Ekaterina Kulikova is a multidisciplinary designer working in the exciting space between design and research. Her work focuses on natural materials, emerging technologies, material research, and creative direction. She graduated from Parsons School of Design with a Masters Degree in Fashion Studies. Ekaterina has worked as a design consultant with major international fashion companies. She is a currently one of four fellows of The Parsons Design Fellowship program launched by Donna Karan’s Urban Zen. The other fellows are Mochi Liu, Amanda Evengaard and Jennifer June.
Over the summer Ekaterina, along with three other student fellows, travelled to Haiti with Donna Karan’s Urban Zen. Based at the Design, Organization, Training Center (D.O.T) in Port-au-Prince, the fellows worked closely with Haitian artisans to design and develop a Naturally Haiti collection for the upcoming Urban Zen collection using locally-sourced materials and following the traditional artistic practices of the community. Katia recently returned to Haiti to continue and develop the project. The D.O.T. project has also been recently featured in Elle Magazine.
What did you hope to gain from participating in the Parsons Design Fellowship in Haiti?
Right from the start, I was very excited about the fellowship for a number of reasons. I am passionate about sustainable design so the opportunity to implement sustainable practices in Haiti was very appealing to me. The fellowship also allowed us to use our talents to positively impact the local artisan community. This was extremely fulfilling especially in light of the devastation that occurred in Haiti in 2010, the effects of which are still felt up till today. Finally, the ability to collaborate with three other talented Parsons designers, with Donna Karan, and with the local artisan community created a conducive environment for shared learning.
I would love to hear more about the final products that you designed. What were the final products and what was your intention in creating them?
As a Fashion Designer, I am primarily focused on developing products that require expertise in textiles. Our main focus is to preserve Haitian craftsmanship and to help artisans to design new products for the upcoming Donna Karan’s Urban Zen collection using natural materials that are available locally. I developed the collection of bags and homeware that were dyed with longwood, djon djon mushrooms, almond leaves, turmeric and natural indigo. The final products in textiles provided new color pallets and new ways to source affordable local materials for production.
How did you interact with and involve the community during the design process?
We worked in a newly established collaborative space named the Design, Organization Training Center (D.O.T) in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The D.O.T was created through a collaboration between Donna Karan, Urban Zen, Parsons School of Design, and Haitian businesswoman Paula Coles to help bridge Haiti’s traditional artisan techniques with the modernity and design innovation needed to succeed in today’s global marketplace. I worked closely with artisans, visited their studios and helped them to develop new and existing products. I also conducted several workshops, where local artisans had a chance to learn natural dying, rust dying and printing techniques.
Were there any challenges or obstacles that you encountered during the design process? If so, how did you overcome them?
I did face a number of challenges. These challenges were often compounded by a general difficulty in understanding the design process due to language barriers and a lack of technical know-how as it relates to using modern machinery and equipment. By building trust with artisans we were able to overcome the language barrier. Existing production and design facilities at D.O.T provided an excellent starting point for research and design of new products. By working closely with the local artisans we were able to teach them how to use the modern machinery and equipment at the DOT center to improve and speed up their design processes.
What was the most interesting or surprising thing that you learned from your experience as a Design Fellow?
I am fascinated by the creativity of Haitian people. The most interesting parts of the trip was when I was learning from the local artisans. The moments when the artisans shared their design processes and life experiences are memorable and invaluable for me.
How will this experience contribute to your studies at Parsons?
I graduated from the MA Fashion Studies program where I had a chance to work as Research Assistant on sustainable practices in fashion under Dr. Hazel Clark. This experience is a direct application of my studies. Working as part of the local community presented the opportunity to enact positive change in communities that have limited resources and lack of modern technology. There are many benefits associated with local artisan community involvement in a design process. It can encourage a sense of ownership and enthusiasm for the project.
As you are about to return to Haiti to continue this work, how do you see your project and goals developing?
Since there is an increasing interest in the application of natural dyes as environmental awareness and public concern about pollution increase, I believe that it is an important area that needs to be developed in Haiti. The potential national market for natural dye plants in the fiber arts area is not well known and information about this market could help both growers and fiber artists. My goal is to further research and develop local materials for natural dying.
What do you hope to accomplish on your second trip?
I hope to make progress in the areas of developing new colors and print techniques using local plants and other resources such as rust.
What other projects are you working on? How do they relate to your work in Haiti?