Silver Lining (n): Finding hope in an otherwise negative situation.
Welcome to The Silver Lining: A series highlighting businesses and industry leaders across the nation who have persevered to remain on top during COVID-19.
Say hello to Lily Sauer, a natural dyer by trade nestled in the Santa Cruz mountains, who decided to turn her craft into her very own business during the shutdown.
I’m excited to hear about your business. Please tell me a little bit more about it.
Lily Sauer: First off, I’d like to thank you for including me in this series. This is a great opportunity to take a minute and reflect on why I’m building this business. With that being said, I’m Lily, and my brand is Lilbellamosa also known as Lil. I’m a natural dyer who specializes in silk charmeuse products, including pillowslips, scrunchies, bandanas, and a small line of lingerie coming soon! I’m based in Santa Cruz, CA, and all of my products are plant-dyed and sun-dried.
What’s your story behind the business and why did you decide to start dyeing?
LS: I started playing around with natural dyes in college at San Francisco State University. I became obsessed with natural textiles and plant dyes. Not only are these both better for the planet, but they have huge benefits for us as well. The skin is the largest organ, and what we put on our skin whether that be products or fabric is being absorbed. This thought hit me hard and has shaped me as a designer, artist, and consumer.
Natural dying was a growing hobby and when COVID-19 hit early this year I was able to dive deep into the magic of plant dyes. I started with silk pillowcases for myself and friends because in these times we all need something cozy to rest our heads on. Silk is a powerful fiber. It has so many amazing qualities that are healing, such as antimicrobial, hypoallergenic, and truly does help tame bed head. Silk also takes natural dyes amazingly well.
I now sell pillowslips, silk scrunchies, bandanas, and I’m about to launch my first line of naturally dyed panties! I hand sew the scrunchies myself, and work with a small mother-daughter team here in the bay area for the other products.
Keeping things in my local economy is very important to me. I love being able to support other local makers. I guess, all in all, my brand and products are made with lots of love, for people to enjoy and hopefully get some well-deserved rest in this crazy time of life.
During the pandemic, many companies have had to shift their way of thinking to stay profitable or even afloat. How have you shifted your way of thinking for your business?
LS: Honestly, COVID-19, and the shelter in place order in early April were what pushed me to turn this hobby into a business! I was working two jobs when the pandemic hit, and due to the circumstances I am now for the first time solely working for myself. Over the last 7 years, I have always worked for other small artists or designers, and it is so gratifying to finally be working for myself. This time has given me a creative outlet when there was not much else to do, and it gave me a purpose, to share plant dye and self-care with others.
What would you say is the silver lining you’ve discovered about your business during quarantine?
LS: I think the silver lining of this pandemic is my business! I think for many of us this time of slowing down and going inwards has taught us many things and brought what truly matters to light. Though so many people have suffered and are still suffering, I think globally this was a much-needed wake-up call: that the way we have been operating is not sustainable.
What would you tell others who wanted to start a business /hobby but are afraid of failure due to these uncertain times?
LS: I would say go for it! As long as you’re having fun with it and it’s something you truly believe in, people will recognize that and be attracted. Also trial and error are just a part of the process! Be gentle with yourself, especially during these times.
Moving forward, what does your vision look like for your business?
LS: Honestly, this is a question I ask myself every day, and my answer changes daily. It is scary to go full in on a small business, but it’s something I have always seen myself doing. I see myself staying in the realm of natural dying, but I would love to grow into a small batch lingerie, sleepwear, and maybe even sheet company! All things cozy!
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve been able to use to dye something?
LS: I would say tree moss from the High Sierra Nevadas. I had heard of other dyers using moss, so I thought I would give it a try while I was visiting my family cabin. As with all dyes, it took a few experiments but after soaking in cold water for 24+ hours the moss created the most insanely vibrant yellow. Like neon yellow! It was shocking and super exciting as most natural dyes are not that bright in hue. They were also super special, being seasonal, and from one of my favorite places in the world. The silk absorbed the smell of pine, and it was divine!
What’s your favorite plant to dye with and why?
LS: This is a hard one. I would say my favorite type of dye materials are those that I forage for or that I grow myself. This summer my partner and I grew a huge Indigo crop. I was able to dye a few rounds of fresh leaf indigo products, which create this magical mermaid turquoise.
I also held a small workshop in my back yard, which was so fun to share the process of fresh leaf indigo dying with friends. I will have Indigo seeds for sale in a few months! It was so fun to watch the whole process of the plant, and currently, I have little pink and white blooms covering my backyard.
Lastly, how can we get our hands on your products?
LS: You can find my products on Instagram, @lilbellamosa . Website coming soon!