Earlier this year I visited Maria Elena Pombo's studio—an airy warehouse loft with large industrial windows nestled in the heart of Bushwick, Brooklyn. Decorated with mementos from travel and thrift store trinkets, the space felt like a second home yet was also obviously a place to create. A large work table sat in the center of the room, a cart filled with reams of gauzy fabric was pushed off to the corner, painter's buckets full of avocado seeds were stacked by the window sill, and a steel-frame shelving unit was lined with mason jars filled with various red and pink liquids. At play were the contrasting practices of structured, measure-twice-cut-once craftsmanship and curious, uninhibited experimentation—a perfect union of Maria Elena's Parsons training and new-found love for plant-based dyeing. From this narrative and Maria Elena's endless sense of curiosity came Fragmentario, a creative studio through which she explores and preserves the centuries-old practice of plant-based dyeing.

I spoke with Maria Elena about her natural dyeing process—from the organic materials she works with to the many elements that can be manipulated to alter the hue of a final product—and was fascinated by the results she was able to achieve. She explained how different waters from around the world yield different results and how this practice preserves a piece of her Venezuelan history. Maria Elena typically works with small quantities, but I couldn’t help wonder what the world could look like if the fashion industry adopted plant-based dyeing on a larger scale. It's commonly known that fashion is wasteful—the textile industry is the second-largest polluter in the world—but the environmental repercussions of chemical dyeing often are dismissed, yet equally alarming. In a city like Tirupur, India, for instance, groundwater is undrinkable due to the chemical dye runoff that's poured into the local river from factory wastewater. That's a city of over 350,000 residents left without a safe source of drinking water.

Could adopting a natural dyeing practice, similar to Maria Elena's, be the future of sustainable fashion? Maria Elena suggests that when amplified on a larger scale, plant-based dyeing (unless carried out incredibly responsibly) can take other environmental toles like deforestation. For her, more than anything, it is a profound way to connect with nature and revive a traditional cultural practice. Read more from my conversation with Maria Elena and let us know your thoughts in the comments below.