Editor’s note: This story is part of Good Times’ annual Home & Garden 2019 magazine. Read the full issue here.
Kaitlin Bonifacio stumbled upon indigo dyeing on a trip to Japan. Originally planning to tour a sake brewery, she found herself in very different company—a group of longtime textile dyers a short distance away.
“I went to a community center down the street where all of these retired Japanese ladies, that didn’t speak any English at all, were Shibori dyeing with indigo,” Bonifacio recalls. “I was like, ‘What is going on? This is so cool!’”
Shibori is a method of dyeing using several different techniques and folds, similar to tye dyeing traditionally done with indigo. After going to the class, Bonifacio was hooked and started experimenting back home in Hawaii. She was pregnant at the time and eventually made an indigo ring sling baby carrier for her newborn daughter.
“People would stop me everyday and ask where I got it,” Bonifacio says. “So I decided to make a bunch one weekend and put them on Etsy. They all sold out right away.”
Bonifacio has shipped her indigo products to customers all over the world, but she tries to keep pieces affordable since it’s also common to see indigo products that she considers overpriced. But starting an online business wasn’t without its difficulties. Because she was selling baby carriers, she had to send her products to get tested and certified by the American Society for Testing and Materials International. “I just wanted to make them and sell them, but then had to backpedal a bit to take those extra steps I didn’t know I had to do,” she says. “It was a learning process.”
Although her company Yuzu and Rose is only a year old, Bonifacio has been dyeing for much longer. She started using natural dyes with flowers and plants in her backyard in Hawaii a few years ago. One of the interesting parts about natural dyes, she says, is that every factor matters and affects the final product, from water quality and temperature to the age of flowers.
“Trying to nail down a consistent result to put online was difficult,” she says. “I really narrowed it down with avocados and onion skins to be the same every time, so there weren’t any surprises. Now I want to teach other people how to do it.”
Bonifacio often still experiments with dandelions or colorful flowers she finds, but she’s been mostly teaching dyeing classes with indigo, avocado and onion skins. Bonifacio is originally from Santa Cruz, and since moving back she says she’s been particularly surprised by the community support she’s gotten for both classes and sales. She currently teaches classes at Cabrillo College, All Hands Workshops and her studio at the Craftsmen Collective in Soquel.
“The retail side of it is more of a side gig,” she says. “I’ve been really focused on teaching the classes.”
Part of the reason Bonifacio has been able to do all this, she says, is because of the community in Santa Cruz. She now has two young daughters and knows other women in town that juggle motherhood and running local businesses.
“I think the only reason I’ve had the success is because of the community,” she says. “There are other people doing indigo in the community, and they have all been so welcoming. This is a really special place.”