Dyenamix's digitally printed textiles grace fashion runways, Broadway stages, and other venues.
In the high-profile worlds of fashion, theatre, and entertainment, Dyenamix (dyenamix.com) is not a name that’s instantly recognizable – except to those in the know. This New York City specialist in custom fabric and textiles produces the material for the latest designs and costumes seen on Broadway and in the movies.
“With digital printing on fabric, today’s designers can design with less limitations than before the process became available,” says Raylene Marasco, Dyenamix founder and president. “Digital printing gives us a way to provide them with custom textiles that just didn’t exist before.”
Her digital capabilities have become so integral to the specialty services she provides, Marasco estimates 60 percent of her business now involves digital printing at some point. She taps digital printing, via a pair of Mimaki TX2 printers, for coloring material, recreating vintage designs, or printing fabric with new graphics created on a computer. “We print with low minimums, but also have the capacity to do large production quality print runs,” she says.
A specialty niche
Digital printing wasn’t even on Marasco’s horizon when she launched Dyenamix as a two-person shop in Hoboken, New Jersey, back in 1991. Her intent then was to fill a void she identified in a highly specialized market niche: custom-designed finely crafted fabric in small quantities. In those early days, the company established its reputation as a supplier of unique materials through a combination of hand silk-screening, painting, and dyeing textiles.
The business took off immediately. “Our early clients included Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren, various architects, as well as costumers for myriad Broadway shows and major feature films,” reports Marasco. Within two years, she relocated the business to a larger space – Mercer Street in Greenwich Village, its home through 2007. There, Dyenamix thrived as word of its unique capabilities spread within New York City’s creative community. “To this day, we’ve never done any advertising,” boasts Marasco. “All our growth has come through word of mouth.”
By 1999, the business had reached a critical juncture. “We were still doing all our designs by hand, but were getting more and more requests for quantity production,” she recalls. “I was searching for a way to reproduce these hand techniques for larger applications, without compromising their integrity or quality of our designs, and I was interested in how the technology could expand our capabilities.”
That search ultimately led her to digital printing on fabric as the possible answer. Still, Marasco found her choices in state-of-the-art systems – as far as printing on fabric goes – limited. “There weren’t many options for dye-printing fabric, so I wasn’t quite sure how realistic my search was,” she says. She identified several systems that could be used for printing samples, but very few that could deliver consistent quality, in quantity, on textiles. And, the price of those systems, until proven, seemed prohibitive.
Eventually, she reached an intriguing deal with one manufacturer, Mimaki, would allow her to “test” its 7-color TX-1600 in her shop and train her and an employee on its operation. In return, Marasco agreed to appear at tradeshows and talk about the technology, and introduce digital printing on textiles to at least one client working in New York’s fashion and theatre sectors. “They gave me six months to find those clients, but we were doing work for them both within two,” she says.
Those first clients were the exception, however. Initially, most of her customers resisted this new approach to creating custom fabrics. “Changing perceptions about digital printing was our biggest challenge in those early days,” Marasco says. “In the fashion industry, most people thought digital printing meant dye sublimation, and that’s not what they wanted. It wasn’t until we produced enough examples to show them all that we could now produce digitally that they began to see the possibilities.”
As they did, digital quickly grew to become a more integral aspect of her specialized services. Eventually, Marasco traded up from the TX 1600 for the faster Mimaki TX2 version of the 1600, and two years later purchased a second TX2 to meet ever-growing demand. Today, the company uses the printers and DuPont dyes to print on more than 40 different fabrics kept in stock. Dyenamix also offers custom pre-treatment of client’s fabrics for printing.
“Digital printing has been the perfect complement and expansion to our existing business,” she says of these systems. “And some of our projects utilize the traditional processes combined with digital printing. We continually push the limits of the technology to provide our clients with provocative new designs.”
By the time Dyenamix added the second Mimaki, though, potential competitors began to appear as others looked to her niche as an opportunity to recoup their investment in digital fabric-printing systems. However, her years of experience working with fabric, and familiarity with the high-pressure steam finishing process and washing that textiles require, gave her company the competitive advantage. “We had a definite advantage because we had already been dyeing, printing, and painting on textiles, and understood how to properly finish and treat the fabric,” Marasco says.
Her intimate understanding of the digital-printing process, as it impacts textiles, grows with each project. “Every piece of fabric accepts color differently, so every job is a special job,” Marasco says. “We do a ridiculous amount of color matching, and a lot of sampling before we’ll approve the color.” That expertise, commitment to quality, and willingness to partner with clients to meet their deadlines, has allowed Dyenamix to expand its client base.
The company has digitally dyed and printed fabric used for costumes seen on major Broadway shows, in feature films and on TV: Wicked, Hairspray, The Taking of Pelham 123, Shutter Island, and American Gangster, to name just a few.
For the 2009 film Duplicity, for example, costume designers turned to Dyenamix to create material for a dress to be worn by Julia Roberts’ character. A section of vintage dress was scanned into a Mac where the design was repeated in Photoshop, then printed on 100-percent cotton used to make the dress.
“Designers often find a vintage garment they might want to use for a costume but the original might be damaged, it’s not the right size, or they need it in a different color,” Marasco explains. Dyenamix routinely solves such problems, and offers clients more choices in the final appearance of their designs.
Art and fashion
Dyenamix worked with several artists, including Louise Bourgeois, to produce digital prints on a range of fabrics. In the fashion industry, “Our textiles grace the runways of top fashion designers like Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Narisco Rodriquez, Jill Stuart, and Proenza Schouler,” she continues. “We’ve worked for a mix of ever-changing clients and projects, but the core of our business has always been fashion people, and the fashion industry.”
Unlike the entertainment industry, where the need for a costume can be anticipated well in advance, the fashion industry is much more fast-paced, especially in the days leading up to and during New York’s Fashion Week. It’s a proving ground, and a high-pressure environment that Marasco and her staff thrive on.
“In fashion, everything can change right up until the last minute,” she says. “Because of the fast turnaround with digital printing, we can do a lot of experimentation and development of their ideas. They can see what a print looks like at different sizes, in different colors, or against different backgrounds. It’s allowing them to solidify their concepts before committing to large yardages.”
Dyenamix’s stellar reputation within the fashion industry has helped bring the company visibility on TV. For the past two seasons, the company’s custom work has been featured on the Lifetime Network’s reality series, “Project Runway” and its annual digital printing challenge. Marasco and members of her staff have helped participants choose the colors and designs, which Dyenamix then prints on fabrics selected from its catalog.
Consult and experiment
The show gave viewers a look at the consultative services Marasco and company bring to all projects and all jobs. “We have an in-house design team that provides direct consultation and development,” she says. “Experimenting is an important part of the process. And with digital we can easily produce several samples, on different materials if necessary, until we can provide our clients with exactly the look they are after.”
She encourages clients to consult with her and her team early in their creative process. “We can print just about whatever they want, but we encourage them to come to us and discuss what they want before their ideas are set,” she says. “And, whenever a new customer approaches us, we invite them for a consultation to discuss their project and view the techniques we offer on samples. That really opens their mind to all we can do.”
In addition to its work for high-profile clients, Dyenamix has expanded in another direction, developing and offering the Dyenamix Studio Collection of digitally printed fabrics for home furnishings and interiors. Currently, the line includes 30 designs, which can be printed on cotton sateen, linen, or shantung fabric.
Marasco considers it another example of how digital printing opens up new opportunities in custom fabric design. “In the past we would have had to retain large screens in our archives for every one of these designs. Any alternations of the designs meant creating new screens,” she explains. “But now, with digital technology, designers can re-color or re-scale a design as needed and print it on whatever material they want.”
It’s this flexibility that guarantees digital printing a continued role in Dyenamix’s future: “There are very few limitations in the types of images that can now be printed on fabric,” she observes. “But we’d love to see systems which are even faster, with inks that have better light fastness and wash fastness, and more fabric options.”
She expects to expand her digital department in the future, as the technology advances, without compromising the service which has made her company a contributor to so many of its discerning clients’ successes. “We’re still a small shop, and that’s because of the specialty nature of the services we provide, working closely with our clients,” she concludes.
“Our business is to provide our clients with custom textiles, whatever they need. Digital printing has given us a way to present them with new possibilities.”