Cara Marie Piazza is a Natural Dyer and Textile Designer living and producing her work in New York City. Committed to sustainable and ethical production, she manufactures all of her pieces here in NYC with all fabrics sourced ethically and sustainably using organic cottons, bamboo fibers, and peace silks.
Cara creates one-of-a-kind textiles using only natural dyestuffs, including food waste. In transforming each textile into its very own story, she is also transforming our impact on the planet and informing the ways we think about food.
Can you speak a bit about the importance of sustainability, and how that influences your work?
Sustainability motivates my work – I am completely transparent with my practice. Each design element adheres to sustainable principles such as: the use of natural dyestuffs, limiting water usage, and using only ethically sourced fabrics. All of my pieces are produced in NYC to reduce shipping emissions, and I oversee the fair trade status of my factories.
What foods do you use most when dying fabrics?
I only use the parts of food that you would typically discard or throw away. I believe that if you can eat it you should, and there are too many hungry people in the world to waste the edible parts as dye. Remarkably, the parts of food that are the most hearty and substantive as dyes are the rinds, peels, and stems – the parts we typically dispose. Some of my favorite dyestuffs are: onionskins, avocado peels, and pomegranate rinds. Persimmon peels also make a beautiful rusty color that the Japanese used to dye farmers work wear.
How do you find the limitations of using food scraps and natural products influences your creative process?
I’m very relaxed and easy with my expectations! Hues extracted from food scraps vary depending on factors, such as the amount of time the skin was dried or the soil it was grown in. And it’s important to take these variables into account when trying to replicate colors. However, when working on my personal pieces, I love this variation and experimentation that comes from the process.
How do you extract the dye from the foods?
There are a few different ways of extracting the color, but the main process is hot extraction. I boil the dyestuff or food scrap until the dye water is colored, and then strain the dyestuff out to leave the remaining liquid as a dye bath. This process works especially well with rinds and skins.
Are there any foods that turn something a color other than what we might expect?
Yes! Pomegranate rinds make green! Which I think is remarkable, as green is red’s complementary color.
What are you experimenting with right now?
Currently I am preparing for my November residency at Fort Gansevoort’s Natural Dye Bar in New York. I also have a new intimates line, Calyx, which is supplied by locally grown flowers from the Herb and Dye Farm in Rockaway, NY, whoa are supplying my experiments with creating local-only color.
What advice do you have for people in the fashion industry—or any industry—to incorporate sustainable and ethical practices into their work?
I find that if people feel they can’t fix the entire problem, they abandon any positive changes they could make. Ted’s Ten Principles are the guidelines that inform my decision-making process, and they make my and anyone else’s sustainability efforts an integral practice to all areas of your business. Other advice, do not ever give up if you feel like you can’t do 100%. The 20%, 40%, or 80% of your practice that you can make sustainable adds up and it all helps. Every little bit helps.