Textile Turnaround

Detroit artist thinks big to survive COVID-19.

Closeup of textilesWhen retail sales for Scarlet Crane Creations, a silk-screening company in Detroit that makes tea towels, bags, fabric bucket organizers, and pillows, fell due to COVID-19, Shayla Johnson took the lull as an opportunity to pivot. The owner and artist now paints motifs in watercolor and sells the licensing of her designs to manufacturing companies, which can then print them on their own goods. She also creates, sells, and licenses digital art.

With each license, Johnson establishes how long the customer can use the design, as well as which types of products it can be printed on. She says she looks for manufacturers that offer sustainable products, in an effort to minimize the industry’s overall carbon footprint.

With a larger potential client base, Johnson says she hopes to add the new, more expressive style typical of her paintings to her silk-screen retail line, creating a unified aesthetic across Scarlet Crane products. “It’s very important for my audience, so they know what they’re getting consistently,” she says.

“(Adding designs for manufacturers) allowed me to explore more of a distinct signature style, and it’s still coming together,” Johnson adds. “I’ve had to ask myself a lot of questions about what’s important to me in terms of subject matter and ideas that I represent in my work. Aside from the architecture of Detroit — a lot of my patterns are inspired by architecture — I just love florals.”

Shayla Johnson standing with printing Equipment
SCREEN ART: Shayla Johnson, an artist and owner of Scarlet Crane Creations in Detroit, has designed prints inspired by landmark buildings in the city.

She took her flower designs to the next level in 2018 when Tracy Reese, a New York-based fashion designer, tapped Johnson to create patterns for her Hope for Flowers line of sustainable apparel. The line launched in 2019.

Scarlet Crane is based in Post, a former post office that’s now a retail, studio, and art class space located in the Riverbend neighborhood of Detroit, just west of Grosse Pointe Park. Vendors at the facility, which opened in October 2017, sell a variety of handmade goods. Before moving to Post, Johnson sold her work at The Rust Belt Market in Ferndale.

Johnson’s products are available at Post, Urbanum, and City Bird in Detroit; Tru Blue Boutique in St. Clair; and at scarletcrane.com.