The designer who started her mask making business

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Abacaxi means “pineapple” in Portuguese. In some cultures, pineapples represent luck, friendship and hospitality. For South Asian designer Sheena Sood, founder of the Abacaxi label, the fruit recalls the time she spent two months in Brazil on the beaches of Bahia, where fruit vendors shout the word while selling their products in the streets. There, the sound of the word “abacaxi”, says Sood, is like a “happy musical”.

Growing up in Minneapolis, Sood traveled to India every few years to visit his family. As a child, these trips brought her closer to her roots and introduced her to South Asian design and craftsmanship, sparking her love for textiles, color and pattern making.

Photo: Gloria Gao

“I got to see how the custom clothing was made,” says Sood. “Unlike where I grew up in the Midwest, people would go buy their fabric, take it to the embroiderer, then the beader, then the tailor. The richness of the fabrics. The way people dress with color in such a different way.

These trips inspired Sood to become a textile designer; she studied visual arts and comparative literature at Brown University. During her studies, she started making art using fabric, embroidery and beads in paintings, which led her to work in textile design. After graduation, she moved to New York City to begin her career in the fashion industry. Working as a designer for brands like Tracy Reese, Cole Haan and Anthropologie, Sood has spent over a decade developing the design technique and ethics that she applies to Abacaxi.

In 2013, Sood designed its first capsule collection under the Abacaxi brand. At first, it was a creative project consisting of two dresses, a blouse and embroidered shorts, all done with patchwork embroidery that she had collected in India.

Photo: Gloria Gao

Using her personal savings, Sood was ready to devote herself full time to Abacaxi in early 2019. Fruit Nostalgia, her first collection, was inspired by memories she had of tasting fruit in India. The color palette and design of the collection was inspired by the violet of jamun and the yellow-green shade of amla.

The collection was released in March 2020, just before the New York City lockdown. Sood hosted a launch event in his apartment, which included a dyeing workshop and a giant fruit display table. As with most businesses that started before the pandemic, the uncertainty was there. But Sood wanted to find a way to contribute, so she started making masks, which kept the business profitable. Last summer and until last fall, she noticed that people who bought masks came back for her clothes.

Plants as people, its fall-winter 2021 collection, was inspired by the book Moss picking, written by Robin Wall Kimmerer, an indigenous woman, botanist and researcher. Inspired by the way foam coexists and communicates, the collection included sari blouses with sweetheart necklines, brightly colored velvet and low rise leggings, as well as craftsmanship such as detailing, beading, tie -dye, miscarriages and shisha mirror work.

Photo: Gloria Gao

Nature and animals are themes in its collections. Last month, the brand held its first fashion show, titled Ray. The playful collection included crochet dresses knitted with 100% Peruvian cotton and a color palette resembling a coral reef, inspired by a trip she took to Costa Rica in 2017. At the show, the designers featured distributed bubble machines and enticed spectators to play with the bubbles.

“The water was crystal clear and super hot,” she says. “As soon as I dipped my head in the water and opened my eyes, I just saw this incredible kaleidoscopic sight of marine life. There were fish of all the colors of the rainbow. The stingrays glided across the ground, and the way they moved stuck with me. I’ve never seen anything like it from a distance, so it’s one of those transformative moments to learn something new or to feel connected to the universe that inspired me.


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