Culture and Clothing | Q&A with Browntourage
On our radar right now is designer Sheena Sood of abacaxi nyc. Her SS14 collection caught my eye on Instagram and I’ve been peeping her work ever since. Sheena launched abacaxi in 2013, described as a “unique urban-island aesthetic,” and the vision behind the clothes is so strong. Most captivating about the line is the multi-cultural perspective of how modern women can dress. I say “can” because I feel like there aren’t many accessible designers who have a mutli-cultural/bi-cultural upbringing making clothes for women who struggle with identity in a diasporic world. I see a beacon of light in Sood’s clothes- calling us to embrace color and ethically sourced textiles in a contemporary context. Finally, someone I trust on this side of the water to craft the nostalgia of back home into something I’d go to the studio, work, or dance in!
Browntourage: Who are you and tell us a little about your life/fun facts!
Sheena: I’m Sheena Sood. I love travel, nail art, chocolate and pineapples. I really enjoy living in Brooklyn even though I am essentially a beach bum.
A fun fact about abacaxi- the word abacaxi (pronounced uh-bah-ka-shee) means pineapple in Portuguese. It’s one of my favorite words; when I traveled in Northern Brazil I loved how the fruit sellers on the beach would yell it out and prolong it for over 30 seconds. To me pineapples are a symbol of good luck and beauty, and I think the motif speaks to the lighthearted, playful, tropical and quirky aspects of my clothing line.
If you come to my apartment, you will notice pineapples all over the place- wall hooks, candles, lamps, and in my fridge! I love that people now gift me tropical fruit-related things all the time.
B: How did you get into designing clothes?
S: I was always into color, pattern, style, and drawing, even as a kid. In college I studied art and literature. My paintings often involved fabrics, embroidery and beading, which led me into textile design. I took textile design courses at RISD and at Central Saint Martins, and when I graduated I moved to New York because I knew I wanted to work in fashion. Before starting my own line, I worked at Tracy Reese, and at Cole Haan on the Concept team.
B: What’s unique about your brand?
A: I use traditional woven and embroidered textiles in modern, updated ways. The textiles are sustainably sourced from artisan non-profits or directly with the artisan, and the garments are all made in NYC. I also offer a unique perspective given my background and experience in other fields besides fashion.
B: So tell us about the Fall collection you just showed at New York Fashion Week!
A: This season I was inspired by a magical trip to Ladakh, a remote region in the Himalayas. The high-altitude desert, and sudden day to night temperature drops lead me to this idea of layering with head-scarves and hoods. The many Indo-Tibetan Buddhist monasteries I visited informed the color palette and geometric patterns in this collection, with their mix of gold, red, copper, and black and white motifs.
B: What are some goals you have for yourself and your line for the future?
A: Right now I’m working on finding the right retailers for my line; I’d like to grow the business so that eventually I can hire a team (at the moment- it’s just me!). My other goal is to continue to grow as a designer and make each collection even more interesting than the last. I would also like to be able to work with artisans from all over the world, not just in India, for future collections.
B: How did working with Tracy Reese and Cole Haan help you grow into your own independent brand?
A: I learned about all aspects of the fashion business through working at different places. At TR I learned a ton not just about designing, but also about fit, sourcing, production, sales, how to do a runway show, everything really! Since I didn’t get a degree in fashion design, learning through working was really essential. At Cole Haan I worked on the Color and Concept team which was pretty amazing. Concept is probably my favorite part of the design process. Since every company does things differently it was great to have another perspective before starting my own line.
B: My particular connection to your collection is how well it speaks to my bi-cultural identity, was that at all an intention you had?
A: Yes, absolutely. I’m always inspired by the intersections of different cultures, and my own bi-cultural identity has driven a lot of my creative work, my painting and photography and collage. So I am glad that is coming across with abacaxi too. The line originally was inspired by a trip I took to Rajasthan. I came back with a box full of vintage embroideries and ended up using them to create a limited edition collection of one-of-a-kind dresses and blouses.
B: Do you have any advice for the yung ones with textile wishes and fashion week dreams?
A: Follow your passion and just try to stick to your gut. Creatively you have to do what you feel is right and just keep doing it! That’s what I’m trying at least.