Interview by Ryan Bush & Aaron Rayburn

Andrea Aranow

Designer, Ethnographer, Entrepreneur

Growing Up

Andrea Aranow has created fashion and studied textiles since the late 1960's. Born in Springfield, MA, Aranow grew up handling cloth. “I grew up sewing with my mom, who was a knitter,” Aranow said. “She enjoyed doing handwork and was happy to pass off the machine sewing to me, and we shopped together to look for colors and patterns for my clothes”

Aranow received a degree in cultural history from Brown University in 1967. She then went to New York to open Dakota Transit, a custom leather and snakeskin apparel shop in the East Village. By 1971 the New York Times noted that Andrea had “achieved instant fame” with the snakeskin collage clothes she made for Jimi Hendrix. “Jimi Hendrix came in a time when I was just starting to use snakeskin as appliqué,” Aranow said, “and he said, why not make a whole ensemble?”

Traveling & Collecting

A few years later, Aranow left New York to live in the mountains of Peru for five years, and began collecting pieces for her textile library of living cultures. While in Peru she held a research position with the Instituto Nacional de Cultura of Peru, and began to spend time researching textiles and engaging in Peru’s rural villages.

Researching Textiles

From Peru, Aranow relocated her family to London, where the British Museum took interest in a 400-piece part of the collection she had compiled in South America. They worked with her to document and catalog the collection before purchasing it to include their ethnographic-focused Museum of Mankind.

From London, Aranow traveled to Asia, spending years in outlying districts of China and Japan. “I rarely passed up an opportunity for a new technique or a handmade piece of unknown origin,” Aranow said. “The scope of the material in the archive reflects my various curiosities over the decades.” Aranow’s interest in the pieces she collected grew from the visual and material qualities of the textiles as well as their cultural contest and practical use in daily life.

In total, Aranow spent fifteen years abroad creating ethnic textile collections for museums. In addition to the British Museum, some collections have been purchased by The Royal Scottish Museum, and The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A Design Resource

In 1987 Aranow returned to New York to start Andrea Aranow Textile Documents, a business selling pieces from her international collection to fashion companies as inspiration fro new designs. The collection became a highly prized and sought-after resource for fashion and design industry professionals worldwide, and clients included designers from Dries Van Noten, Ralph Lauren, Louis Vuitton, Williams Sonoma, Marni, Abercrombie & Fitch, The Gap, and UNIQLO. Aranow continued to grow her collection and by the time she closed her business in 2009, she had amassed more than 40,000 unique items.

Aranow now works as an independent consultant and has been documenting and cataloging her vast ethnographic collection in New York for expanded use. She continues to enjoy traveling and meeting people, discussing their textiles. Her website is available here: http://www.textiledocs.com/.

“The scope of the material in the textile design archive reflects my various curiosities over the decades since I began serious studies in Peru. They were collected one at a time, locally in Laos, China, Japan, Philippines, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Britain, France, and across America. I rarely passed up an opportunity for a new technique or a handmade piece of unknown origin. I am most pleased that the new iteration will allow my textiles to be further documented and used for all sort of comparisons and reconfigurations, weaving the future.”
- Andrea Aranow

Caleb Sayan

Information Architect, Interface Designer, Project Lead

Caleb Sayan is the co-founder of Textile Hive and the son of Andrea Aranow. Sayan conceived, assembled, and led the team responsible for the digitization of the Andrea Aranow Textile Design Collection and the creation of the Visual Hive software platform. Sayan's deep appreciation for the history, intricacies, and tactile nature of textiles, combined with his deep passion for technology and its application for enhancing interactions with cultural material led him to the creation of the Textile Hive.

Growing Up

Sayan grew up surrounded by textiles and foreign cultures living in Peru, London, Japan, China, and the United States. He graduated from Trinity College in 2000 with a degree in International and Comparative Politics. Since 2003, he has worked with the Andrea Aranow Textile Design Collection, first in its incarnation as a New York City business providing inspiration for textile designers.

Portland Collection

In 2009 Sayan moved the collection to Portland, Oregon and began the project to digitize the contents of the Andrea Aranow Textile Design Collection so that it might be utilized by a wider and more diverse audience. The ultimate goal for the project and collection’s future was to find a permanent home for the physical and its digital collection with an educational institution, cultural organization, or other partnership so that it be fully utilized, built upon and preserved for future generations. Positively received as a project, Sayan only found strong interest for the acquisition of the digital component of the collection. Unwilling to split up or compromise on the promise of utilizing both the physical and digital collection together, Sayan decided that the best path for the collection and its future was an independent member supported organization in 2014.

Caleb currently consults through Visual Archiving on large scale digitization projects. Serving institutional, private, and corporate collections, Visual Archiving enhances and augments large physical collections transforming them from static to dynamic assets.

“Textile Hive is an empowering platform for the preservation and dissemination of textile knowledge and cultural material both in person and Online. Throughout the project, we strived to seamlessly combine the physical, digital, and contextual aspects of the textile collection.”
- Caleb Sayan