Black and Blue

Black and Blue

By Jeanie Kirk

Black and Blue

There is so much to learn and think about in this moment of critical national and global upheaval centered on Black lives, how much they matter, and the oppressive nature of how our society has been built and continues to operate. 


Black lives matter. Intrinsically. And: this particular moment is theirs to take up space in. Finally.  


When we launched MADRE on May 1st, Shay and I felt inspired by the challenge of launching during a pandemic that required so many to stay home and reassess how we move about in the world and with each other. Now that police violence against Black bodies is finally being collectively examined, we are grappling with levels of uncertainty about how to best proceed. Since we are committed to continually evolving ourselves and our brand, what follows is meant to reveal a bit about our next MADRE products and the ways we are using MADRE to reimagine business.


We are so thrilled to announce indigo napkins and tea towels are now available for purchase! In anticipation of sharing these new MADRE pieces with you, we’ve done some research to better understand indigo, herstory, and what it means to be working with and selling indigo-dyed objects. Given MADRE’s dedication to leaning in to embrace story and wonder, and to unlearning whenever possible as a tool of unravelling systemic oppression and racism, I invite you to dip your toes into the story of indigo here in the United States.


Revered globally, indigo is a plant of mythic proportion. Often heralded as “exotic” or capturing an essence of somewhere else, indigo has a deep American story, one ripe for peering into at this particular moment. For although native indigo plants (Indigo Fera) did grow along the southern coast of what came to be known as the United States of America, its rise to a prominence — in which indigo cubes replaced paper currency on the eve of the American Revolution — was only possible due to the indigo literacy and expertise stolen from Africa and forcibly brought to North American through the trade of enslaved human beings. Catherine E. McKinley, in her book Indigo: In Search of the Color that Seduced the World, writes: “Indigo production was the brutal bath in which captive persons toiled to build America's colonial might.” Given this powerful and painful context, MADRE’s relationship with indigo attempts to acknowledge the pain and heartbreak that is particular to its story on this land, while also celebrating new and thoughtful ways to share its beauty.


Which brings us to MADRE indigo. An important way we feel called to show up to this moment is by thoroughly and continually investigating our products and processes. Our goal is to situate MADRE within as local a fibershed as possible, and although sourcing Oregon linen is still a ways out, we are so humbled and honored to share more about our plant-dye partnership with Vibrant Valley Farm


The incredible women of VVF not only grow luscious veggies and flowers to delight in, they also have their hearts, minds, and elbows deep in the work of indigo: growing, tending, harvesting, and fermenting this magical plant to create dye. You can learn more about the story they’re weaving together with the Persicaria Tinctoria indigo variety, which is the indigo plant most commonly used in Japan, on the VVF website. When Kara of VVF invited MADRE to partner in indigo-dyed napkins, we whole-heartedly said yes. The first recipients of the MADRE x VVF indigo napkins were VVF’s 2020 CSA members; a set of two napkins were part of each member’s welcome box. Together with VVF, MADRE has plans for more plant-dyed linen objects soon on the horizon (think avocados + marigolds!). And, one day in the not-too-distant future, when MADRE is able to offer Oregon linen goods, this partnership will truly be entirely Oregon-based. Oregon linen, Oregon sewers, Oregon dye, Oregon dyers: all supporting and making possible Oregon small business.  


Thank you for supporting MADRE as a business and a movement. We are here to keep learning and unlearning — which for us often involves conversation. Please be in touch: together we can grapple with the ways that life and work ripples through our communities.


In solidarity and with love,

Jeanie