University alum Allison Hylant discusses her Detroit-based fabrics company Dale & Blue
Making art — with all its intentions, elements of unpredictability and rewards — should be meaningful from start to finish. Or, at least, so is the case for Ohio native Allison Hylant. Hylant, who graduated from the University with a BFA in Fine Art in 2012, decided to dedicate her professional self to creating textile products that are eco-friendly, hand-crafted and entirely inimitable.
“I come from a long line (of artists, and) ... although none have pursued art professionally, being creative was something that was always encouraged in my family,” Hylant wrote in an email interview with The Daily. “My father has a minor in ceramics and my grandmother was a painter. I started taking art classes at age three. I always thought I would probably study Art History in college, but I had some amazing teachers and advisors in high school (that) really encouraged me (to) apply to studio art programs.”
Dale & Blue, her Detroit-based business and design studio, launched in 2016. Currently, Dale & Blue offers a selection of indigo-dyed pillows and home goods; all of which, of course, are handmade in small batches. Though a few years out of art school, Hylant still finds joy in her process.
“The first time I learned about shibori dyeing, I was a freshman in college. Almost 10 years ago,” she wrote. “I can’t even tell you how many hundreds of yards of fabric I have dyed in that time, but there is a magic to it every time. No matter how many times you prepare fabric, fold it, bind it, wrap it, block it into place, you never really know what the piece will look like until you pull it from the dye bath.”
Hylant was living in Boston working as the in-house seamstress for Marimekko after pursuing an additional degree, a post-baccalaureate year at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, when she founded the LLC.
“(Marimekko) proved to be the perfect training ground to launch a business,” Hylant wrote. “After several years of working, I realized I had gone as far as I could with the company. I wanted a new challenge, to be working with my own designs, making my own decisions. I kept working at Marimekko, while I was figuring out the particulars of the company.”
One such particular was the company’s name — Hylant wanted something personal, but something versatile enough to work as the company grew and changed. Eventually settling on Dale & Blue, Hylant opted for family names. Ironically enough, she didn’t know she would be working with Indigo when settling on the name.
“Dale & Blue were the names of my two grandfathers,” she wrote. “Neither are still alive today, so I thought it was a great tribute to them. I was very close with my Grandpa Dale; he lost his battle with cancer when I was a senior in high school. And (my) Grandpa Blue passed away a year before I was born. His real name is Robert, but he was such a big Michigan fan everyone called him Blue. (I guess I was destined to be a Wolverine.) The company name actually has nothing to do with the color blue, the signature color of the brand … But the name has proved to be extremely serendipitous.”
Behind the name is a strong philosophy. Having worked in a more traditional, high-end environment as well as having spent time interning with a fair trade company, Hylant is committed to bringing those two worlds, though often at odds, together. Simply put: people over things.
“We love things; it’s why we make them, and buy them,” she wrote. “But that should never come at the expense of the people who make them or the environment … At the forefront of my practice is the belief that where the raw materials are sourced from is just as important as the life the products have once they leave the studio.”
To do this, Hylant chooses U.S.-based manufacturers whenever possible — both to promote national employment and to reduce Dale & Blue’s carbon footprint. She wants her customers to be proud to own her products, because of their beauty and their backstory. Knowing that the standards she sets for herself are high and often cumbersome, Hylant sees the benefit to society as more important than her potential personal gain.
This kind of personal dedication to her artistic and economic output is inspiring and entirely at home in Detroit’s growing entrepreneurial spirit. Hylant is part of Ponyride studios, a nonprofit with a large studio space on Vermont Street. Ponyride, like Dale & Blue, is invested in promoting positive social output and growth.
“In Detroit you have this great sense of all things being possible, people here aren’t afraid to try new things (or re-invent old ones) and some of them are really working!” Hylant wrote. “It is an exciting time in Detroit … Ponyride has provided me with a network of other like-minded businesses and resources to help navigate what can be a very stressful process.”
Despite the trials of getting a business off the ground — especially one that holds so tightly to its goals of changing an often problematic industry — Hylant is hopeful and excited for the future of Dale & Blue. She hopes to launch print-screened fabrics by the yard, and to collaborate with another artist to create fine art prints and original paintings. Behind all the social goals, there is still the art. The two elements play off each other, challenging Hylant to create in a way that is sustainable and allowing eco-friendly practices to be integral to her work.
“I would love to see Dale & Blue expand to be a cohesive lifestyle brand,” she wrote. “But really at the end of the day, it is less about what we make and more about how we make these products and the impact we have on the people who make them … As a company and a businesswoman I am still finding my footing, it’s a long process, but I am really excited for all the things that could be next.”