Andrea Aranow was a collector, businesswoman and story-teller of textiles. Born in Springfield, MA, Andrea grew up handling cloth. “I grew up sewing with my mom, who was a knitter,” Andrea said. “She enjoyed doing handwork and was happy to pass off the machine sewing to me, and we shopped together to look for colors and patterns for my clothes.”
Andrea received a degree in cultural history from Brown University in 1967. She then went to New York City to open Dakota Transit, a custom leather and snakeskin apparel shop in the East Village. By 1971, the New York Times noted that Andrea had “achieved instant fame” with the snakeskin collage clothes she made for Jimi Hendrix.
A few years later, Aranow left New York to live in the mountains of Peru for ﬁve years, where she began collecting pieces for her textile library of living cultures. While in Peru she held a research position with the Instituto Nacional de Cultura of Peru and began to spend time researching textile production among indigenous groups in Peru. When the position ended, she stayed in Peru to collect the textiles and engage with the rural communities that had captured her interest.
From Peru, Aranow relocated her family to London, where the British Museum took interest in a 400-piece part of the collection she had compiled in South America. They worked with her to document and catalog the collection before purchasing it to include their ethnographic-focused Museum of Mankind in the 1980s.
From London, Aranow traveled to Asia, spending years in outlying districts of China and Japan.
“I rarely passed up an opportunity for a new technique or a handmade piece of unknown origin,” Aranow said. “The scope of the material in the archive reﬂects my various curiosities over the decades.”
Aranow’s interest in the pieces she collected grew from the visual and material qualities of the textiles as well as their cultural contest and practical use in daily life.
In total, Aranow spent ﬁfteen years abroad creating ethnic textile collections for museums. In addition to the British Museum, some collections have been purchased by The Royal Scottish Museum and The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In 1987 Aranow returned to New York to start Andrea Aranow Textile Documents, a business selling pieces from her international collection to fashion companies as inspiration for new designs. The collection became a highly prized and sought-after resource for fashion and design industry professionals worldwide, and clients included designers from Dries Van Noten, Ralph Lauren, Louis Vuitton, Williams Sonoma, Marni, Abercrombie & Fitch, The Gap, and UNIQLO. Aranow continued to grow her collection and by the time she closed her business in 2009, she had amassed more than 40,000 unique items.
From 2009 to her passing in 2021, Andrea continued documenting and cataloging her vast ethnographic collection for expanded use, while continuing to enjoy traveling and meeting people, looking at and discussing textiles together.
Andrea lived a rich life, influencing and inspiring people all over the world with her intellect, curiosity, creativity, and passion for fashion, textiles, design, and travel. She was many things to many people. She was a daughter, a sister, a mother, a friend. She was a mentor, a muse, a fashion designer, a textile researcher and collector, a businesswoman, and a barrier breaker.
Sayan grew up surrounded by textiles and foreign cultures living in Peru, London, Japan, China, and the United States. He graduated from Trinity College in 2000 with a degree in International and Comparative Politics. Since 2003, he has worked with the Andrea Aranow Textile Design Collection, ﬁrst in its incarnation as a New York City business providing inspiration for textile designers.
In 2009 Sayan moved the collection to Portland, Oregon, and began the project to digitize the contents of the Andrea Aranow Textile Design Collection so that it might be utilized by a wider and more diverse audience.
The ultimate goal for the project and collection’s future was to ﬁnd a permanent home for both physical and digital collections with an educational institution, cultural organization, or other partnership so that it be fully utilized, built upon and preserved for future generations. Positively received as a project, Sayan only found strong interest for the acquisition of the digital component of the collection, but he was unwilling to split up or compromise on the promise of utilizing both the physical and digital collection together. In 2014, Sayan decided that the best path for the collection and its future was an independent, member-supported organization.
Caleb currently consults through Visual Archiving on large-scale digitization projects. Serving institutional, private, and corporate collections, Visual Archiving enhances and augments large physical collections, transforming them from static to dynamic assets.