Studio Visit: Abacaxi Designer Sheena Sood
True to her label's "urban-island aesthetic," ABACAXI founder Sheena Sood's home studio is an oasis in the middle of Brooklyn. Lavender walls, Indian embroidered pillows and neon Guatemalan throws reveal Sood’s love of travel, color and indigenous textiles. For her clothing line, which is made locally in New York, Sood sources traditional fabrics from artisan communities in India, then remixes classic pieces like saree blouses into edgy leather crop tops. All around her studio, you’ll find pineapple paraphernalia gifted by friends. These are little reminders of the vision behind Abacaxi, which means pineapple in Portuguese and “channels the tropics–the sun, surf, and lush flora and fauna.” We caught up with the newest member of the Ethica family to discuss her design inspirations and sneak a peek at her colorful digs. –Tanwi Nandini Islam
There’s such a playful, eclectic vibe to Abacaxi. When did you get into fashion design? I always had an interest in textiles and patterns. Even from a young age, I always used to draw. I went to Brown and studied art, but my paintings involved a lot of fabric, embroidery and beading, which led me into textile design. I did a course in London at Central Saint Martin’s in textile design, where I learned how to weave and print by hand. I moved to New York knowing I wanted to work in fashion, and eventually I got a job at Tracy Reese as an assistant designer.
Working for Tracy Reese is a huge step for a young designer! Yes, I was never trained in fashion design, draping, patternmaking and all of that.
When did you decide it was time to do your own thing? After I left Tracy Reese, I went to India for three months. I just needed a break. I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do when I came back, but as I was traveling in Rajasthan, I started collecting these embroideries that I just loved–vintages pieces from old kurtas. I probably had 20 or 25 when I came back. I had the opportunity to create my first capsule collection for a store locally, and I went for it. Each piece in the first capsule is one-of-a-kind, because I used those embroideries.
What challenges are young designers are facing nowadays? It doesn’t seem easy to strike out on your own. One thing that’s tough is that here in in New York the market is so inundated. I think a lot of stores are bombarded with a million young designers–there’s just too much. Unless you know the right people, it’s hard to breaking into stores. [At this stage], I want to continue to grow the brand, find the right retailers and hire a team. Right now, it’s just me. I want to be able to focus on design and production. From my first capsule to the latest collection, there’s definitely been a growth. I’m learning as I go along, about fit, what fabric is best to use. I want to continue to make each collection better than the last.
Do you gravitate toward certain aesthetics? All around your studio and in your collection, there’s so much of the "cosmopolitan, well-traveled woman" look you’ve cultivated. I’m obsessed with color. I love all colors. From season to season, the colors will always change in my collections--that’s something I’m always paying attention to. In terms of pattern, I’m also really inspired travel. I speak Spanish fluently and love traveling to Latin America. I just love the tropics. Right now I’ve used a lot of traditional Indian fabric, woven and embroidered, but I’d like to eventually work with artisans not just in India but around the world.
Is it hard to recreate these traditional Indian embroidered textiles? Your capsule collection repurposed vintage embroideries, but now you’re designing new ones. Shrujan, the Indian artisan NGO in Bhuj, Gujurat has been really good to work with. Their artisans can recreate the [vintage] embroidery. I draw a design and they send it to a bunch of artisans they work with.
How does sustainability factor into your work? All of my stuff is manufactured here in New York City’s Garment Center. That’s something I’ve been conscious about and would like to continue doing. The fabrics will change from season to season, but there’s definitely a focus on natural fibers like silk and cotton, and of course, a focus on sustainably sourced fabrics.
You’ve got women artisans crafting the textiles and New York Garment workers sewing the pieces. Who’s the woman you envision wearing your clothes? I’ve designed these collections to be very wearable. The focus is really on the textiles. She’s someone who has an interest in textiles, color and pattern. She likes clothes that are flattering, but she’s adventurous and likes to be a little seductive.
Abacaxi FW14 Launch NYC runway image by Udor Photography, courtesy of Abacaxi.