Lorenz Hermsen is a Portland, Oregon based textile designer with a background in architecture and graphic design.
“I’ve always had a strong interest in textiles. My architecture classes in college gave me drawing and drafting skills, as well as color theory, a knowlege of historical styles and general design skills. I’ve designed everything from stage sets to parade floats to display windows to jewelry over the years. About ten years ago, I took several fabric design classes, anticipating that one day I would be applying that information. I have traveled extensively, and have often fallen in love with the handmade textiles I see being made in some countries, and I find much design inspiration from other cultures.
Nine years ago I traveled to Southeast Asia to visit a friend who had moved to Thailand. He was convinced that with my design background, I would find something there that would spark my creativity and possibly a business. He was right: I fell in love with the handwoven silk being made in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. I began importing scarves and shawls, and they have sold well. However, these handicrafts are disappearing as Asia becomes more industrialized. And because they are mostly one-of-a-kind items, it’s nearly impossible to find the same thing twice. While I’ve enjoyed the travel and these textiles, I missed exercising my creative side, and so began exploring ways to make my own designs a reality.
Since I already had a business with silk scarves and shawls, I decided to investigate what it would take to have my own designs printed onto silk. As a graphic artist, I knew the software used to produce digital designs, but was unfamiliar with digital printing on fabric. After lots of research and a steep learning curve, I decided it was not only possible, but advantageous to print digitally—minimum orders are relatively low, and an unlimited color range is possible. I wanted to have the printing done in the U.S., but there are no digital printers here yet that produce in quantity or that are affordable. So I searched globally over the Internet, and for price and other considerations, decided to try two printers in China. I sent digital files to them for sampling, and although both did an acceptable job, the one I chose had a lower minimum order, and the hand-rolled hemming was better. This printer uses also non-toxic inks that meet high European standards (digital printing also uses much less water than other types of fabric printing).
My graphics and importing businesses taught me about meeting deadlines, shipping, satisfying clients/customers, promotion, advertising, and dealing with suppliers. I’m pretty well organized, and I understand the value of customer relations and loyalty. I’m able to produce any of my graphics needs, thus saving that business expense and lots of time.
My collection of printed silk scarves grew out of my love for Japanese design and color. I started with ten designs, all based on vintage kimono and obi designs from my own collection, or from images I found on the Internet. Rather than scan them, I redrew them in Illustrator, making adjustments, shuffling motifs, and playing with color until they became my own.
Being a graphic artist, my designs have a strong graphic quality. I love working with color, and that is the first thing my customers respond to. Because my designs are based on vintage patterns from another culture, they seem timeless rather than trendy, and so will hopefully be a part of a woman’s wardrobe indefinitely. I hope to introduce ten new designs each spring and fall, probably printing on other fabrics at some point in the future. Home decor items such as pillows are on the list, too.
My intention is to market these scarves directly to the customer, online through Etsy and other shopping sites, my Web site, through my shows, and by advertising; I’d like to avoid the costs and headaches involved in selling wholesale. That part of the business is just getting underway.
A concurrent ongoing project is an exhibition of my collection of early twentieth-century Japanese kimono whose design was inspired by European modern art. The first exhibition of Modern Art Kimono is at the Modesto Art Museum in Modesto, CA, until April 27, 2014.
I live in Portland, Oregon, a city vibrant with creative people making their own way in the world.”