Behind the Mind: A Q&A with Sarah Nsikak of La Réunion Studio

We never cease to be inspired by Sarah Nsikak's talent. Her beautiful designs have enamored us all for the past few years so we were excited and lucky to chat with her a bit about all things design, routine and the future of fashion. 
Q: How did you get into sewing and fashion?
A: My grandmother was a seamstress in her Nigerian village and she was a very skilled sewist. She saw my interest and 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 remember foraging my own closet for old garments to transform into new ones, and doing so very badly. I was obsessed with the empowering feeling I got from making my own clothing, even if I was mostly too embarrassed to let them see daylight. I've always loved the instant gratification of making a huge textile out of many smaller ones, so quilting came naturally from that creative process.

What’s the inspiration and story behind the Patchwork Dress and your designs?
A: I first read about the Herero tribe a few years ago, around the time I moved to NYC. I was doing personal research because I felt this persistent nagging frustration that African art was never a point of focus in my studies. Meanwhile, so many artists and designers are inspired by Africa many weren't paying tribute in any way. I looked up textile art by African people, and after some time gasping at the work by the women of Gee's Bend, I stumbled upon images of the Herero women. I couldn't stop searching for more images of them. I was enamored and also offended that their story was so new to me. I read about how the Germans tried to wipe out their tribe in the 19th century, and how they now wear the reimagined styles of their oppressors. It is a sign of resiliency and it's what black people around the world have been doing since the beginning of time. To make emphatically beautiful something what was initially a symbol of pain and suffering is an act of rebellion and it's a sign of immense strength. Their stories are some of the most powerful and important that I've ever heard in my life. They were transformational for me as an African American woman still searching for a deeper sense of identity.

How does your identity as a Black woman inspire and inform your practice?
A: As a first generation American, 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.

Q: Your favorite (or unconventional!) way to style La Réunion?
A: With a baseball t and bucket hat!

Q: How do you select textiles for each dress--what brings a whole patchwork together for you? Color? Pattern? Textile?
A: It took a lot of time for me to let go of the idea that every textile can be a part of my project. I know what I like and what looks good together, and I think that’s what people trust when they order a custom dress from me. Now that I’ve refined my preferences, I’m more equipped to donate materials to non profit organizations and invest in the special vintage textiles that I know would otherwise collect dust in someone’s attic before being tossed. Part of sustainability is editing and making/having less.

Q: What’s one of your favorite rituals or routines?
A: We just adopted a puppy and she's a very anxious/scared rescue! I've loved the routine of taking her out and showing her the world isn't going to be cruel to her under our care.

Q: What are your thoughts on the fashion world going forward? What changes do you want to see in the industry?
A: I think upcycling and utilizing the existing waste is the inevitable direction that the fashion industry has to go in. There has been so much damage done by the 4 season fashion calendar, and it's time for all brands to be held accountable for doing things more thoughtfully.

Q: A good book you’ve recently read?
A: I've been reading a book by Thich Nhat Hanh called The Sun My Heart - it's all about living mindfully and meditatively. With that foundation, I'm naturally more inclined to learn about sustainability and ways I can care for myself and my community well.

Q: What keeps you motivated and inspired?
A: The fact that there is so much work to be done on a grassroots level and on a global level. For me, I know fashion is only a part of my journey, though I do view it as an intersectional one where we can advocate for African representation and environmental responsibility.