Making Sustainable Art Wearable & Fashionable with Micaela Rish

Making Sustainable Art Wearable & Fashionable with Micaela Rish

Hi Micaela, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us about your incredible sustainable fashion design! So, let’s dive right in!

Tell us a little about yourself; what was your first introduction to the art and design world?

My mother is an artist, so I was introduced to art at a very early age. We had an art room in the house that I grew up in, so I was constantly working on some kind of art project, be it drawing, painting, clay, or sewing.

I started sewing clothing in high school and fell in love with creating wearable works of art. My first creations were up-cycled garments. I would cut up my old clothes and thrifted fabrics, patching them together to create new garments that I was eager to wear to school the next day.

Where did you learn your fashion design skills and knowledge? Do you have any formal training, or are you self-taught?

I saved up my baby sitting money and bought a sewing machine when I was 14. I taught myself to sew during high school, but I honed by my design and illustration skills at Parsons School of Design in NYC, where I earned a degree in Fashion Design. I also had the opportunity to intern at two luxury fashion companies in NYC . I focused on sustainable design practices during my time at Parsons, as sustainability has always been at the forefront of my design process.

Why textile art? Is there a particular aspect of this type of work that draws you in as a creative?

I love working with textiles because they are three dimensional, and allow me to combine my knowledge of fashion design with my love of painting. My first fashion job out of school was as a denim designer. I designed a lot embroidered and printed denim and that got me interested in playing with patterns and flowers. It was around that time I began hand painting on denim.

I love that I can create not only a work of art, but a wearable one. I am intrigued by the concept of wearing textile art because it becomes a form of self expression. When we think of our clothing and textiles as works of art we value them more and take better care of them.

The first word you use in your Instagram bio to describe your work is “sustainable,” which resonates a lot with us here at Natural Earth Paint. Could you tell us what sustainability means to you?

Sustainability means consciously thinking about how our actions effect the environment and doing our best to mitigate our impact on the natural world. It means reevaluating our decisions and choosing the best option. I try to make sustainable decisions daily and reevaluate often.I source all of my textiles, threads, and trims second hand, and no new resources are used in the making of them. The most sustainable piece of clothing is one that already exists, so I start each piece with preexisting textiles.

What is your biggest inspiration for your work?

I draw inspiration from the textiles themselves and the landscape around me. I blend them until the shapes, the petals, the denim, and the flowers become one.

What is one misconception that people often have about your work that you, yourself are striving to clarify?

The biggest misconception I’ve noticed is that people do not believe that art can change the world. Art can spark conversations, and open people to new ideas that they may not have previously considered. I use my work as an opportunity to find unity and understanding. I want to convey that art speaks where language fails.

What is the most challenging part of the creative work you do, and how are you surmounting that challenge right now?

Certain darker fabrics can be harder to paint, for example, rinse wash denim. I’ve started priming my fabric by painting the shapes of the flowers and motifs in white, then going back over the white shapes with colored paint. It can also be quite difficult to source sustainable materials. I overcome the issue around sustainable fabric paint by using Natural Earth Paint's Natural Acrylic Medium mixed with Earth & Mineral Pigments. I source all of my textiles, trims, and garments second hand. When I cannot source items locally I source them second hand online.

What drew you to using our Natural Acrylic Medium and Earth & Mineral Pigments in your practice? Have these supplies changed the way you approach your art, and if so, how?

Last fall I lived in a 168 sq. ft. apartment. I tried to use my old traditional acrylic, gouache, and fabric paints, but I found the smell to be unbearable in the small space. I was worried about the impact of breathing in the toxic fumes so I spent some time researching natural pigments. I came across Natural Earth Paint on Pinterest and ordered ten different pigments and made my own gouache for painting fashion illustrations. After one natural painting session, I packed up all of my traditional acrylic, gouache, and fabric paints and donated to them to my local thrift store.

I’ve been painting on reclaimed denim for a couple of years now, but I wasn’t so sure about how sustainable that was being that the paint I was using in the past was made from petroleum oil. It seemed contradictory to put something made of petroleum onto vintage denim and then try to call that sustainable, so when I saw that Natural Earth Paint came out with a Natural Acrylic Medium I was excited to try it. I absolutely love it. It is the perfect replacement for traditional fabric paint.

Painting with natural pigments makes me think more deeply about the process and it connects me to the earth. It has also caused me to think more critically about how I source the rest of my supplies. This year I switched to using recycled cotton paper and making my own paper from scraps.

Many creative folks are eager to make their practice more sustainable but aren’t quite sure how to start. Do you have any tips and tricks for artists who want to incorporate more sustainable materials and practices into their creative work?

You don’t have to transition all at once. Instead, you can wait until you run out of something or need new supplies. Then you can focus on finding sustainable options for one or a few items at time. This way you won’t be as overwhelmed by the process, as some sustainable options can be difficult to find.

Start with the things that are easiest to swap out and go from there. Trade in your plastic paint palette for a glass one. When I have left over paint, I store it in reusable glass jars instead of disposable tubes or plastic pans.

Look at your local thrift store for art supplies before purchasing new ones. I source all of my textiles second hand in order to prevent using new resources. I can usually find things like embroidery floss and thread pretty easily.

Another great option is to start by purchasing a kit from Natural Earth Paint, so that the transition is easier.

Where can our audience see (or purchase!) more of your beautiful work?

You can see my work on my Instagram @thatdenimchick and on my website You can purchase my hand painted apparel and illustrations on my Etsy site

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