This story was originally published for Insider’s Guide to Spas. To view all of my contributing articles, visit Insider’s Guide To Spas.
I was in the midst of New York Fashion Week, but all I truly cared about was finding time to meet with Cara Marie Piazza. I had long envisioned what her creations and workspace would look like. Mostly, I was curious about the designer herself. A treasure among the chaos of fast fashion, she is succeeding on her own terms.
The natural dyer and textile designer launched her brand nearly right out of college. Besides hand-dyeing storytelling creations for her own label, c a l y x, Cara teaches workshops on natural dyeing and continues to join forces with exciting brands. Everything is naturally dyed through alchemical dye sessions, ancient shibori techniques, and bundle dyeing. The designer’s sustainable creations and well-thought-out collaborations are sold at spa resorts, such as Amanyara Turks & Caicos, and cities all over the world. As a fan of carefully curated Parisian shops, I was happy to learn that the fashion capital has wholeheartedly embraced Cara’s work. When we met, she was looking forward to attending Paris Fashion Week.
Stepping into Cara’s universe was everything I imagined. Upon entering the open loft space, I immediately noticed her love of vintage. There was work in progress—a large wooden kitchen table held some key dyeing supplies in the form of soaking flowers and fabric. The magical set-up seemed like something out of an alchemist’s workshop, with lit candles and the sense that something both natural and beautiful was about to happen. You see, Cara uses sustainable practices and has developed relationships with local florists, the events industry, and restaurants in order to source her dyeing ingredients. The primary hand-dyeing ingredients, such as no-longer-wanted flowers and food wastes are donated to her. She does purchase certain dyes from natural dye providers in order to get some desirable colors, like indigo.
Cara has always been interested in creating ethical designs and attempts to source and make everything in New York City. She does admit that there are steps to the business, such as shipping and packaging, that could be even more sustainable. The dyed fabric is made of organic cotton and ethical silks, her tags are made of seed paper, and Cara continually takes steps to figure out ways to be even more environmentally friendly. Although a good number of brands come to her for collaborations, she is choosy and does turn down big-volume orders and digital printing of her work. Living a green lifestyle in all aspects of her life can be hard, but she is extremely mindful. All that work results in gorgeous intimates and kimonos.
Although c a l y x was originally an intimates label, the line has expanded to dresses, tops, and bottoms. Cara’s typical customer values comfort and heritage, in turn the creations are meant to help the customer feel protected, strong, and sexy. C a l y x pieces are easily layered; there is no wrong way to wear them. Custom orders are very common, especially if you happen to be a bride. Immortalizing your special day with a custom-dyed garment is one of Cara’s specialties.
Cara Marie Piazza has dyed her way to a special place where the consumer is environmentally conscious, seeking exclusivity. There is an earthy specialness to her work that makes it luxurious. One could almost compare it to the way fashion was created in the past; based on regional culture, capable artistry of the tailor, and material availability. We have been living in excess, and although large chain stores are taking over neighborhoods, the closings of mega stores and malls are hard to ignore. Looking around, it seems the shops of the 1980s and ‘90s are becoming non-existent in a confused fog of technological advances and customer pickiness.
In a culture where fast fashion, fast food, fast beauty, and on-the-go fast lifestyle thrive, we are having a breakthrough and rooting for brands with transparency and uniqueness. Social media and Instagram in particular have played a huge role in helping businesses take off. Cara herself revealed that Instagram has been instrumental in getting the word out. As loosely as these words get thrown about, I do believe the rise of wellness and self-care jargon is teaching us to slow down and be mindful of how we live and shop. One can certainly appreciate the transparency in Cara’s work and her genuine artistry which she enjoys every single day.
I felt a kinship with the designer as we discussed her work over coffee and touched upon women’s rights and spirituality. She feels fortunate because women-owned businesses are scrapping the whole idea of competition. There is a sense of comaraderie. So, what does Cara believe might be the ideal utopian future of fashion? She thinks retail is heading into a service-based industry, involving up-cycling with customers purchasing heirloom pieces that last longer. As for her own future, there are new collaborations on the horizon, lots of new classes, and the launch of a dye kit sometime in the summer.
To learn more about Cara Marie Piazza, visit CARAMARIEPIAZZA.COM.