A Designer on the Modern Day Silk Road

The Silk Road was an ancient network of trade routes that connected the East and West. It was central to cultural interaction between the regions for many centuries. The Silk Road refers to both the terrestrial and the maritime routes connecting East Asia and Southeast Asia with East Africa, West Asia and Southern Europe.


I sometimes dream of being on an ancient trade route. I picture myself riding on horseback with a scarf covering most of my face, protecting me from the sun and dust kicked up along the road. I envision the fabrics that decorate my clothing, and a cache of textiles secreted away in trunks and containers upon horse-drawn carts. I imagine the beauty and freedom from traveling across country, and the spectacle of ancient cities and foreign trade hubs.

What was the life of a textile trader like 2’000 years ago? What was the process of painting on fabric? Is there any similarity between how I create textiles compared to how things were made back then?

One major development between then and now is the art of digital printing. Most of my work begins as a watercolor. I’m certain that my plastic paint box is less elegant than pigment bottles from 130 B.C.E. - but the essence is the same. Brush to paint and paint to parchment. Then modern technology takes over, enabling me to scan my work, transform it digitally and copy it an infinite number of times upon fabric.

From here I could easily move toward an array of modern fabric choices; however, it is because of my visions of trade routes and this romance I have with that era, that I am drawn to silk.

The art of silk is so ancient and so sublime as to warrant its own geographical landmark in history. So much of my design work is inspired by the world in which silk trade dominated. I find myself going deeper into textile explorations, down rabbit holes of textures and colors. Obsession led me to create my own textiles; that, and a desire to resurrect forgotten imagery, imbue it with my personal style and bring it to the modern world.

Where did the artists and fabric manufacturers work? What were their living and working conditions? When I try to picture life back then I know it can’t have been easy. Yet the beauty and artistry of their work transcends time.

I design and create from my home. It’s a small oasis surrounded by trees and nestled deep in the dark side of a hill. The seasonal light moves through my windows with tremendous force, adding its own arc of inspiration. If you were to step into my world I think you would feel taken back, transported. Dragons flank my doorway, and lions flank my foyer, offering their symbolic power and protection. Both are images that permeate my work and the work of many artists across history.

From my house, I venture out into the world, bringing my designs to exquisite boutiques and fashion destinations. These stores are stops along my journey. I drive a Prius instead of horse and wear Ray Bans to block the sun instead of a head scarf. UPS drops off my uncut, printed fabric as opposed to a trade wind barge. I’m a modern day designer and tradesman, but my heart belongs to the ancient world. My goal is to blend the two, to be a strand in the tapestry of history and design, and to share my love of textiles with the world, and with you.

Damon Grey