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An Interview With Christina Kim of dosa

An interview with Christina Kim of dosa, June 2021 (Transcribed from a phone conversation).

The way Christina discusses her approach and process, while positioning herself as the client of her work is truly beautiful and romantic, from her inspiring encounters and stories to her thoughtful process and creation. Speaking to Christina and hearing about these often unknown or hidden aspects to her work has highlighted another layer of and allowed for a new experience with dosa and Christina’s work. 

dosa Standard Issue has been a staple for years - offering a collection and wardrobe with continuity. Why did you introduce such a collection? What place do you feel it fills in wearer’s wardrobes?

“I guess I should start from the early days… I never set out to be a fashion designer, I just wanted to make clothes, and what interests me about thinking, looking at it from that angle was about creating a balance, between form, shape and function. When I was in college and post-college, I was wearing a lot of antiques and army re-issue stuff and one of the things that I learned was that things were designed for a reason, and I think that is where my drive comes from - to create and constantly modify and tweak it a little bit. As you wear it, meaning me as a customer as well, and making it fit just right and doing the Standard Issue, you know, I constantly check it and constantly improve it. You may not notice it, but the fabrics behave differently from season to season, because of the handmade fabric I have to constantly tweak it, and that really to me is more like a design approach and the artistic approach I am interested in - trying to perfect something.”

“I am not working with these situations where these things remain constant. Things constantly change for me. It has a different need from different angles and so I try to constantly modify it. Clothing is for every day, so the Standard Issue serves that function. Trying to do something as a designer, answer a design problem to constantly make it better, and what a nice way to start from the same silhouette, same look, adjusting it little by little.”

The design and creation of pieces seem intrinsically linked – with some of the designs and concepts informed by the formation of creation and fabrication – the skill and making. How do the stories of makers across the world inspire you and form dosa?   

“Well you know, I think design can be part of a solution of current climate issues, and one way to really consider, is using less natural resources and employing or utilizing more hand skills to create more work - and it also keeps the tradition going. That’s what I am concerned about and it also allows the skill of hand that I want to keep going and nurturing and you know really honoring it. It seems to be very linked together - and the tradition and the culture.”

dosa and you have a cult following – clients are often telling stories of their favorite items they’ve had for years. Recently, pieces from the past were brought out and worn again and stories shared, as clients felt such joy in finding a mask that matched a favorite treasured dosa piece. What are some of your favorite stories about pieces?

A Zero Waste Project from April to December 2020, 3200 masks were made using 132lb of scraps, 3200 hours of work for makers in LA and India, with $9180 donated to Project Angel Food, the masks sold through TIINA the STORE helped support The Springs Food Pantry.

“Actually, you know when I used to live in NY, I had a very beautiful old Italian bike that I used to ride around, and so I was constantly on the street. And one day, I spotted, I think on West Broadway in Soho, and as I was riding my bicycle from like two blocks away I saw this vision of colors, and I thought oh my god that is just amazing, and I rode really fast, and as I am getting closer and closer…. It was one of our dosa customers, wearing five years worth of Cambodian silk fabrics that we used to use and I love, she just mixed it all up…and I thought that was really cool to see your own work that I didn’t even recognize, because the way she put it together: it became her… it was beyond what I did, it became her... and I think that was so cool.”

“You know I so believe in individual style rather than following a look that is designed by a line or a designer. I so believe in that: everyone having their own style.”

Your use, creation and presentation of textiles are art. Tell us more about your work interacting and discoursing within the concepts and realms of art? How has your art background and education shaped your use of textiles within the format of art?

“My art background gives me a way of looking at the color theory and materials and I kind of apply those knowledges. The way I use the colors and the way I look at the material probably from a slightly different place, I don’t really think what I do is art in terms of like the clothing at all – because I really just make clothing but I think the way art is there is the design process. I keep a whole journal for the way I design and the way I would try to share the process of, say, recycling and turn it into an art form. I was thinking of a piece, I did a whole painting of how we cut a piece of fabric and I did a painting of all the patterns and painted it, so it’s my documentation and my note keeping that I consider my artwork.”

“I studied Art History, really a great deal, starting from Primitive Art to European Art to Middle Eastern Art to African Art to Asian Art. So, I covered art history pretty well. And I think what I was always trying to find was the connection, the connector, what connected all these arts together. What I try to do in my design practice is connect the dots… so I use Indian, African, Chinese fabrics as much as each other, they are all referencing some type of art history.”

There’s a trueness – a consideration for makers and their creations - with you transferring, presenting and continuing a concept for a new and different environment and audience. This approach feels like art, or more authentic than art, that the cause, concept, and idea is not just a representation in or through the piece but integral to the creation and notion made. There is an education or story that comes with dosa. How do you research and what are you sharing and telling with dosa? 
 
“I think so much of it is I actually work in the field, with the makers rather than creators. And I think I have such a respect and fondness and have formed relationships with them, that I want to honor the time they spent to do the work I ask them to do, the time they put in, is where my appreciation for making probably comes through. And I really try to enhance that more than anything else, the hand and that is probably what you are feeling is the hand, you know people have different hands so therefore the feel is different on each garment for example. Even though it looks the same, it’s not. In fact I am just looking at all your Short Tule Dresses we just got in; they are all unique in their own way because every layer of it is handmade made one at a time, not cut as a bundle but cut uniquely. The fabric is also made the same way. Also, people are so used to seeing many that look identical and for me I kind of work on the concept of repetition and variation, so there is some thread that is running through that, but I love the idea that each one is different including flaws. Flaws make it unique.”

“I travel a lot as you know, and through the travel, and in my travels I encounter certain stories that at the moment seem quite unexpected and somehow I kind of create a nice story out of it. And I think that really really comes through my work, the storytelling of it, and maybe you don’t know the story but I create using the story as the baseline. “ 

“I feel like what is important is that you as a consumer - I wish I could share every story - but what is important I am using a story as a bigger picture than one item or let’s say it’s a color palette or smell – you know I think all those experiences apply to its meaning. One of the experiences I was going to share with you is I was in Udaipur and I got rained out and no flights were taking off and I had to spend half a day at the Udaipur Airport. And I remember the smell of tea and the tea somehow was Lipton Tea. Which is very different than what they have in India and I wanted to remember that smell and convey that with customers. I use Lipton tea to dye, so the color neel, is initially dyed with Lipton tea, that gives it that wonderful smell and then we dip it in really light indigo. So things like that, not everyone will know unless I tell the story why I use Lipton tea, but that is the story. "

“In this dark rainy airport in Udaipur it wasn’t your typical smell of Indian tea, this particular guy, I don’t know where he got it, but was serving Lipton tea. It was such a friendly kind of moment for me I ended up buying tea for everybody for a few hours.”

dosa and your varied inspirations are unique and diverse in their source location and how they are pulled together and presented. A personal favorite is the Judo Pants with reflective binding at the cuff– where did the references for this detail originate and what impact does travel and discovery play on your creative process?

“I used to fly into London, spending a lot of time in London in the mid-90s, flying into Heathrow Airport at this time, they were starting to wear reflective vests on the ground – traffic controllers and staff, and I thought it was really really cool and this was like a silvery reflective fabric. And around that time I was taking Tai chi and my teacher was always talking about the hem of the pants and when you lift your leg to do positions or go into a position, she said to me, look at the hem of your pants… because it dances. So, then I said I am going to put that reflective tape I saw at Heathrow Airport as a little sliver of movement, of this dance movement.”

The age and time with something is important in forming the way dosa evolves – with many new pieces being in an unwashed state, that once washed, worn or broken in creates the piece – the wearer and their activities become crucial, with the wearer’s memory forming in the piece from activity and use. How important is this to you?

“First of all, the clothing that we send you is washed, I did that purposefully so that people don’t dry clean, so we put all the shrinkage in as much as possible. Second thing is, you know, I think clothing is something so part of oneself, and I think I do consider not just a fresh brand-new moment, but what would happen if indigo fades and what happens to the stitching color, so I give you a little indication by using lighter thread for the stitches, so that ultimately your garment will go to that color. So a thread doesn’t become orphaned, the thread is waiting for you and the fabric to catch up with the color of the thread.”

“The Yoruba Tunic I’ve been making for the last four years, that idea I had about 20 years ago. I saw a concert in LA, an outdoor African music concert and one of the singers from Nigeria, he was a Yoruba musician, he was wearing something like that, and I actually found a garment that was very similar and I bought it. It’s a men’s robe. I kept working on it every season trying to make it work. And it took me ten years. I wear a lot of traditional garments myself, so I was wearing it and trying to figure out how I can make this into a functional garment for women, and it’s a men’s robe but what I really liked about it, was the way it was engineered to cut the form. It was just a section of it I took, literally just the front part of it, and I kept modifying it and modifying it, and I think I finally got it five years ago. I keep bringing it back, I figure if there’s a reason I noticed it then I keep working at it.”

“I think I saw that particular Yoruba tunic twice. You know King Sunny Adé, a Nigerian Yoruban musician, big in the early 90s, Juju music and I used to love all his music, and I still do, and I think he was the first person I saw wearing it in the late 80’s, early 90s, and then I saw it again in LA.”

Installations at museums and here at TTS have been an integral part in what you make, and telling stories - tell us more about working with Tiina on installations and their importance to your practice? 

“For me I see myself as a designer, not even a clothing designer, just designer period. To me, creating a space is kind of the thing I think about the most. Before I design a line or I have an inspiration, I think about what the space is going to look like, and then I start into the clothing design. So for example one year the whole thing was like tea shops around the world. So then I wanted to show where customers came in and they felt like they were in a tea shop, not just a tea shop in one place, but Chinese tea shop, Japanese tea shop, Korean tea shop, African tea shop, Indian tea shop – so then the whole collection was embracing all the tea shops, Moroccan tea shops, Tunisian tea shops. I did a whole collection based on that and I created a kind of room where I served different kinds of teas, because what I am interested in is creating these experiences, and so people feel like they are just transported to somewhere else, and that is really interesting and important for me. Then clothing happens to be part of it.”

“For me for sure because the concept of shelter, is so important, and shelter that is moveable is interesting to me. And shelter is where one can dream, yeah architecture is really important for sure. I am interested in architecture, yeah for sure as a part of the design as well, even though I didn’t really study architecture.”

How do you work and collaborate with established makers, your approach and process. Tell us more about our installation, and how it came about. TIINA the STORE X Heath X dosa – an installation celebrating the shared love of blue, centered around ‘Moonstone’ a historic glaze from Heath, celebrating its 50th anniversary. 

“I wanted it to be kind of a fluid experience, where you don’t feel that this is a clothing show or a recycling show, this is about an experience.”

“They invited me, I don’t even know how many years ago, probably about 18 years ago, when Robin and Cathy just bought the company and they were just starting to work with designers, and they invited me to do a collection, to come up with an idea. And at that time the line was called Phases of the Moon, and I did a tea set for them, Phases of the Moon, Dark Side and a Light Side, and then that was our first collaboration, and the second collaboration was, I designed Chez Panisse dishes with Alice Waters, and I continued to work with them.”

“I’ve always loved Tiina’s style, but more than anything else, her warmth. She is just one of the dearest persons I know.”

“Gasali, he is such an important part of my design practice, because he was a casual encounter for me that I had at the Santa Fe Folk Festival many years ago now. I saw his smile, and it was so infectious - I have got to come back and see this guy. And, he happened to be Yoruban, he is Nigerian, and that his colors, his work, his blues really remind me of the African indigos that I love. To me African indigos are different to other indigos and my favorite is African indigo, I feel very lucky to work with him.”

"For this project I like the combination of indigo and cobalt blue, I like Mark Rothko, Yves Klein, Cyanotypes and all that, and I feel like this particular group of colors really culminated all these artists that I like that are working in combinations of blues, and the cobalt blue is very celestial. I also kind of wanted to do the same thing from this natural indigo to the gem stone color of cobalt.” 

Opening Friday, July 2, 2021 we are thrilled to welcome Heath Ceramics with a captivating visual installation designed by Christina Kim of dosa. A collaboration – TIINA the STORE X Heath X dosa - celebrating our shared love of the color blue. The installation highlights exclusive, one-of-a-kind ceramic samples from Heath's Summer Seasonal Collection as well as limited edition dosa pieces created in collaboration with Gasali Adeyemo, a Nigerian-American expert in the Yoruban traditions of indigo dyeing, adire, embroidery, quilting, and appliqué. Steeped in past and present day, Heath's 2021 Summer Seasonal Collection is built upon Moonstone, a historic glaze, celebrating its 50th Anniversary. The collection and installation embody the energizing pause of blue’s pure and universal glow – a concept that resonates profoundly with us at TIINA the STORE.

dosa is a clothing, housewares, and accessories company founded in 1984 by Christina Kim with her mother, Vivian. Their guiding principle is to design well-considered products that are organic, recycled, and off the grid. Working with textile makers around the world and using traditional crafts and nurturing hand skills is part of our overall effort to consume less, cherish more, and help keep these indigenous crafts alive creating clothing and home textiles inspired by handcrafted materials and traditional textile techniques. As a thinker, maker, entrepreneur, artist, and social activist, Kim incorporates a sense of humanity into her design and production process. This season, dosa collaborated with Gasali Adeyemo, Santa Fe-based textile artist and teacher, to create hand-made textiles and table linens exclusively for Heath's Summer Seasonal 2021 collection. 

Heath is an American maker of goods for the home, made locally and sustainably in California since 1948. What began as small-scale pottery with Edith and Brian Heath has evolved into a pure and simple way of life and business. Led by husband and wife Robin Petravic and Catherine Bailey, Heath is driven by the relationship we have to the things we treasure. Ceramic dinnerware and tile are the anchors of the company. 

Although this event has concluded, dosa and items as part of this collaboration and installation (Artek and Heath) remain at TIINA the STORE – any inquiries can be directed to info@tiinathestore.com.

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