María José Leaño from Papaya Design

October 15, 2013

Today, our lovely interview is with María José Leaño from Papaya Design. Maria is a Colombian Textile Designer who lived and worked in Germany for ten years. She studied Textile Design at Los Andes University in Bogotá, Colombia (1990), and majored in Textile Print Design from the Philadelphia University of Textiles and Sciences (1994)


When did your interest in design first start and how did that come about?

When I was about 11 years old, I saw a movie about fabric printing at school and fell in love with it. It’s been a long-term relationship.

What steps did you take to get to where you are now as a designer?

As a kid I started knitting and drawing at home with my mother, father and grandmother, later on I decided to study Textile Design, and finally did a Master on Screen Printing, with Joyce Storey in PhilaU as my mentor, where I learned lots of things about textile printing. After finishing my studies I moved to Germany where I worked in a company that developed Software for printing and weaving and learned a lot about digital printing on fabric.

Today, I live and work in as a textile print designer and teacher in Bogota, Colombia, my home country. When I arrived, I found the way to start the first digital textile printing company in Colombia, which failed because it was difficult to maintain with so little customers and technical help at the time, but is was the beginning of a new era, because, when the company closed, the small group of clients that we made started feeding new companies in the field that emerged later on. Today I work as a consultant for those companies and their clients, and teach young and professional fashion design students in the development of their own ideas for digital printed fabrics.


What was the most important lesson you took away from “The Art and business of Surface Pattern” e-course?

Well, I learned a lot about different ways to create design and pattern that I didn’t know. Also, that my own stile is determined by my own experiences and the techniques that I use for designing. If I “copy” step by step what is taught in the course, I will end up with designs similar to those of the teacher. What is there to do is to read, learn and practice first, then assimilate what is learned in my own creative process. Another thing is that because in Colombia, there is no tradition of buying print design by the textile mills, (but with the introduction of digital printing this is changing) I have now more tools to develop my business as a textile print designer. I expect to be able open my work to the international market from modules 2 & 3 in which I am already enrolled.

What difference did it make to have a supportive community of fellow students and how important do you think that will be going forward?

It is important to listen to others experiences, because they surely will enrich your own, and I hope that this continues. The other issue is that I did not invested as much time as I had to doing the workshops, so I might have missed a lot here. I should ask at this point, is it going to continue? And how? On the other hand I am afraid that we are about to overload the internet with blogs, sites and tweets and no one is going to find us anymore.


How would you describe your style?

Totally inspired by nature. It is also organic and scientific, colorful and very tropical in many ways, you can see this in my web site

What kind of designer do you want to be known as?

I would like to be recognized as a designer that dares to try original and strange things. People should find in my work something that no one else is doing. I am sure that this is not easy, but I am working very hard on it.


What are you working on currently?

I am working in various projects at the same time, all of them to create Patterns to print on fabric:
1. Microscope Photography: I am using microscopes to create images for my designs. My favorite subjects are insects, leaves and pollen.

2. Choco Biodiversity: this is a project that started as an experiment. I was visiting a friend in Quibdo, the capital city of Choco, (a rain forest region in Colombia where a big community of Afro-colombians live), and she introduced me to a group of fashion design students that were working with animals and plants of the region as inspiration for their collections. I asked them to draw some characteristics of those animals to see what would come out, and ended up with a collection of magnificent drawings that I used to create patterns for them. This was a year ago and now I am visiting regularly to teach them and help them create special fabrics for their fashion work. Here are the first examples

3. Illustration: I am currently going back to drawing by hand, of course, animals and flowers, influenced by both mentioned projects. After working a lot with digital images I am going back to the basics. I still don’t have work to show, this will come later.


What advice would you give emerging designers wanting to build their portfolios?

In todays work, to sell design is very difficult. One must combine originality and tradition to create designs that people want to buy. I would recommend them to try both, and they should not sacrifice their style and ideas for customers that are afraid to try new things, sometimes clients are too afraid to try, but there is a lot of them that want new stuff if they see it and its well done.

What would be your dream design gig?

A complete fashion collection inspired by microscope photography and nature using drawings, digital printing, felt, hand drawing, embroidery, intelligent textiles, laser cutting, 3D printing, with a sustainable message, it is in development.


Looking ahead what are your major goals for the next couple of years?

I am planning to continue developing my on-line store, for national and international customers, and also to study more about science as an inspiration but also as a tool to help me develop new textiles for intelligent and sustainable clothing.

If you were a pattern what kind of a pattern would you be and why?

This is a funny question, let me think… if I was a pattern I would be a flower pattern, because I do identify myself with flowers, not because of their looks but because of their role in nature and its relation to my work as a textile designer. I mean, that we both bring color to the landscape, we are helping others to attract the opposite sex (pollen and pollinators) to reproduce, or just to call attention, we smell good, we like insects and pollen, something like that. I would also add insects, pollen and leaves, because they belong in the picture, definitely!



I am a Colombian Textile Designer that lived and worked in Germany for ten years. I studied Textile Design at Los Andes University in Bogotá, Colombia (1990), and majored in Textile Print Design from the Philadelphia University of Textiles and Sciences (1994). Since then, I have worked in Textile Design and Digital Print in my own studio in Reutlingen, Stuttgart and Bogota. I teach textile print and microscope photography.

At this moment I am developing some individual and collective projects with other Textile Artists in Bogotá. For more information please visit my web site


Would you like to be featured? We would love to showcase your work, so please do take a look out our submissions page here.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email