbeing of the planet in all of my creative endeavors, this ranges from creative writing to exhibitions to social practice projects. Most recently this has been realized through the slow fashion movement and embracing sustainability not only in the materials I use—recycled, upcycled, or biodegradable materials—or even in the themes for my work but also in my approach to my work. Meaning, I’m leaning into an overall slow design philosophy of being mindful of how much is truly enough; trusting my process and how long something needs to be realized; expanding my thinking about local practices and seasonal connection; researching local materials, resources, and collaborators; and creating collaborations between farmers, artists, and organizers.
Can you describe how you started your company and how you became interested in sustainable design?
I have an Environmental Studies degree from undergrad so for me the sustainability came first and then my work in the arts followed. I took a handful of art and writing classes in college but I really wanted to delve into the philosophy, politics, history, and other interdisciplinary angles that could teach me about sustainability and the environment. I graduated college and went straight to work for nonprofit arts organizations. Then in my late 20s I went back to school for an MFA in Creative Writing where I focused on poetry and book arts. It was my book arts professor in grad school who pulled out all of my work with fiber and textiles and convinced me to look at it as a lifelong career with fiber arts. That began my formal career as an artist and then in 2013 I focused my studio practice exclusively on sustainable fashion and social practice. That was the moment when it felt like all my work in sustainability, writing, and fine arts aligned into one cohesive project.
What are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of owning a sustainable business?
At this point, I have my whole heart in my work. I feel like all the things that matter most to me are activated through my current focus on sustainable fashion. But having spent 15 years working in collaboration with colleagues in nonprofit arts galleries and theaters there are moments when I really long for regular connection with other colleagues. Not the short-term connection of working on a project together until the exhibition or publication but that informal, ongoing relationship that you build with officemates over years of collaboration.
Where do you see the fashion industry moving in terms of ethics and sustainability?
I see this huge shift happening right now with major brands embracing sustainable fashion in one way or another. I think this is only the beginning of what we’ll see in the next decade with fashion—we are exhausted by fast fashion and we crave something else. We’re exhausted by our possessions and we want to reconsider how to have less and actually feel like we have more. I think this shift is pivotal in fashion but we can see it in the triad of our basic needs from food to shelter to clothing. We’ve come so far with organic, local, slow food movements and we’ve gained huge ground with LEED certified platinum buildings, eco-friendly appliances, and solar panels on homes but we’re just beginning the turn in fashion. It’s thrilling to think of the possibilities for people and the planet.
How can we encourage consumers to buy ethically & sustainably?
I think it’s about value. We can’t argue that we prefer things with value over things without value. So the more we can stress the value of an object or an experience—whether it’s value in terms of materials, techniques, craftsmanship, resources, thoughtfulness, etc—I think the easier the connection for the consumer. Also, I think we want quality now that we’ve been inundated with such quantity of goods. Now we want quality and that’s easiest to understand through value.
Can you describe what you hope your company will look like five years from now? In other words, What are your long term goals for your company?
I have some exciting projects in the works for the next two or three years. For now, I just want see these projects through and keep building my business and my art practice to better support my goals at the intersection of sustainability, art, and fashion. I feel pretty clear in my focus on teaching, writing, and making art so it’s just a matter of building capacity to better execute each of these goals over the long-term.
What does a typical day in the studio look like for you?
There really is no typical day anymore. I have two small children and most of my typical studio days shifted when the first one was born. I have childcare in the mornings so I’m very efficient between 8:30am and noon—I respond to email first thing, prepare for any meetings, and then focus on the upcoming deadlines. Then there’s a break for lunch and nap for my littlest and I can usually get back on my computer and work quietly for an hour or two while he sleeps. Then the older child comes home from school and there’s a focus on the kids until bedtime. Social media and emails often resurface once the kids are in bed. But my studio rhythms are flexible to my deadlines in teaching, writing, and exhibitions. Becoming a parent meant I had to get really firm around my time management. If something needs to be done I’ll get it done, but if it doesn’t need to be done it can wait. It’s amazing how much focus I’ve gained in having such little leisure time. I never realized I could work so efficiently in such short spans of time.
Tell me about your design process.
I’m a researcher at heart. One of things I loved about graduate school was the time spent in the library and the rare book collections just reading, researching, and pouring over articles, essays, and books. I tend to start with just an idea, then do quite a bit of research either online or in person. I create inspiration boards on Pinterest to really get a visual sense of where I’m headed but also still have various lists and thoughts in my notebook. Then I collect materials if it’s a physical object or start coordinating with venues and organizers if it’s a social practice project or a workshop or whatnot. And then at some point it’s as if all the preparation can keep moving along without so much effort and I can just let my hands takeover.
I try to keep close to my original vision or take breaks if I get stuck. The more I question the work the more muddled. If I can just maintain that initial impulse while letting in enough inspiration from my research I tend to be much more confident in my work and design. If I start to question something too much or start to have that sense of feeling stuck I try to go back to the initial questions and impulses. The older I get the more I’ve learned to just trust my vision. Often times I find there’s great clarity in the beginning of a project if I can just stay close to those questions or concerns.
Do you have a motto or saying that particularly inspires you?
Lately, I’m loving the Arthur Ashe quote, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”
+To follow along Katrina's journey in sustainable fashion and hand-dying, follow @katrinarodabaugh on Instagram.
+Head on over to Katrina's website, where you'll find her blog and more information about her creative projects, including Make Thrift Mend.
Photos courtesy of Katrina Rodabaugh