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  • 27 November, 2020

    Inviting Yourself Back to What Was Within You All Along with Sarah Nsikak

    Taylor Simmons

    Meet Sarah Nsikak, a Brooklyn-based artist, known for her patchwork dresses. Initially drawn to the fashion industry because of her love of textiles, Sarah couldn't believe the industry's exorbitant waste. Her dresses, created from found fabric and flowing in silhouette, are inspired by vibrant stories of African culture.

    We sat down with Sarah, wearing our Shirred Maxi Dress in Yellow Leaf, to talk about her grandmother's Ankara, her own creative process and how reconnecting with her purpose led her to launch La Réunion.

    When did you learn to sew and, before dresses, did you have a favorite thing to sew?

    My grandmother was a skilled seamstress in her Nigerian village. My parents immigrated to Oklahoma City for university in the 1980s and, a few years after starting their family, my grandmother came to live with us. I used to watch her work with Ankara, a traditional, Nigerian, printed textile, and felt like what she was doing with her machine was magic. She taught me to sew when I was 9 or 10. We used paper, needle and thread to start and I, eventually, worked up to using her machine. I would forage my closet for old garments to transform and did so badly, but was obsessed with the empowering feeling I got from making my own clothing, even if I was too embarrassed to let them see daylight. I have always made little textile art pieces without sharing them. I actualized the project La Réunion at the end of 2019.

    What inspired you to start La Réunion?

    I had never been taught about African art or the many styles in fashion that were directly taken from Africa. Throughout popular culture, we see western society take music, fashion and hair styles from Africa and exploit them. I wanted to use my interests and skill set to redirect the focus to the source.

    How does renewal play a role in your work?

    I constantly think about ways to use existing materials or reimagine old systems that are in place. There is so much excess in the world and I have made it my mission to only use what is already here.

    You wrote that La Réunion was influenced by many things, including the idea of inviting one's self back to what was there all along. Would you mind explaining that idea? It's powerful, particularly in a year when many of us have spent more time alone, reflecting or diving into new passions.

    Many people assume I'm a black American when they meet me, but it's a very different thing to be a first generation American. Growing up in predominantly white spaces, I felt pressure to fit a certain box or appease stereotypes. It was hard to feel I had a place or that anyone understood me - especially because I barely understood myself. I wasn't comfortable enough in my own skin to confront these things and it left me very broken and confused. I had one culture at home and one at school and the two were at odds. In my adult years, I've found the beauty in reuniting with my roots and reconnecting with my ancestry. This is the place that my most authentic and meaningful art comes from. Though that story is specific to my journey, I feel many of us can relate in some way to the idea of turning inward and reconnecting with the purpose that's been there all along.

    What is your creative process in designing each piece?

    My process starts with sourcing. I source vintage and deadstock materials through online sellers and brands that store their remnants at the same cutting room I use. I choose fabric that is made out of natural fibers and my selection of prints and patterns is very edited. I've gotten good at buying only what I know I'll use to cut down on waste. I source a range of weaves and fibers, keeping in mind the requests of customers in the queue and my personal design aesthetic. When designing dresses, I create color stories based off of the customer's requests. From there, I mix prints, solids and different textures to create unique pieces that feel as much like home to the customer as possible. My color stories are inspired by places I've been (India, Paris, parts of upstate New York), films I've seen and NYC street style.

    Is there anything that makes you feel personally renewed and ready to take on what's next?

    Lately, just taking time to be with my fiancé and friends has been rejuvenating. I am so amazed by the people in my life and I feel thankful and lucky to have aligned with them in this life.