Starting a Textile Design Business with Skye Livingston from Hello Hue Studio
Textile designer Skye Livingston to the Happening Hands Blog! Skye owns Hello Hue Studio based in New Hampshire and she’ll tell us a bit about her process and business story. You can find Skye’s work on her website, and you can follow her on Instagram.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What’s the story behind you and your business?
My love affair with textiles started at a young age. My mom taught me how to sew when I was about 9, and I have so many memories of cutting apart my sisters’ hand-me-down clothes and sewing them back together in new styles and with all kinds of embellishments. When I went to college, I picked a small art school with a killer fiber program (Kansas City Art Institute) where I fell in love with every new process and technique I learned, but particularly loved dyeing and (of course) sewing.
I spent a few years trying my hand at what I call a “capital-A” art career: making artworks for collectors, galleries, and exhibitions. I was traveling around the country to various artist residencies and making sculptures and installations, but eventually I got burned out. Throughout this time I had been mostly working with synthetic dyes, but I had developed a little side hustle dyeing napkins and silk scarves with natural dyes. I loved working with natural dyes and wanted to take on a new creative challenge so I started designing and making pouches and pillows out of fabrics I had dyed. There were several iterations before I landed on and developed the multi-colored denim stripes that make up the signature Hello Hue style, but now I’m borderline obsessed with these stripes.
The other big piece of my business is striving towards a more sustainable future. I have always been concerned with resource use and material waste on an individual level, but when you bring those issues into the sphere of business (especially a product-based business in a capitalist society) you can see this whole messy network on a much larger scale. There are infinite and fascinating sustainability challenges to confront, and I like trying to find the best solutions for me and my business.
Where do you draw inspiration and motivation from? How do you stay creative?
This is going to be a very cliche answer, but as a primarily 3-dimensional artist, my surroundings and environment are extremely important to me and an eternal source of inspiration. I’m constantly noticing and admiring aesthetic elements around me, and I spend a lot of time shifting and honing the organization and look of my living and studio spaces. Everything from walking outside to wandering through an antique store to looking at the angles and lines of a couch can be inspiring. Online eye candy like high end fashion shots and interior design are fun to look at, but I try to stay away from the consumerist cycle of trends and focus on more timeless sources of inspiration.
It’s also important for me to have many and varied creative outlets, including quilting, embroidery, mending, candle-making, and graphic design, so I always have lots of little side projects going on.
What does your creative process look like from start to finish?
Honestly, I do very little sketching in the beginning of a new creative project and prefer to spend a lot of time thinking, designing in my head, and playing with materials. I’ll make lots of little samples and test pieces, and then start sketching to figure out the specifics. I design things slowly, and tediously, and test out new products and designs in very small batches.
For the actual production side of things, there are essentially two main parts: dyeing, and construction. Everything from Hello Hue begins as undyed denim, which I cut into yard lengths for small batch dyeing. Natural dyeing is fairly involved, and I’ve developed a dyeing process that takes at least three days to complete and involves multiple steps of cleaning and preparing the fabric for dyeing, extracting the dyes from organic materials, then actually dyeing the fabric and coaxing out the colors I want with various afterbaths, if needed. Then all the fabric is washed, dried, and ironed.
From there it goes onto the construction part, which involves lots of cutting and sewing. I cut the now colorful denim into 2″ wide strips and then I have way too much fun putting colors together to create the 4-color stripe blocks that make up the primary aesthetic element of Hello Hue designs. So the strips are sewn together in these “stripe blocks” and then cut into the appropriate pattern pieces, which are then sewn to the other pattern pieces that make up each product and finished with the appropriate linings, zippers, tags, and straps.
And throughout production, there’s constant sidework that has to happen to maintain a zero-waste studio: collecting, organizing, and using scraps; obtaining, washing, and cutting my “2nd chance” lining fabrics; and making my reclaimed leather tabs.
What’s your current favorite podcast, music, or tv show that you’re hooked on and why?
I listen to a ton of podcasts, and like everyone else I’ve been a serious true crime kick for the past few years. My all time favorite podcast is Criminal by Phoebe Judge because she’s just an incredible story teller, but my newest favorite podcast is Truer Crime by Celisia Stanton, who does a phenomenal job of contextualizing the circumstances surrounding the crime, questioning the investigation and media reporting, and detailing the societal framework.
I’m currently spending a lot of time in a category I call “true-crime adjacent,” which is like a zoomed out view of true crime mixed with investigative journalism with podcasts like You’re Wrong About (by Sarah Marshall) and Behind the Bastards (by Robert Evans).
Name one thing not many people know about you.
As someone with persistent depression and generalized anxiety disorder, I have a daily struggle with my mental health. There’s a long history of mental illness in my family, and my own issues hit fast and hard in early adolescence. Since then it has ebbed and flowed and I’ve developed a plethora of coping skills, but ultimately managing my depression and anxiety will always be a part of my life.
I know that’s a bit heavy to just drop in the middle of a casual interview, but in solidarity with others and to help end stigma, I think it’s important to be open about my own struggles with mental health.
What are your top three values in life?
Integrity, empathy, and respect. I don’t have anything clever or wise to say about those three values, I just think they’re extremely important.
Do you have any business challenges and/or goals you’re hoping to crush over the next 6 months?
I’m stoked to develop relationships with retailers in my area and start selling wholesale more consistently.
Last year was my first full year in operation as Hello Hue Studio, so it was a hamster wheel of frenetic production, markets, trial and error, and just trying to stay afloat. This year, I have not only an actual plan, but also the foundational elements of my business in place so that I can enact it and level up a little bit. I feel like I’ve got a good handle on the local market circuit, so I can focus on developing the wholesale side of my business and see if/how wholesale fits into my long term goals.
Do you have any advice for all the small handmade business owners out there who are just getting started?
Don’t quit your day job – yet. I had way too much unstructured time and not nearly enough consistent income last year (my first full year in operation). Because of the circumstances of the pandemic and moving to a new area, I didn’t have a lot of other options and it ultimately worked out, but I was definitely not as prepared as I should have been to dive headfirst into working for myself full-time.
Also, just keep going. Keep making, keep showing up, keep developing your skills, and keep on keeping on.