Main Meal: Kalen Kaminski
founder and designer of Upstate.
Meet Kalen Kaminski, the creative behind Upstate, the NYC based textile and glass company with an emphasis on sustainability. In this interview, she discusses her journey from Boulder, Colorado, to New York City, driven by her 17-year set design background and a passion for positive environmental change. Discover Upstate's accidental beginnings in 2010, Kalen's emphasis on understanding production processes, and how she finds grounding in nature amid city challenges.
We had the pleasure of working with Kalen on our very own west~bourne x Upstate hand-dyed crew. Designed in collaboration with Kalen, each sweatshirt uses 100% low carbon and pesticide-free cotton and are hand dyed using plant dye in small batches. The dye colors—marigold and indigo—combine beautifully into a sage hue, intentionally selected for their significance in Ayurvedic medicine; marigolds are used as an antiseptic and anti-inflammatory, and having the color touch your skin every time you wear it offers similar benefits.
Where did you begin on your sustainability journey?
I grew up in Boulder Colorado in a bubble of environmentally conscious people and figured everyone was on the same page. It wasn’t until I was living in NYC that my curiosity in sustainability began. My background is in set design and Ive been working in that field for almost 17 years now when Im not working on my own brand. I sometimes work for larger corporations and the amount of waste these companies and photoshoots were producing was pretty obscene and horrific. I think many companies have taken steps in more sustainable practices but we still have a long way to go. Once I started my own brand I realized I had the power to control the type of waste that’s released into the world. Even tho we are a teeny tiny footprint it feels empowering to know that everyone can make changes within their personal lives and brands. It’s contagious! Switching over to all recyclable non plastic packaging was a big shift for us. Im eternally grateful to companies like eco-enclose who are always designing biodegradable, compostable and recyclable packaging.
What sparked the original mission of upstate?
Upstate started completely on accident in 2010 and has grown in a beautiful organic way. By staying curious and open its evolved into a few different iterations. But it started because I’ve always loved making one of kind things with my hands and seeing the joy it brings to others. With this ethos I believe it’s important to understand the entire production process from start to finish. I appreciate this and I think my customers do too.
You use a lot of natural elements in your work, in what other ways do you ground yourself in the earth?
It can be really tricky in the city especially where I live in Chinatown. Some weeks it’s nearly impossible to make it over to a park and lay in the grass but I find that simply buying flowers or going to the farmers market can make a world of a difference. Also taking moments through the day and taking 8 slow deep breaths is grounding. I try and do this if Im on a stressful photoshoot or running around the city. When Im at our house in the Berkshires my favorite activity is to lay on a warm rock next to the river. The river is not only grounding but energizing.
What's a favorite meal you've cooked or eaten in the last few months that really made you feel something?
We are nearing the end of January in NY and it has been BLEAK. I always forget about this time of year and right now it feels so far away from Summer. It’s crazy the polarity of both seasons that we experience in the Northeast. Last week I was missing color in my food and made a beautiful Radicchio La Rosa del Veneto salad (it’s the beautiful light pink raddichio). I added pomegranate seeds, mint and cucumber with a light vinaigrette and it transported me for the evening. This pink salad is a riff off of my friend Lauren Gerries pink lady salad. I’ve been on a huge lentil kick and find them soothing, filling and grounding. I love this lentil soup recipe - and will riff on this.
What are you carrying with you into the new year, and what are you letting go of?
This is the year to level up and just do it! My bucket list is long but I feel I’ve planted all the seeds and it’s time for fruition. Im working on being fully authentic and not trying to conform into what I think I should be doing. Im letting go of self doubt and comparing myself to others.