Located in Mill Valley, California, Ambatalia is a design studio that manufactures useful, handmade textile goods for a non-disposable life. From kitchen towels to shopping totes to gardening aprons, all of Ambatalia’s wares are created using natural and sustainable fabrics built to last. Read our Q&A with owner Molly de Vries to find out more about the philosophy behind Ambatalia’s creations, how she started her business and her tips on how to live a less “disposable” life.
How did you get your start as a textile designer? What led you to open Ambatalia?
My passion for textiles started when I realized that what I was doing for a living wasn’t my true passion. I decided to take the time to find out what would truly bring me joy. It took me a lot of soul searching and paying attention. I knew I wanted to do something that nurtured the environment and my community and that would ultimately create something beautiful. So I opened Ambatalia Fabrics, which I believed to be at the time the only fabric store solely focusing on environmental and cultural sustainability. It was a brick and mortar store in an old Spanish-style brick building in Mill Valley, California.
I surrounded myself with organically grown, plant-dyed fibers and textiles from Liberty of London, Dutch wax, indigo from Japan and hemp from Romania. I also offered a huge collection of vintage textiles and findings. My creativity grew from there. The more I played with authentic textiles the more ideas I had. So, in 2008 I closed my fabric shop and I started Ambatalia, textiles for a non-disposable life. At that point Tyler Florence asked me to design kitchen textiles for his new store in Mill Valley, and I fell in love with the utilitarian aspect of textiles. The environment being my true passion, I started creating textiles around the idea of “multi- purpose” and the carrying of food to avoid wasteful plastic packaging and single-use paper and plastic bags. I wanted to create simple, high-quality, locally-made solutions out of sustainable materials.
What do you look for when you source your fabrics?
When I’m purchasing materials, these are the questions I ask myself:
What kind of fiber is it?
Is it sustainably grown?
Who is weaving it and do they receive fair living wage?
Where was it made? (The closer the better in terms of the carbon footprint.)
Is it authentically made?
Ambatalia is about taking care of the environment. It’s about designing simple items for every day use.
Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration in my children, nature, old handmade tools, the history of living with textiles in day-to-day life and the natural resourcefulness of our ancestors.
How do you use your textiles in your everyday life?
I use cloth bags for buying grains, beans, oats or rice and produce, and a Furoshiki towel for carrying anything, really, from carrying a casserole or gifting bread or just having to carry a bunch of stuff from the drugstore. I will not use a plastic bag no matter what. I figure arms are for carrying. If I forget my bag, I will throw it in my purse that doubles as a market bag, or just put stuff in my pockets.
I use cloth napkins for my family and Ambatalia kitchen Furoshiki as a kitchen towel, apron, carrying cloth and shopping bag, and I use old shirts for rags to clean. Besides using bento bags for lunch, snacks and for buying produce and bulk items, I also use as a makeup bag for myself and to store my son’s legos.
How can we use less disposable materials in our everyday life?
The many ways to use authentic cloth in our every day lives are limitless. If you support your local farmers and food purveyors, you will find there is no packaging if you choose real cloth to transport. I love to shop in the bulk section–most of the items there are from your region and with a little research you can pick and choose. I am also committed to not using single use plastic and paper bags or bottled water. I let my family choose how they buy in hopes that what I practice inspires them to think before they buy something. I know it brings awareness to where their food comes from.
What is your most-loved item in your store?
The best-selling item is the Furoshiki kitchen towel, beautifully wrapped with directions for use and twill tape which makes it an instant apron. It also has many other uses.
Click here to see our Ambatalia aprons.