Eco Raw Studio light green, dark green and yellow bandanas
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Eco Raw Studio, Cincinnati

Sonja Thams uses the ancient practice of natural dyeing to create beautiful bandanas, scarves, clothing and more.

Sonja Thams’ colorful business has its roots in a college course. While a student at the Columbus College of Art and Design, she took a class about textile surface dyeing and printing. After graduation, she launched Eco Raw Studio, her Cincinnati-based business that draws on the ancient practice of natural dyeing.

The process can be a tedious one. Making an individualized item may require several days of work. The fabrics have to be washed, dried and cut to size. Then, everything goes into a mordant bath, which preps the fiber for the dye and opens it up. The fabric spends around an hour in the dye pot, before it is taken out, rinsed and immersed again. Different dyes take longer depending on their desired depth and shade. Finally, after the fabric is removed, it must be hand washed, rinsed, washed in a machine and then dried.

“You can mix and match and alter the colors,” Thams says. “It’s very much theory in figuring out if you want it to be pink or mauve or bubblegum pink … it’s all the same dye. [You can] manipulate it to make it go into different directions of color.”

Along with her signature bandanas — the Botanical (a floral pattern) and the Classic (a vintage design inspired by the 1920s and ’30s) — she creates leather cuffs, clothing, wool scarves and scrunchies out of scrap fabric.

Thams also co-owns Deerhaus Decor, a Cincinnati retail shop that is her take on a general store. There, she sells small-batch, handcrafted products alongside vintage items, and she prioritizes woman-owned businesses and sustainably made local pieces alongside her own work.

Thams is also inspired by bundle dyeing — the process of using plants in their raw form, bundling them together, steaming them and creating a printed pattern of a leaf or flower. The colors of the pieces come directly from the pigments of the natural items themselves.

“It all stemmed from nature,” Thams says. “My favorite thing to do is just go walk, go hike, explore — I’m definitely a mountain girl versus a beach person.” 

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