Round Trip Goods is the sustainable textile design studio you need to know

rich lea is a resourceful product designer, skilled dye artist, gifted gardener, and slow fashion advocate, all rolled into one community creator. Her textile design studio, Round-trip goodswas founded in 2020 and reflects his respect for nature and enthusiasm for color.

plant roots

Although Rich didn’t encounter plant dyes until later in life, his appreciation for the earth’s natural processes has been present since childhood.

“I’ve always loved playing outside and getting dirty,” Rich said. “I cared about insects, plants and flowers.”

Originally from Louisville, Kentucky, Rich embarked on an adventure out west as a young adult and ended up in Denver, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in industrial design. After working in the fast-paced industry for years, she realized that her work environment didn’t match her values.

“It was really wasteful,” Rich said of the environmental impacts of the product design industry. “We were just filling bins with garbage every day.”

Rich quit his job in 2019, about a year before Round Trip Goods was born. Despite her concerns about working in product design, she knew she didn’t want to give up her passion for art and design. So she took art classes in her spare time to stimulate her creativity. It was during one of these courses that she discovered vegetable dyes.

“Everything clicked for me,” Rich said. “When I realized that I could dye fabric naturally and create designs with biodegradable elements, it was like a match made in heaven.”

The role of nature

Rich began experimenting with natural dyes in her spare time, fascinated by the colors nature could bring to fabrics.

“The color variations I found were amazing,” Rich said. “A plant can have 100 or more color molecules. With synthetic dyes, there is one molecule and you can only get one color.

Rich is mostly self-taught using numerous library books on the subject of vegetable dyes. Her favorite book, Botanical inks of Babs Behan, is her partner in crime when she researches natural dyes and dyeing techniques. She has learned about the science, history and folklore behind natural dyes and does her best to honor the origin of different plants and dyeing practices.

Dyeing plants can be tedious and takes days to accomplish. Rich begins the complicated process by sourcing cotton items from local thrift stores.

“I chose cotton because I wanted to use a material that we already have a lot of. It’s something I can use so I don’t waste it,” Rich said.

After acquiring used parts for reuse, Rich undergoes a natural scrubbing process. To dye the fabric, the fiber must be stripped of its soft protective layer. The fabric comes out a little coarser, but raw and ready to be dyed.

When it comes to the actual dyeing, different processes are used when working with different materials and plants. Rich’s connections in the Denver community provide her with the natural materials she uses to create color, such as excess potato skins from a local farmer’s market. Sometimes his friends invite him to rummage through their plants. Otherwise, she forages plants from her own garden.

“Having the ability to grow my own dye plants is really satisfying for me,” Rich said.

Rich’s green thumb has helped her access the plants she needs for dyeing. She has grown indigo, coreopsis, safflower, morning glories and many more. In her vegetable dye booklet, she notes how the colors come out differently depending on the dye treatment. Many factors can affect the final color including temperature, PH levels and light exposure.

“An important element of my work is to leave room for imperfections,” Rich said. “I want to let nature and chemistry play a part in the design, which creates a lot of variation.”

Due to nature’s role in the process, each Round Trip Goods item is one of a kind. Many of Rich’s creations include his painting and printing skills. It has also changed this process to protect the environment. She creates biodegradable iron oxide paint to paint and print by hand.

Another important part of Round Trip Goods is that each design is unisex and can be worn by anyone. While Rich includes measurements and sizing details in product descriptions, she doesn’t categorize her designs by gender.

Why go back and forth?

What makes Round Trip Goods so unique in the Denver market is how sustainability and ethics are carefully considered during production. In his garage-turned-dye shop, Rich finds ways to reuse food containers and other materials to minimize his impact on the environment.

“I’ve always cared about the planet, but never looked for tools to be active in making positive change,” Rich said. “I thought if I could start my own business, I would use sustainable, natural and repurposed materials.”

As Rich continues to learn more about the impacts of fast fashion and overproduction, she feels even more compelled to create an alternative for shoppers.

“There are all these other options to consider, like saving or buying less. It’s important to keep our stuff longer and take care of it,” Rich said.

Rich Slow fashion magazine illustrates how consuming slowly, ethically and sustainably can contribute to a better future for the fashion industry. While she encourages sustainable shopping, she also recognizes that ethical fashion is not accessible or affordable for everyone.

Rich is not only an advocate for slow fashion, but also for slow living. After working in the world of industrial design, she realized she wanted to return to a more peaceful lifestyle that wasn’t limited to what she could hustle. She now sips tea and gardens while working in her home studio, accompanied by her husband and two dogs. Every day she delights in the small details of her work, whether it’s tending to her garden or watching the indigo dye turn from moss green to deep blue.

“It’s like going back to childhood,” Rich said. “I can be outside and make art again.”

For now, Rich is focused on creating quality products to display at fall markets later this year. As Round Trip Goods continues to innovate on the sustainable fashion scene, you can stay up to date with new designs and pop-up store appearances through instagram.

All photographs by Shelby Moeller.

Joseph E. Golightly