Building Block

Building Block

Sarah Nsikak

Photography by Sean Davidson

The stories we tell through what we wear, collect, and inherit are often deeply personal. Such is the case with Sarah Nsikak’s Brooklyn based project, La Réunion. Over the last 3 years, Sarah has built a label based on creating garments and textile pieces that consider a meaningful cycle between her production methods, the product, and the customer.

Each one of Sarah’s patchwork garments are unique and request the participation of the wearer. Since many of the pieces are commissioned and often made with personal fabrics, they immediately become heirlooms to keep and pass down. Beyond the actual construction of the garment, La Réunion is influenced by “the ideas surrounding reclaimed beauty, togetherness, color, joy…” and more intimately, celebrates African stories and traditions including Sarah's own roots in Nigeria.

Having just welcomed her daughter into the world (post-photoshoot!), we catch up with Sarah about where she is presently and what she envisions for herself and the next generation.

Can you describe the path that led to the work you do now? 

I have always made little textile art pieces without really sharing them, but I actualized the project La Réunion (named after the island) at the end of 2019. The goal has always been to share artwork that celebrates Africa and to do so sustainably. I wanted to be very intentional about introducing clothing into the project, because there are so many brands out there and I didn't want to do it just because I knew how or because it was expected of me. The first capsule of Patchwork Dresses was created out of a time of real sadness and grief. Corona had hit hard in NYC and we were confined to our homes. I no longer had a job, and had a lot of time to create something from an honest place. I remember thinking "what can I make that will make me feel good in a time where that seems impossible?" Fashion has this transportive property that can make you feel you're somewhere else or someone else, even on the bleakest day. This is why I knew I'd be making something I could wear. The project has evolved from there, and I'm very grateful for the support and love it has received! I feel that this kind of representation is so important.

Congratulations on the recent birth of your daughter! Now that she’s here, how do you hope her presence in your world will evolve what you do with La Reunion?

Thank you so much! After carrying her for 9 months, I still can't believe she's real. I hope that because of her I am even more hypersensitive to the efforts I can and should make to leave the planet better than I found it. This sentiment extends beyond my work and I hope our lives with her (as wasteful as the early baby days can be) are about maintaining the planet for one another. Thinking of her world when she's my age is kind of terrifying, but I choose to believe there's hope and we can be a part of a respite for our planet.

What do you wish to do more of this year?

I'd really like to research and read a lot more. I feel like my best work comes from a time of focus on a time or place. I really enjoyed re-reading the book Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, and was inspired to make work that reflected the raw and folkloric nature of those stories. 

Can you share an upcoming project you’re excited about?

I'm excited to finally finish two commissioned art pieces that I'm making for some incredible mothers. They both asked for family as part of their themes, and neither of them knew I was pregnant when they commissioned work from me. I'm very honored to make something that memorializes the love they've grown in their homes.

How do you feel, at your age, right now? 

I'm 30! I think sometimes about three decades of life is kind of a trip. 30 feels a lot more certain but I'm also aware of how much learning and growing there is for me to do. I feel better than I've felt in any age because I am finally in a place of self acceptance. I know that I can really only do my best with what I've been given and I remind myself of that when I think of where I'd like to be. Definitely a work in progress - I hope to be funnier by 40!

Sarah owns a Brick Bag in Veg Tan. Learn more about La Réunion here.

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