Honoring & Showcasing Craftsmanship with Lily Koi
Based in Saigon, Vietnam, Lily Koi is a unique line of handmade and hand dyed textiles inspired by the vivid colors and fabrics of Vietnam, Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand. Lily Koi is committed to empowering the women of the Southeast Asian ethnic groups through fair trade and cultural exchange. Although the collection designs are available for re-order, fabric patterns and shades of color vary, as each piece is one-of-a-kind. Lily Koi shares their design philosophy, production process, and market strategy.
Photography by Jan Mirkin-Earley
Jan and Palmer – how did you get where you are today?
We currently live in Austin, TX and Saigon, Vietnam so there’s a lot of travel in our lives. I (Jan) have worked in the music business most of my life. Palmer has been designing lighting and home goods for the past 20 years.
We moved to Vietnam 4 years ago to start Nellcote Studio, a lighting design studio and factory. As Palmer was building his lighting factory and designing his first collection, I spent my time traveling the countryside of Vietnam. That’s where I met the tribal women of the North Vietnam mountain regions and found my first vintage textile. I felt such a strong attachment to the fabric and the women’s stories – designing the first line was just a natural reaction.
What’s Lily Koi’s design philosophy?
Each found fabric has its own unique character and I design each piece honoring and showcasing the craftsmanship. My goal is to produce high quality, one-of-a-kind interior products that tell a story and hopefully become timeless heirlooms.
Can you name the materials and techniques that Lily Koi craftsmen currently use?
I lead my designs by hand-choosing vintage and handmade textiles, then mixing textures to contrast and compliment the design. I pay close attention to usability and I am dedicated to leaving as little waste as possible. I begin with handmade textiles made of hemp, cotton, silk, and wool, which are all woven on backstrap home looms and many are vintage. Some are batiked with beeswax and dyed with natural elements including indigo plants, tree barks, and tea plants. Some are hand-embroidered in patterns that tell a story. I pair these handmade materials with silk velvets, linens, cottons, and silks.
Describe your production process from inspiration to production?
My inspiration is literally everywhere I go; the people I meet, the earth, the colors of the land, and the sky are all sources of inspiration. The most moving aspects are learning the struggles and the stories of the ethnic people. By working with them, I am bringing revenue to their village. The revenue is crucial, it is needed to support the teaching of their unique traditions to the next generations. I bring all of this with me as I create my sample designs. For production, my sewers are all in Saigon. They are also an incredible inspiration. Most of the sewers I work with refer to themselves as “differently abled” women. They sew my designs in their homes. I do not use a factory. It is very gratifying to be able to offer jobs to people who would otherwise struggle to have an income.
What’s the design scene like in Saigon?
Growing! It’s still in its infancy age, but it’s growing fast. There’s a very young population there who are super creative. There are many young and talented clothing designers. You also see great graphic artists and the fine art scenes is amazing! It’s a very exciting time seeing these young artists start to shine.
From where do you gather inspiration?
Inspiration is everywhere. I find the most inspiration in my travels. I am fortunate to travel to some of the most remote and beautiful places. The air is clean, the earth is close, and technology is very scarce. When I find myself in the villages where the textiles are created, I’m learning the stories of how they were created and the meanings of the symbolism. I’m always fascinated, honored, and most definitely inspired.
How do you cultivate strong relationships with showrooms and interior designers?
First of all, I let the fabric speak for itself. I never have to “sell” anything; either it speaks to you, or it doesn’t. Then, you have to follow that up with service. If somebody is going to partner with me in business by putting Lily Koi on their floor or clients’ homes, you have to deliver! You have to deliver a quality product 100% of the time. You have to ship on-time and have patience; sometimes, we don’t always see the same thing. But, the customer is always right.
Does Lily Koi attend markets? If so, what’s your market strategy?
Yes, we have always been fortunate to show with Resource Decor. They have beautiful showrooms at High Point Market and Las Vegas Market. We also do the IFFS in Singapore with Resource Decor. Now, we are discussing Maison & Objet in Paris next year. I have permanent showrooms in Harrods London, ABC Home & Carpet New York, SONDER Living LA & SF.
How does Lily Koi prepare for the holiday season?
With lots of joy, gratitude, and eggnog!
What’s Lily Koi’s focus for 2018?
To continue to create, discover, learn, and travel.
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