Botanical AlchemyMaker Kristen McClarty

Ecoprintmaker Kristen McClarty trades in the currency of unique creative surprises via her Inyoni art-fabric range, which she hand-produces from plants found on the slopes of Cape Town’s Table Mountain.

With today’s renewed emphasis on simplicity, durability and authenticity, Kristen McClarty’s ecoprinting practice and product are as on-point as you could find. Kristen got to this by taking the long route. No art school or decades on a design team feature on her bio, but what does is a robust childhood in South Africa’s rural KwaZulu-Natal (1,800km and an entire ecosystem away from where she now lives), which taught her, among several other country-girl skills, to sew and to identify the plants and trees that grew abundantly around her. In contrast, this was followed by a high-powered 13-year stint in corporate law.

While she was super-fluent about fabric and flora from the get-go, where Kristen is now as a surface designer is as much a science as it is about art in terms of precision, chemistry and biology and soulful moments spent doing what she likes most.

‘My objective with my brand, Inyoni – the isiZulu word for bird, which was my dad’s nickname for me – was to produce wearable and usable art,’ she explains. ‘The art part is the design element, the visualization of a piece based on prior knowledge of how the foliage I find will transfer onto fabric. So it’s really about a look and feel I’d like to achieve, plus it is about registering or transferring memory onto a textile, and in that way it is completely different from any mechanical process.’

The science part turned out to be considerably more dicey, alchemic and experimental for Kristen. ‘There is very little written on the science, as opposed to the practice, of ecoprinting. Each piece of fabric I make is botanically printed directly from the pigments intrinsic to the foliage. I don’t use inks, dye or chemicals. Nature does the work. There were a lot of eureka moments. You don’t know until you know.’

Her product is not solely about the methodology but rather an expression of art on the material. Results however, according to her are not driven by being an elite forager. Although the Cape Floral Kingdom – one of six unique floral kingdoms in the world and widely lauded for its extraordinary diversity of endemic species – is on her doorstep, her foraging is far from restricted to plant royalty. In fact, Kristen’s preferred picking grounds are gutters, plant dumps and the suburban paths and byways where plants have spilled over onto the public thoroughfare.

‘When I forage, I already have in mind a look and feel I’d like to achieve with a piece, so I scavenge for what I need. Perhaps the beautiful blombos (Metalasia muricata) in bloom or the thin strap-like leaves of the invasive Port Jackson (Acacia siligna) that prints medium grey and slightly haphazard in structure. I particularly love the scribbled, needle-fine Casuarina. To create depth in my pieces, I compose and juxtapose relative-strength pigments and foliage shapes, plus the negative space around the foliage and the general markings left on the fabric to create surface noise or detail. All this is on my mind when I forage for and execute a print.’

Kristen has gone from producing small-batch fabric lengths that she retails through several high-end Cape Town craft galleries to producing a home ware range of cushions, bed throws, tea towels and table napkins, available on her website. Her next venture is a collab with fashion designer Nadya Von Stein, whose bespoke range of hemp resort wear befits the values Kristen is all about. For this, and her own growing range of textile prints for Inyoni, Kristen is determined to retain her bespoke approach but reach a wider fashion-focused audience that appreciates and champions small-batch big-time makers of wearable art.


Texte Liz Morris

Production Sven Alberding

Photographies Warren Heath

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