Lydia Crespo never expected to so closely mimic her namesake.
In the Bible, a woman named Lydia worked as a “dealer of purple cloth” to the wealthy of the era. She dyed the clothes herself, a rare talent because of the difficulty of attaining the deep color.
Crespo grew up listening to Lydia’s story but primarily studied photography and sculpture before attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her interests changed drastically after taking a class “on a whim” about dyeing material.
“My brain was on fire, and my hands knew exactly what to do,” Crespo says. “It was intuitive for me.”
Crespo graduated in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts with a focus in fiber and material studies. In 2016, Crespo opened her own clothing business, making and dyeing almost everything herself. She chose the name of her company, Argaman&Defiance, as an ode to her past by combining the material Lydia used to achieve the infamous purple cloth and the Missouri town in which her family lives.
The side hustle • While still in school, Crespo participated in an artist “cleanout sale,” quickly selling all her dyed, silk scarves, and realized she could make a profit from her art. She worked doing several odd jobs at the time, ranging from Home Depot employee to art gallery manager, but she had not imagined making her hobby a full-time career.
Crespo started working her “side hustle,” Argaman&Defiance, full-time in Chicago in 2016. She had begun dropping her various jobs, supplementing enough of her income with her dyeing business.
Crespo and her husband moved to St. Peters in 2018, unexpectedly allowing her to expand her business because of the efficiency in her new work space at the Foundry Art Centre in St. Charles.
“I just keep kicking myself for not moving back sooner because we’ve just loved every moment of it,” Crespo says.
Making friends for onion skins • Crespo’s experience allows her to play with the details of her craft. She varies the amount of time certain materials need to soak in different dyes to produce the best colors. To dye a material purple, she only needs to rest it in the bath for about an hour. To dye with something such as onion skins, however, she may leave the cloth overnight.
She loves working with onion skins, she says, because they produce a unique shade of olive green, an effect she sees as “completely counter-intuitive.”
With onion skins, she gets to interact with more than just the materials. She partners with farmers in St. Peters or — if she is close to running out — goes to a grocery and “makes friends” with the store manager in hopes of getting the materials that otherwise would be thrown away.
Using nature’s products feels comfortable for Crespo because she draws inspiration from its beauty. Her designs come from landscapes or even animals she sees at the zoo, and she appreciates the variance nature provides in her work.“I kind of like that each piece is gonna be unique, that I’m never going to be able to make a sweatshirt that has that (specific) marbling on it ever again, just because that’s the way I’m designing,” Crespo says.
Finding community at the Foundry • Because Crespo so deeply identified with her community in Chicago, she wanted to make similar connections in St. Louis. She wanted to communicate with her customer base, getting to know clientele when possible.
Her new space at the Foundry Art Centre satisfied this craving.
“Anybody can walk through the Foundry and have a conversation with the artists and ask them what they’re working on,” Crespo says. “It doesn’t need to be this transaction thing where someone is just coming to buy something from me. I’m really enjoying this community aspect of it, and that’s been my goal.”
Crespo also teaches. Her lessons, she says, focus on how to do the techniques but also on accepting that nothing will be perfect in dyeing for the newcomers or for herself.
“I love that push and pull of, ‘This is amazing. This could be better,’” Crespo says. “It’s something that just kind of keeps me coming back to it every day.”
Designer • Lydia Crespo
Age • 33
Family • Husband, Valentino
Home • St. Peters
What she makes • Crespo makes, designs, dyes and sells outerwear clothing, such as sweatshirts and scarves, as well as home items, such as bed comforters. She specializes in using all natural dyes but has expanded into using synthetic dyes in order to also use synthetic fabrics.
Where to buy • Crespo sells her products in the Foundry Art Centre gift shop in St. Charles, online at argamandefiance.com and in 60 stores across the nation, including Union Studio and Urban Matter in St. Louis. She also offers tutorial workshops at her studio in St. Charles and will be speaking on a St. Louis Women’s Creative panel in August.
How much • Prices range depending on size and complexity. Scarf prices may start at $35, while bedding can go up to $225.