While restoring hand-painted silk scarves for Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum, Ellisha Alexina was inspire to turned her fascination with art, fabrics, and history, into a full-fledged textile business.
After experimenting with the effects of layering watercolors and natural plant dyes on textiles, Ellisha developed her own mixed media process that blends screen-printing and hand-painting, winning over clients like Johnny Depp and garnering critical success—all before her 30th birthday. Here, the 26-year-old shows us her studios and shares her notes on making it work. —JM
On getting started
I launched my first textile collection in Fall 2013. I have always had an inclination toward textiles, design, and working with my hands. It was my final year in college when I discovered a way to print fabric by hand painting on silkscreens, and became drawn to the technique.
After college, I opened my studio in Easthampton, Massachusetts. Mentorship was essential in the beginning stages and I found a great one in Peter Fasano. When building my studio, we would meet and discuss the industry, inspiration, and the handmade process of textiles, and Peter introduced me to other designers in the trade which was extremely helpful.
On her breakout moment
Having the first collection accepted into the Holland & Sherry New York showroom has been one of the most rewarding experiences so far. I loved their showroom and remember calling them directly and managed to schedule a meeting to show my work. It was so nerve wracking, since I knew they'd never heard of me! At the meeting, I could tell they were really intrigued, and about a week later I received an email saying the brand had been accepted for representation. That moment was groundbreaking for the company, and me personally.
Balancing the business needs along with the creative side has been the most challenging experience so far. I am always wanting to create new designs, new methods, and new fabrics—that's what I'm drawn to as an artist. I find myself always asking two questions: "what's next?" and "how?" I think a lot about evolving the brand, but I also realize that rapid growth in the beginning stages isn't actually always what's best.
On Lessons Learned
I have learned about the importance of discipline, keeping focus, and having a clear vision to build a solid foundation. With that said, I just launched my second collection in May, which I'm very excited about. I have been exploring product design as well as a collection of wallpaper. While I can't wait to see where this all goes, I'm constantly reminding myself to take note of the beauty of daily achievements. It can be easy to lose sight of when you're always thinking ahead.
“take note of the beauty of daily achievements...it’s easy to lose sight when you’re always looking ahead.”
Advice to others getting into the textile business
My best advice is to keep true to your perspective. There is a world of prints, colors, patterns, scale, and decisions out there. Don't let what other people have done alter your style. Your vision is the most important to keep while creating a fabric collection. Inspiration and an understanding of trends is important, but you need to find a way to use those only as a tool to help you create and not let them overpower your originality as a designer.
On her process
The most natural aspect of design to me is creating movement within the pattern. When developing a print, I often start with a blank piece of drawing paper and black pen. I use my inspiration and references to guide the style of the print I am creating. While looking at my references, I create a simple black and white drawing. I do this over and over, rhythmically, until I have achieved something that bounces to the eye. Adding color to the print and choosing color stories takes me a lot of time. Part of me thinks it is because I gravitate toward neutral colors, so adding too much saturation changes my vision of the print. I have to set strict deadlines for these kinds of decisions, otherwise I would never choose!
On what's next
Very recently, I've gone back to my original paintings from my first collection, Mendel, and began experimenting with them for an Archive Collection of wallpaper prints. The original colors of these paintings are harmonious with gemstone tones, which is exciting and new to the brand. I have also been traveling to antique trunk shows and finding vintage chairs to reupholster, which is leading the way to the beginnings of an e-commerce store.
On age in business
My age has impacted my business in a few different ways. Undoubtedly, being a young designer allows me to come into this field with a vision that has not been colored by opinions from the industry. I love coming out with new prints and working with designers because I do not have any preconceived limits on what is or is not possible. That might sound risky, but to me that is so exciting! On the other end, being young can also give people the idea that they can walk all over you because of your inexperience. So my advice there is: stay confident, and do your research. Those people who treat you negatively because of your age aren't people you want to be doing business with. Know your market, and let your age serve as part of the development of the brand.