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Style, Sustainability

Don't Call Abacaxi an Overnight Success

Founder Sheena Sood has been at this since long before her sustainable 'It' brand hit it big last year.

7/24/2021 7:35:00 AM

Founder Sheena Sood has been at this since long before her sustainable 'It' brand hit it big last year:

Founder Sheena Sood has been at this since long before her sustainable 'It' brand hit it big last year.

Author:Maura BranniganA look from Abacaxi's Spring 2021 collection. Photo: Courtesy of AbacaxiFounder Sheena Sood has been at this since long before her sustainable "It" brand hit it big last year.At the height of the pandemic last March, Sheena Sood didn't join the flocks of those New York City residents fleeing the five boroughs. The founder and designer of fashion label

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Abacaxi stayed put in her Brooklyn apartment and made masks — thousands of them. Some were beaded, others tie-dyed, all hand-worked, escapist and of course, evocative of far less dystopian time."I was trying to think about what I could contribute, and for me, masks were one thing I could do," she remembers. "There wasn't much else you could focus on, so I just started making them and when I put them on my

Instagram Stories, everybody needed them."The masks didn't just give her a purpose during a terrifying, dizzying time. They also brought her textile-forward sustainable brand — which, at that point, had been in operation for more than seven years — to an entirely new consumer base when most business was sputtering to a halt. headtopics.com

This March, Sood had other plans. As the first twinges of pre-crisis normalcy began sweeping into Brooklyn, Sood boarded a flight to the Mexican coastal state of Oaxaca to commence an artists' residency. For nearly five weeks, she studied the art and practice of traditional plant dying, all under the tutelage of a master dyer.

As a richly biodiverse region, Oaxaca has long been one of Mexico's leading producers of handcrafts,the processes for which the region's Indigenous groups have perfected over thousands of years. Sood arrived hoping to learn more about one of those processes, specifically: cochineal dyeing, derived from parasitic insects found on the pads of prickly pear cacti. The small, beetle-like bugs produce carminic acid, which, when extracted, yield a vibrant red ink.

Sood put her new expertise to work right away when she returned to Brooklyn and, not three months after her residency came to an end, cochineal-dyed pieces — includingone particularly slinky, two-tone lavender slip dress— became available to shop on Abacaxi's website. Such is the Abacaxi way.

"Every designer has their own specialty, and fabric design is mine," says Sood. "I know that a lot of larger designers buy the original artwork from an artist or from a textile designer. The advantage for me is that, well, not only do I headtopics.com

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nothave to do that, but creating those custom fabrics and prints is just part of my process."Abacaxi founder and designer Sheena Sood. Photo: Courtesy of AbacaxiDelia'scatalogs that would arrive in her mailbox each month. But in retrospect, she recalls drawing more influence from her family's visits to India, during which she often found herself at local markets with her mom and aunt, surrounded by a kaleidoscope of fabric and color.

"I was fascinated by the fact that you could just get your fabric, take it to the embroiderer, take it to the beading guy, take it to the tailor and literally design your own clothes," she says. "That, obviously, was a huge part of why I later became a designer."

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