Up Close and Personal with Colombian-American Textile Artist Dana Haim

Dana Haim is a name you need to know, and a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to luxurious and gorgeous textiles. Believe it or not, that deliciously soft and beautiful throw blanket and cozy cool rug did not just magically appear out of thin air, they were designed, sketched, crafted and hand-woven in a multi-step process that involves artisans from all over the world. And the magic begins with the breathtaking talent and creative brains of Dana Haim from her studio in San Francisco. 

From blankets to napkins, tablecloths, rugs and everything in between, Haim puts her mark on her work not only through her uniquely whimsical yet timeless designs, but also her dedication to working with local artisans and craft communities around the globe, from Oaxaca to Guatemala, New Zealand and more. Her choice of color is impeccable and her eye for design is undeniable, but perhaps most unique and inspiring is her desire to stay true to traditional, handcrafted techniques. 

After talking with Dana one thing became instantly clear: creative genius is in her blood. Dana was born and raised in Miami, FL to Colombian parents, and her mother is a gifted artist and designer, with her own successful interior design firm. Dana notes that growing up watching her mother work instilled a love of the arts and she continues to be an inspiration. Her family always encouraged her creativity and helped her to embrace her artistic expression over the years. 

Her studies in textile design from the Rhode Island School of Design further nurtured her natural talent and knack for creating timeless textiles that tell a story, elevate the home and are long-lasting so they can be passed down from generation to generation. It was at RISD that she fell in love with weaving and textiles, and then while receiving her MA in Design for Textile Futures from London’s Central Saint Martins, Haim wrote her thesis project on the preservation of craft in an increasingly digital age.

Later, during the years of traveling the globe, Dana developed a newfound appreciation for how connected textiles are to the local cultures and traditions of those communities. Her work with textiles has taken her to countries around the world that she would not have otherwise seen and has allowed her to work with artisans in various cultures that she wouldn’t otherwise have access to. She considers weaving and textiles to be a universal language that connects us all, literally weaving together various cultures and generations, and it is with that in mind that she approaches her socially conscious home goods collections. Just one look at her Instagram page and you can feel the love that she puts into each piece of her ethically sourced textiles. 

Today, her brand is on a mission to “create handmade, ethical textiles that are beautiful, long-lasting, and most importantly, made with love.” And especially during these modern times when so many production processes and industries are becoming more reliant on technology, she’s dedicated to staying true to the traditional, hand-woven techniques that preserve the innate beauty and timelessness of objects made by hand. 

We chatted with Dana to find out what first inspired her ethical textiles business, how she connects with local artisans around the world, and what her favorite part is of the socially conscious artistic process. 

Tell us, what first inspired you to work with handmade textiles?

Creativity has always been instilled in my blood. Growing up in a creative household, my mom collected unique styles of art and fabrics and paintings and drawings. She also had a collection of textile pieces from Colombian fiber artists from the 70s, and they were always very intriguing to me. I was inspired by all the art, but I have a distinct memory of seeing those textiles and being drawn to them. And then in college, I really understood textiles as a craft and a potential path. At RISD, I was first introduced to the concept of textiles as a career. I remember watching a video about Japanese fiber artists and artists who used a sewing machine as a painting tool, and it really spoke to me. It made me feel like if I’m going down this path, I want to be like one of those weavers. 

How do you build your connections and relationships with local artisans around the world? 

It’s a flexible process. Sometimes I reach out to artisans based on my needs and I participate in engagements and workshops in those communities. Some trips I just go to the local market and town and walk around and explore, and while I’m there I connect and swap phone numbers with artisans that I meet. I figure it out as I go along. Sometimes I’m connected with people. You have to start somewhere and go with it and have fun with it. It’s fun to see it as an adventure and meet people who inspire you and teach you. I always say that the experience is as important as the final product. 

Was it always a goal of yours to work with local artisans and to help support artisan cultures around the world, or was that something that developed over years of experience in the textile industry?

I’ve always been an analog person and while I appreciate technology and what it can provide, by nature I’m a hands-on, tactile person. It’s the way that I like to work, and it feels right for things to be hands-on in my life and career — it’s the right path for me. Working with artisans happened as a result of traveling the world and talking to people in creative, collaborative ways. It naturally evolved as I traveled and learned. Actually, those kinds of artisan partnerships began back when I was making pom-poms by hand, and I realized I was going to need to start outsourcing some work. I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the workload on my own, which led to the adventure of seeking out people who could help me and accompany me on this journey. I needed people who could help create my vision, while maintaining a viable business and also staying true to those hands-on techniques. 

Of all the places you’ve traveled around the world in search of local artisans and crafting techniques, what has been your favorite experience? What culture impacted you and your craft the most?

It’s hard to choose just one place. I always say that my trips are purpose-driven travel. We travel to explore and learn and take it all in. During my travels, I really fell in love with Oaxaca and I can’t wait to go back. It was a life-altering trip in terms of being so beautiful in an unexpected way that changed me. I refer to my time as before-Oaxaca and after-Oaxaca. I was inspired by the aesthetics and materials, of course, but mostly by the people. I fell in love with the textiles I saw there, the process of crafting, and mostly by the richness of the culture. Guatemala is also incredible. My grandfather was born there, so I feel a deep connection to that culture because of my heritage. I always say that I have more work to do there. And Peru as well — my husband and I have unfinished business there and I cannot wait to go back.

Does your creative process vary from project to project, or do you have a typical routine and method that takes you from inspiration to inception and ultimately having the finished product in hand?

My process really varies from project to project. Because it’s mostly just me doing everything from design to social media to photography and art directing, I often adjust my process as I go based on the project. I start with painting for inspiration, then working from there. I like to use watercolors to come up with patterns and designs, then once I have the design inspiration in place I look at my roster of artisans to see who can do what and who can create my vision. If no one fits, then I start to look into new people and new artisans who I could work with. There’s a lot of back and forth with artisans and global craftsman to get it just right. Because I’m working with people all over the world, the entire process definitely takes time and patience; it can take at least a few months to get from point A and point B. 

What textiles and products are you most excited about, and what’s up next for Dana Haim Textiles?

I’m really excited about all of the table linens and new rugs that we’re doing from India. We’re really breaking the frame of the rectangle rug and using fun new shapes to get away from the typical shapes that people are used to seeing. There’s a lot of potential for more exploration, as well as some new processes that we’re working on with new artisans. I’m excited to play with new structures and new designs and shapes and see where the designs take me.  

To learn more about Dana Haim, her process, her designs and her products, you can visit her newly revamped website. Her incredibly gorgeous textiles are available at select stores, or can be purchased directly from her website or through private commissions.

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