As one of the many very talented designers boasting roots and influence from the South (check out Gray & Co, as well as HollyBeth Organics for other Southern groundbreakers), Kathryn Maresca represents a a young face in the world of casual traditional fabric design. Her eponymous collection of textiles that she hand prints and sees every bit of the process through, have a soft graphic quality that make them great for upholstering a statement chair or for layering various patterned pillows on a sofa. Impressed with her creativity and technical ability coupled with her entrepreneurial drive, we had to find out more about her journey as a small business owner and designer…
You studied at RISD which has such a big reputation for cultivating some of the best designers out there. What tools did your experience there provide you with?
The most important thing I learned at RISD was how experiment, try new things, and show a confidence in my work. We were also taught how to start a project and conceptualize where we wanted it to go, which I think is the most challenging aspect of being a self-employed designer.
At what companies and roles did you work after graduating?
In school I focused mainly on textiles for apparel, so when I moved to New York after graduation I worked in the fashion industry. I worked for companies like Tom Cody and Printfresh developing original embroideries that were sold to major fashion retailers like Anthropologie and Nanette Lepore.
What were some of the biggest lessons you learned while working there?
I’m glad I worked in the fashion industry because it helped me realize that fashion was not the right industry for me. However, it did teach me to work in a fast paced environment, and that’s helped me manage all of the tasks I have on a day to day as an individual doing business. I also learned a ton about embroidery design, and have carried that knowledge over to many of the one of a kind pillows that have come out of my studio.
There are so many fabric lines out there, what niche were you trying to create when you started Maresca? What did you think the market was missing?
I wanted to create a line that was fresh and colorful yet maintained the same luxury and artisan quality as the traditional hand printed lines that were already on the market. I felt like I could add a different point of view to classic designs. I’ve often heard from designers, “I’ve never seen this before” and that’s something I want to keep striving for with my work.
You are now based in Savannah… How does the South come into play in your designs?
I grew up in South Carolina and moved to Savannah 4 years ago. When I started designing the collection many of my first patterns were directly inspired by the architecture and colors of Savannah. I’m no longer directly referencing Savannah in my newest work, but living in this environment it’s hard not to be inspired by osmosis. It’s so beautiful and historical here, and there’s a relaxed atmosphere that helps in the creative process too.
How do you create a print? Is it done digitally or by hand?
I always start a print by hand. Once I settle on a theme or inspiration I gather reference materials and begin the process by drawing, painting, block printing, etc. I also like to think about what kind of environment the fabrics will live in, that will play a big part in the kind of base fabric I use or the color palette I work in. I like to get the design almost completely worked out before going into the computer. I then make a small silkscreen of the design so that I can test color, base fabric, scale, etc. in my home studio. That way I also have a pretty good idea of what the fabric will look like when it’s printed at the mill (and I have less surprises in the end).
Why did you decide to manufacture your fabrics in the US, is there a particular quality to domestically made textiles?
I wanted to have the fabrics hand screened and made to order, so it made the most sense to keep manufacturing domestic. This way I have a lot more control over the quality of the product, I’m able to source my own ground cloth, and I can work with the mill to do custom projects for clients without having an insanely long lead time.
What was the hardest part of starting Maresca?
Being creative was always the easiest part for me, it was figuring out how to apply the creativity that was (and still is) the most challenging. In school I was never taught how to start a business like this—how to approach showrooms, how to attract designers, how to market your work etc. So I’ve had to teach myself a lot of things along the way. I had a teacher at RISD who told me that if you have to teach yourself how to do something you generally come up with the most original way to do it. I like to think of that when I have a task I’m feeling uncomfortable with.
What advice would you give those starting their own fabric line? Does it require a lot of investment capital?
I’ve slowly grown my business over the past 4 years and have focused a lot on the process and growth of my design work. I’ve invested in designs one by one instead of launching a huge line all at once, which is more of an investment of time than of capital.
Tell us about your studio. What are its key components?
I have an indoor office and an outdoor studio space. The indoor office is where I do most of my design work/sampling/research, and the outdoor studio is where I have a print table, silkscreens, pigments, and anything else that will make a mess. I like working outdoors because I ‘m disconnected from my computer, which can be a major distraction when I’m trying to be creative. I can keep some separation between the office work and the messy, creative work and it gives me a nice balance between the two.
What is the best hidden gem in Savannah?
Terra Cotta boutique is one of my favorite places to clothing/gift shop in Savannah. They always have unique clothing that you can’t find anywhere else in town. I don’t think I’ve ever left empty handed and its full of some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met.
If you love her designs as much as we do, you can purchase her fabrics through Fritz Porter later this fall!