Why Cleobella Celebrates Woodblock Printing Techniques From India
Preserving and celebrating ancient global heritage techniques is at the center of Cleobella's mission. Woodblock printing, in particular, has become synonymous with the brand and beloved by customers for its uniqueness, beauty, and timelessness. Woodblock printing, however, is more than just a printing technique. It's a rich, cultural art from India that has become the heartbeat of the brand.
Angela, Cleobella's founder, first discovered and fell in love with woodblock printing on a trip to India. In 2006, she and her husband Jim quit their jobs, packed up their lives, and set off to travel the globe for a year. When designing the world trip, India was a must-visit for Angela. Her late aunt visited the country in the '70s, and Angela grew up marveling over her stories of India's cultural and spiritual aliveness. Once she finally visited the country herself, there was an instant connection. "India had my heart from the very beginning," she says. "I felt like I had been there before." On the trip, she encountered women selling gorgeous woodblock-printed wrap skirts made of recycled saris, which sparked the creation of Cleobella.
India's woodblock printing technique dates back thousands of years and has been passed down and perfected over many generations. The elaborate, stunning prints created with the technique are a physical embodiment of the country's heritage and culture.
Jaipur, Rajasthan is one of the epicenters where the tradition really flourished. The society in the region, which has since transformed into a bustling city, was built around the technique.
As remarkable and unique as the woodblock printing art form is, with so many advancements in technology and digital printing in the fashion industry today, the reality is that ancient techniques like this are being traded for fast fashion. The skilled artisans that practice these techniques cannot continue to pass down their knowledge and traditions to the next generations if there isn’t a market for it. This is what motivates us as a small business to do our part in helping to keep the woodblock printing tradition alive by working with artisans in India to incorporate the technique into our designs.
Over the last 14 years of traveling to India, we've cultivated a heart connection with our artisans, their families, and the woodblock printing process. It has been a true joy and privilege to know them, work alongside them, and to have witnessed first-hand how much their lives have transformed over the years. We believe that when you work and operate a business from a place of integrity and honesty, the energy that flows from that is palpable and creates a ripple effect in the world.
The rich, vibrant colors you see on each pattern are mostly made from natural elements from the Earth such as mud, clay, tree gum, limestone, pomegranate, turmeric, tamarind seeds, saffron, and indigo seeds—a process that in and of itself is amazing to witness.
Once the dyes are ready, the craftsmen then dip the wooden blocks into the dyes and press them onto the fabric with extreme precision leaving a beautiful impression of the pattern. The craftsmen repeat the process along the entire length and width of the material that is meters and meters long. Each color in the pattern is layered one at a time, and the slight imperfections add character and life to each design. Once the fabric dries, it is washed, steamed, and dried outside in the sun, weather permitting.
Aside from the prints' captivating beauty, many factors make the woodblock printing process a slow fashion favorite. For one, it's Earth-friendly technique thanks to its handmade nature and small batches. As a mindful business, sustainability is of utmost importance to us. We value quality over quantity and only produce small batches of each design which only adds to its exclusivity and magic. When you wear a Cleobella design, you know that it's one-of-a-kind, making it a timeless, wearable work of art that is relevant for today and can be passed down through generations.
At Cleobella, we strive for slow, ethical fashion. From conception to a finished garment, it's a labor-intensive three-month process. There is so much love, attention, and detail that goes into making every single piece by hand. The result: each finished piece has an energy that can be felt when you wear it. Our hope is that something that comes alive within you when you put on a Cleobella design, and that positive energy radiates throughout your everyday life.
By far, what makes the woodblock printing process truly special is family. As a small family business, our greatest pleasure is working in harmony with our artisans and their families in India. Because of them, Cleobella is a small dream turned reality that is still thriving 14 years later. Together, we will continue preserving and celebrating the rich, cultural woodblock printing tradition with each design and garment we bring to life.