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With her cheery clothing designs, the globally minded designer of abacaxi gives new life to traditional handmade fabrics.

Sheena Sood may manufacture her clothes in New York City, but she sources her fabrics and ideas from across the globe—starting with the very name of her brand, abacaxi, which means pineapple in Portuguese.

It evokes memories from her travels in northeastern Brazil, where fruit sellers on the beach would call out abacaxi (ab-ah-cah-SHEE), stretching it over 30 or 60 seconds. “I love the musical nature of the word,” says Sood. “It has a tropical, joyous vibe.” 

Indeed, Sood’s clothing designs show off a passion for vivid colors that dates back to her childhood travel from Minnesota to visit relatives in India, where the rainbow-hued saris captivated her imagination. “Those early trips really opened my eyes and my mind,” she recalls, “I was obsessed with textiles from an early age.”

Journeys of Inspiration with Sheena Sood from AFAR Media on Vimeo.

Years later, when she was at a crossroads after fashion internships and a stint as a designer for Tracy Reese, Sood went back to India for a few months to recharge. She began collecting things she loved, primarily vintage embroideries from the northern region of Rajasthan.

Her suitcase of souvenirs became the basis of abacaxi’s first capsule collection, which Sood created in 2013 for a Brooklyn boutique. Each dress, blouse, and pair of shorts incorporated a piece of vintage Rajasthani embroidery. 

She’s followed a similar creative approach ever since: Source textiles; sketch silhouettes and shapes to match; and create a mood board and patterns that ultimately give a playful, modern twist to traditional fabrics.

“These fabrics are just brimming with life to me because there are so many different hands that go into them,” she says. “I’m really inspired by handmade textile traditions and the amount of work that goes into making just one piece of fabric.”

Sood’s quest for such fabrics has her eyeing trips to Morocco, Sri Lanka, and Senegal. Most recently, it brought her to Indonesia, where she spent a month exploring Java, Bali, and Sumba, visiting the workshops of weavers and soaking up the culture and scenery. She describes her travel style as spontaneous and living in the moment. “I love to meet the locals whenever I’m traveling; it’s definitely the way to learn about a place.”

During a homestay with a Balinese family, Sood learned how to make a banana flower curry with lemongrass and coconut milk. And while in Java, she heard of a local saying, my love is like a banana plant, used to express true love as a banana plant only fruits and flowers once in its lifetime.

“I just loved that saying and had already been sketching banana plants, which are everywhere in Java and Bali, and they became a motif of the whole trip,” says Sood. “It’s definitely going to be in my next collection.” 
As she refines her latest prints back in her home studio, Sood follows a calming morning routine. She starts with a series of rhythmic breaths and meditation. It takes at least half an hour, but she explains that it ultimately opens up much more time in her day because it gives her such focus and clarity.

“After I do my meditation, I very much look forward to having my first coffee, really dark and strong, and some fruit for breakfast,” she says. It’s not unusual for an afternoon coffee to follow.

She appreciated the coffee culture in Indonesia and was drawn there by a desire to be in a place where rituals, traditions, and spirituality are woven into daily life.

“When you look inwards, you really realize that anything is possible,” Sood reflects. “I’ve always wanted to draw and create, and the fact that I’m now doing that as my profession is really awesome.”

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