The colors we see now in much of our clothing are made from various combinations of chemicals and synthetics, which sit on the surface of our skin each and every day. Thanks to artists like Liz Mortensen, the tradition of natural dye is being reintroduced into the fashion industry. Continue reading to learn more about Liz and her natural dye brand Laila Textiles, which you can shop online and in-store with The Butterfly Club.
For Liz Mortensen, it started with the color blue.
While studying abroad in Jerusalem as part of her social work degree, Liz stumbled upon a natural dye exhibit. The exhibit walked her through the history of color, dating back thousands of years to when the color blue was first extracted from snails.
“I loved learning about the significance of different colors,” Liz explained of her introduction to the medium, “Colors would represent where people were from, and what their social status may be.” Enthralled by the power and history of color, Liz devoted much of her time left in Jerusalem to learning about natural dyes.
Once back home in Detroit, Liz found herself consumed by her new found interest. “I read tons of books and watched video after video online,” she said of her overwhelming curiosity. While she always considered herself artsy, Liz had never found it. The one true medium that felt right. Finally, something clicked.
She converted her dad’s lofted barn into a mini-dye studio, where she continued practicing throughout college. “I had been selling to friends and family, and at a certain point I realized I really enjoyed it and maybe it was time to set up a website,” Liz said of her transition from hobby to potential business venture.
Fast forward to January of 2022, and Liz took what is now Laila Textiles full time. “Those two years were a whirlwind,” she exclaimed. Now in over a dozen retailers, Laila Textiles offers a variety of naturally dyed silk pieces, socks, and more.
One of her best-sellers has been her natural dye kits, which includes a silk scarf, dried flowers, and instructions on how to get started. These kits were her entry way into teaching workshops for her followers and friends who were curious about natural dye. “When I first started teaching, I didn’t think it would be such a big part of my business,” Liz explained, “But the teaching is similar to the work I had been doing with kids as a social worker.”
Thanks to her workshops, which make up 50% of her business, Liz has been able to open her own studio space in Chicago. “All of my production is here now, and I’m able to teach my own workshops and invite other creatives to do the same,” she said of Laila Textiles’ new home. “Ever since I went full time, I knew I had to take my business out of my apartment,” she said, “When you work where you live, it’s hard to take days off. Your work is always staring you in the face.”
And while she’s getting closer to managing it, Liz admits that the work-life balance is a never-ending struggle. “It’s truly the best job, but it’s also the hardest,” she explained, “There’s no time for any breaks. All of the work relies on me and how much I’m able to produce. I’m the one and only employee, I’m the CEO, I’m the janitor. I play all the roles.” But they’re all roles she’ll happily continue playing if it means getting to do what she loves every day.