Since 2014, Lulu Rose Suresh of La Tierra has celebrated – and hopes to revive! – gradually dissipating art forms through handmade products. These include naturally dyed fabrics and scarves. Through her business, she aims to empower marginalised communities and, at the same time, educate customers on the importance of responsible living. She also organises block printing workshops for those keen to learn.
What motivated you to start La Tierra?
Since my childhood, I’ve had a natural inclination towards fabrics and interiors, and a family whose business was in textiles. In my early years, I was fascinated by the sarees worn by my mother and aunts; there was so much variety in terms of material, prints and colours. Growing up, I read about and researched the different types of silk and how they’re produced, and I learnt more about the art of fashion and how it could be more sustainable.
I also learnt about batik, tie-dye, shibori, eco printing and block printing. And, as I moved around the world, experiencing marriage, an MBA and parenthood, I felt a need to share this knowledge and art, especially considering the gap in the industry as far hand-crafted products such as scarves go. It wasn’t just related to fashion but rather was something that transcended all boundaries; I wanted to showcase the natural and sustainable ways we could provide beautiful clothing, scarves, accessories for the home and more.
How did you go about refining your search for products for La Tierra?
I started small, with a lean start-up. The initial products were stoles. As I found the right investments and skilled people and expanded my network, the line evolved. Feedback from customers and clients has also contributed to the development of the product line. Slowly and steadily, as La Tierra gained momentum, partnerships developed. For example, we recently partnered with Cartoon Network (CN) for a We Bare Bear series, and currently featured on KrisShop as well as at Design Orchard.
I also looked out for unique designs and incorporated Singapore landmarks and icons such as local flora and fauna. In addition, I explored new techniques; today at La Tierra, we use block printing. I came across naturally dyed fabric several times and it remained an enigma to me until I started learning more about it. I felt a love for this craft and a need to support the artisans, and that’s what helped me to find people involved in the industry. We work with small groups of artisans from different backgrounds, some of whom are differently abled.
A lot of your dyed fabrics use natural dyes. How are these made?
These natural dyes are straight from nature. We use pomegranate skin (waste), myrobalan (seed), indigo (leaves), madder (root), lac (insect resin), marigold flowers and real leaves and flowers to produce colours. Dyes are extracted through a process of heating (the temperature varies depending on the extraction process) and the extract is then added to a small quantity of mordant. This aids in fixing the dye in the fabric.
It’s a time-consuming process; the temperature and method used for the extraction of colours are as important as the fibre makeup of the fabric. The techniques unravel beauty with a pinch of surprise; the result in each case is different.
Is there a way to tell naturally dyed fabrics apart from non-natural? If so, how?
Someone familiar with the process might be able to tell the difference. You can also spot natural dye due to its mild uneven colours and print. But I make sure that I work with the right set of people so that all La Tierra’s products carry authenticity.
What’s one thing about naturally dyed fabrics that people might not realise?
That it’s highly laborious and time-consuming! Carving is done by hand on wooden blocks in block printing. Great precision and attention to detail and colours are required.
Shibori involves pleating, stitching and dyeing again by hand. People with a real interest in sustainability often want to learn more about it. It’s also a great way to harness nature’s way of giving us colours, which we are fortunate to be able to use. There’s minimal release of toxins in the groundwater and carbon footprint is controlled.
Naturally dyed fabric also has a soothing or calming effect on the body; it’s like how Japanese warriors used indigo-dyed fabric to help keep their wounds clean and how turmeric fabric has healing effects.
You also organise block printing workshops for those interested. What’s a useful piece of advice for first-timers?
These workshops are a sneak peek into the real world of hand block printing. You can get to know what the whole process is about and how it works. My advice would be to enjoy the process of hand printing, which is, admittedly, time-consuming; yet it allows you to be more creative with the placement of patterns and also to own a piece you have created. In this workshop, we work on cotton scarves and totes.
What else is La Tierra hoping to bring in in the near future?
As mentioned already, we’ve created a We Bare Bear collection of one-of-a-kind hand block-printed products – yes, definitely scarves as well – with Singapore’s lovely cityscape backdrop. Part of the proceeds from this collection will help several social causes such as Jaipur Foot and Image Mission.
La Tierra is always involved in working with community welfare groups and supporting certain causes. This year, we will be contributing to Jaipur Foot in India, an organisation that helps amputees get back on their feet physically while empowering them with support. Kind and benevolent friends have helped us identify family-oriented small production units in Rajasthan and aided us to work with the right set of people.
Working with Tina Tan-Leo and Design Orchard has also given me the confidence to smoothly transit to fashion and better avenues with confidence.