When I was first asked to design costumes for Stories in Blue, the choice of primary palate was fairly obvious. You guessed it: blue. After a crash course in dyeing with local textile artist, I decided to explore the use of indigo dyes. Indigo is a naturally derived dye that has been used in various cultures around the world for thousands of years, with a rich tradition of dyeing and almost universal applications. For centuries it was the world’s only blue textile dye, and different colonial enterprises produced massive amounts using forced labor and slavery. Indigo dyed almost all blue textiles from military uniforms to silks to workers’ clothing, including the first blue jeans. It is a dye that has encountered both youth and rebellion, and has caused profound suffering. I found a deep connection between the plight of human trafficking victims and their need for healing and renewal that compelled me to utilize indigo in the story-making process.
The six women who shared their personal histories for Stories in Blue were all interviewed within the span of a year, in a contemporary context. However, human trafficking has been around since the beginning of history. Our director, Stephanie Sandberg, did extensive research into the history of human trafficking and prostitution in West Michigan and Grand Rapids to prepare for the process. Images she found of prostitute mug shots from the turn of the century drew me in and made me realize that as much as we tend to romanticize the past, life has always been filled with hardship, poverty and exploitation for the most vulnerable in human society. It is a story that has always been around us. For this reason, I took the artistic liberty of placing each character in the various time periods of our own Grand Rapids, from the early days of the 1890’s with Carla, to Lena in the present day.