Every once in awhile, you’re lucky enough to read a truly honest, heartfelt, and inspiring story about an individual’s journey to finding his or her purpose. Kylee Barnard, founder of Silk Diaries, gave us an open and beautiful look into her life and how she got into natural dyes and silk.
Where did your business name come from? Is there an interesting story behind it?
When I was young, I had a habit of rubbing a silk blanket on my face to ease my anxious mind. My whole life I wanted to be known as a woman that embodied love, strength and happiness, but my anxiety was gripping me. I started to observe my behaviors, learned my triggers and what helped me cope. I needed comfort in the times of panic. I needed a reminder of my self-worth. A little luxury. And for me, it all came back down to silk.
Every time that I went to the store to buy a silk blouse or even a silk scarf, it was a silk blend. This inspired me to make sure my products are always 100% silk. I use plants, flowers, fruits, veggies, trees, pits, and spices to make my dye. Each silk tells a story about me, whether it’s a burst of inspiration from travel or a moment that I wanted to visually express, a diary (dye-er-y) if you will. Being able to express myself positively in certain situations and then let go of it has been really powerful. Especially when others find hope, excitement and love in them.
Unfortunately, women can often experience more trouble in the workplace than men. This made me realize that I wasn’t dyeing silk for myself, as much as I was doing it to connect to other intelligent women in a versatile way. I hope to provide a little extra love and empowerment to people’s lives.
What sparked your interest in this particular craft?
I’ve been an artist since I was really little. Art class was always my favorite and I was constantly coloring pictures for my parents and hand lettering signs for my friends for hours and hours each day. I think it’s because art is really hard to argue over. No one is telling me that the art I create is either wrong or right, and that space is really intriguing for me. When I moved to Savannah, Georgia for school one of my very first classes was Color Theory. Our final project was really open, all we had to do was show we learned color theory in any form. That’s when I created my very first large scale painting, almost 5×6 feet. I had to walk it to class because it wouldn’t fit in my car. I hung it on the wall when the class started and the look on the students’ faces was calm. That was the moment I knew I had a thing for color. I kept creating large scale pieces but they were really hard to sell despite the praise I was receiving for them. So when I moved to Austin I really wanted to find a way to keep creating abstract work but at a more approachable price point. I really just wanted to share my work with the world. However, I sort of fell into the silk dyeing with the inspiration from my baby blanket and the experiences I was having.
What do you think sets your designs apart from others?
I think that the silk I create is unique in itself, they’re always different. I often don’t create vats of dye, instead I lay the materials out on the silk square, roll it up and then steam it for a couple hours with some vinegar so that the dye sets. I’ve found this allows me to create unique pieces every time, and it also keeps me engaged. Something I’ve realized about myself is that I have a short attention span. But with the process that I use (I like to call them Palette Prints), every silk is a beautiful surprise. Sometimes I’ll use rusted iron or mordants and this can give some fun color changes that you wouldn’t expect. I love the happy accidents and never strive for perfection. I think this parallels with my mission to empower women to love themselves. Every woman is different, and that should be viewed as amazing, but sometimes it’s not. I want to change that. I want to represent honest possibilities.
List some of the most important lessons you’ve learned while running your business:
What has been your proudest moment since you’ve started?
My first market was the Renegade Craft Fair in Portland. I honestly didn’t think I was going to get accepted, but I did, and I sold 3/4 of my inventory. People loved them, and seeing their joyful faces and hearing things like, “I need this in my life!” was incredible. It really connected to me a higher purpose. I’ve also gotten emails from women telling me how much the brand resonates with them and that has been super special because I truly put my entire heart into it.
How does the city or cultural environment you live in influence your work?
I take inspiration from everything, the people I’m around, the food I’m eating, the places I see, nature, conversations, thoughts, past experiences, all of it. The work I create is really close to me. Whenever I travel I try to bring back flowers and plants so that I can create a silk inspired from that place and reflect on the experiences I had.
What valuable experience did you have before starting your business?
I hit rock bottom mentally when I graduated college. I had lost all sight of my self confidence and worth, I missed my friends and my family and the life I had curated, I was feeling major imposter syndrome in the workplace as well. But the valuable part of that whole transition was getting fed up with those feelings, so much so, that I picked myself back up and paved a creative business, a business I love, from it all. I learned to listen to myself and my needs and acted on them, and now I can help other women do the same.
Do you have any favorite pieces? What makes them special to you?
They all represent something different to me so it’s hard to pick one. But I suppose I have kept one silk for myself since creating them, and that’s Dreamland. I think I kept that one because of what it meant to me. I’m not necessarily done creating my Dreamland, and the color combinations were some of my favorite. It’s tied on my work bag everyday as a reminder of who I want to be and where I want to go.
What’s on the horizon for your business?
I can’t say too much just yet, but I’m exploring new industries where I can create lasting memories for people!
What are some tips or suggestions you’d like to offer to fellow makers?
Start somewhere. Don’t listen to the broken records that are playing in your head telling you that you can’t do something, or that you aren’t smart or talented enough. You can truly do anything you set your mind to, I really believe that. So take what you want, it’s always been yours.