Fashion Sustainability

Coco Villa

Coco Villa: Sustainable Design Using Recycled Plant Materials

Coco Villa with half-finished designs. Photo by Emilie Fong

Sustainable Design Using Recycled Plant Materials

By Calie Brummer

Coco Villa is a sustainable clothing designer based in Asheville who integrates her experiences with design to create beautiful rarities for wear or for décor. Her current project, Colour Lab, uses specially created dyes sourced from local, plant-based materials to give textiles a new look.

The Colour Lab project encourages people to bring in older items of clothing to dye. Villa dyes the clothing with natural materials such as plants, flowers and food scraps. Each season has a purposeful color, bringing new life to the clothing and fabrics with dyes sourced from restaurants and local shops, including Flora, Wild Earth Textiles and Lady Luck Flower Farm. She also uses plants from area gardens and from her own backyard.

“The Colour Lab is a project I started in order to waste less and create a bit more harmlessly,” says Villa. “Currently, the shade of the season is mustard. So, people send me items made of natural fibers they want dyed mustard, and every other week I brew up a pot of this color, then dye, wash and dry the pieces. Once the items are ready, I ship them back out to their owners.”

Villa encourages her clients to bring in clothing they already own to repurpose the item with dye. This practice, interweaving sustainability and fashion, allows for a recycling of clothing rather than creating waste.

Coco Villa: Sustainable Design Using Recycled Plant Materials

Silk slip dyed with healing herbs and flowers. Photo by Coco Villa

She also hosts workshops to share her experience with people who are just beginning to learn and experiment with natural dye. Her workshops range from technical sessions rooted in chemistry to a class that integrates creativity with a therapeutic approach. “Part of the reason I love teaching is the chance to share something that is accessible outside of the class,” says Villa. “We have so many resources in our own homes, especially for creating natural dyes. I would hope that anyone who attends any of my classes would be excited to take home what they just learned and use it in their future creations.”

Villa grew up surrounded by inspiring designers. “My grandma designed wedding dresses and my mom worked in upholstery,” she says. “It has felt fairly natural to create things involving needle and thread.” For her in-house designs, SOMOS by CocoNuco and AMANTE, Villa creates the patterns, sews them and dyes them.

After studying photography and performance art in college, Villa traveled to South America for two years to study natural dyes. There, she attended several artist residencies and apprenticed with natural dyers and fiber artists.

Villa’s AMANTE Bridal Service offers brides the opportunity to create one-of-a-kind lingerie using plant-based dyes. Often, brides can source flowers from their own bridal bouquet for the dye.

In addition to her own fashion designs, Villa choreographs movement for film and photographic projects. These projects often feature her original, hand-dyed garments.

“I enjoy so many things about what I do,” says Villa. “I love that I get to play the mad scientist and experiment with new ingredients to create the most unique shade of a color. I love drafting new patterns and cutting fabric for days until I get the perfect shape.”

Villa’s designs are unique and thoughtfully created from her passion for art and sustainable, responsible design. She describes the work she does as creative and gratifying in the way she’s able to connect with the world around her.

With all the beauty in her work, Villa appreciates the harmony in having her passions align. “What I love the most about my work is that many of my passions exist so well together. I get to create a color from plants, then imbue that color onto bolts of fabric. I sew a few garments that have to be danced in, then make a short film or photographic series from that dance number and do it all over again.”

An opening reception for The Cloud Show, curated by Coco Villa, will be held April 5 from 5–8 p.m. at The Asheville Area Arts Council. The show runs through May 3. Workshops in April include a Mood Indigo Workshop and A Ritual Dye Session. To learn more, visit

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