FIDM Library Textiles & Materials Manager Kristine Upesleja's Story Will Inspire You

FIDM Library Textiles & Materials Manager Kristine Upesleja's Story Will Inspire You

Prior to joining FIDM in 2005, Kristine Upesleja worked as a Costume Designer for opera, theater, and film productions in Europe. Today, the Textiles & Materials Manager and Curator of the annual Innovative Materials exhibition is a leading expert in the forward-thinking field of textile innovation and sustainability. 

When her husband, an architect, received a job offer to become a partner in a notable architectural firm in Los Angeles, she looked forward to a new adventure abroad. Once she arrived, she was unable to work legally due to her type of visa, and uninterested in a career in Hollywood. Kristine was apprehensive about her future.

“From the moment I landed in LA, my entire life fell apart,” said Kristine, who was soon diagnosed with ovarian cancer and told she had six months to two years to live. “Besides cancer, my marriage fell apart. I had no work, no money, and my mum passed. And I had to take care of my nine-year-old child.”

With the help of her community, she managed to put the puzzle of her life back together, piece-by-piece. “Today I am a US citizen and well-respected expert in my field, a new field I created with my survival skills,” said Kristine, a two-time Stage 4 ovarian cancer survivor. “Here I am 17 years later.” 

It was through a friend that she learned about a job opening for a Textiles Specialist at FIDM, which caught her eye since she was transitioning into researching and lecturing. “One day I had my ‘a-ha’ moment, which changed everything,” she explained. 

“I saw a picture of a raincoat in a magazine that could be transformed into a blow-up mattress. It was a conceptual design and was called ‘Urban Survivor.’ The idea and concept behind it struck me. I started to research innovative garments and textiles and a whole new world opened up to me.”

She went on to establish the FIDM Library's Textile & Design Research Room and developed its unique Innovative Materials Collection—the largest at an American college—which includes garments made from coffee grounds and orange peel fibers, 3D-printed apparel, wearable technology, and shoes made from mushrooms and corn. 

In 2008, Kristine started curating the FIDM Library’s Innovative Materials exhibition. Thanks to her efforts, FIDM Students have even grown materials from red wine and cellulosic bacteria. “We still have the Red Wine Dress a student created in our permanent collection,” said Kristine, who cited former Library Director Jim Glenny as a major supporter. 

In addition to her busy career at FIDM, Kristine appears as an expert in Science in Fashion, a Project Runway web series. She’s also an in-demand lecturer on innovative materials and has appeared everywhere from Japan to Latvia. Her consulting firm, Madisons – Innovative Materials, is known throughout the industry. 

After nearly 15 years at FIDM, she said she’s still learning something new each day. “I love the students who challenge me, and my team and my colleagues in the Library,” Kristine added. “I think the Library is a unique space, admired by so many people who come and visit. Books are something very precious in these days where everything is digitized. We need books."

Categories:  Textile Design