Creative Spotlight: Sarah Aphrodite

Sarah Aphrodite-Stolwijk’s eponymous label defies expectations in an industry so often propelled by immediacy and disposability. While others release collections according to the typical fashion calendar, the Netherlands-born, Massachusetts-based designer takes the time she needs to let her work reach it’s full potential. Each piece harks back to all the power and whimsy of ancient adornments while still remaining innovative. In our interview, Sarah talks through her hands-on design process, the limitlessness of accessories, and why you have to go for it.

Sarah Aphrodite is available at sarahaphrodite.com

Interviewed by Alexa Wilson

When and how did you start your label?

I started my label in 2008. I made my first collection 3 years after graduation and I have been building onto that from there on.

What inspires you?

I am inspired by old handmade garments and fabrics from all over the world. I am inspired by indigenous cultures and national and tribal dress. I am inspired by colors and prints and the animal kingdom. I am inspired by African American culture and culture in general--by humanity!

I read in an interview that you’ve divided up your design aesthetics into five categories. Can you describe them? Do they ever interlap?

Yes, I have discovered that there are 5 main feelings/vibes going on in my style. They overlap all the time which still confuses me. I have named all of them. Black cat is a serious, classy, older, elegant feel. Bazaar is an exotic, handmade, deep, soulful, nothing is too much feel. 24K is a jeans and t-shirt, old school, Brooklyn street feel. Vegas is a tacky, leopard print, skin tight feel. Resort is a flowy, timeless, classic feel.

I really like that there’s this sense of reinvention in your work, like how you turn pre-used textiles into these innovative takes on classic styles. What draws your attention when sourcing materials?

Sourcing materials is one of my most favorite things to do! It can also be very daunting at times. Like when you are looking for a specific fabric for a specific piece, it can be very overwhelming for me. But when I am looking for fabrics and materials in general, it is one of the best things in the world. There are so many amazing things out there! I find things all over the world in antique shops in Istanbul, at local markets, in the garment district in NYC, in Salvation Armies and Etsy shops and so on and so on.

Can you talk me through your design process?

I love this question because I have been wanting to communicate this clearly to everyone and myself as well.

As I said before, I have been building my brand. I feel like every collection is another brick I lay down. It's a brick-by-brick approach. I used to design everything from t-shirts to elegant lace dresses and everything in between. It was sort of chaos. Ever since I started I have been seeking clarity and have been wanting to figure it all out and understand what was going on. So somewhere down the line I discovered those 5 categories which was so eye opening for me. It started to make more sense. I always have these big discoveries along the way. Right now, for example, I decided to focus more on tops to go with the belts and the whole image. Image is VERY important to me. I realized I am ready for tops now and they have not been getting enough attention yet.

I do not draw! For example, I think of a jacket so I will make a pattern for that. It always comes out 'not right' when I do my own patterns. So then I tend to put it on and hate it but somewhere down the line, sometimes weeks later or months or even years, I put it on again and start to play with the piece on my body--also one of my favorite things to do! There is a lot of play in my design process. When you wear a jacket backwards or turn a skirt half way round or combine two different pieces or cut something off or change the length, it changes everything and that place is where the magic is I think. That's where I find an edge. What I could have never thought of before, I can make.

I am interested in seamlessly merging my style with all it’s feelings and components in a complete and solid look or a few looks, almost like a modern day believable costume. A costume that I would want to wear out daily. I think my brand tries to merge high fashion and streetwear seamlessly, if that makes sense?

You make clothing as well, but your focus is on accessories. How did you know that was the area you wanted to zone in on?

I did not always know that I wanted to focus on accessories even though I have always been making them. I found out along the way (one of those discoveries I was talking about earlier) that they were a thing in my work and then I started to intentionally focus on them. Accessories are coming from a very deep place within me. They are limitless, I feel no rules when I create them. I do not feel that free with clothing. Clothing is very important to me and for the image but I have more obstacles to overcome than with accessories. Accessories are very easy for me to design and they come together very naturally, I have to do very little for it. Clothes however are 'work' for me. They need patterns which is one of my weakest abilities, they also need to be fitted and sized which is all still very intimidating to me. However, I do feel like I am loosening up with them more which I am so thrilled about.

So much of your brand’s ethos seems to be based off of intuition and what feels right to you. You don’t rush collections or follow the typical fashion calendar. Have you always been this intuitive person or have you had to learn to follow your gut feeling?

I have always been intuitive but I am definitely learning to honor that within the system of the industry. I still struggle with this a lot in terms of feeling good and confident about my own path. It's very hard to go your own pace or even know your own pace. But I do believe that you have to go for it in order to find out what your own rhythm is. I also think that some people just naturally fit in the system and it works for them but the current fashion calendar just doesn't work for me.

Do you have any advice for anyone hoping to start their own business?

Yes, find out what inspires you!

Where does your love of travel come from?

I don't know? I always had it as a child growing up. I always imagined traveling the world, which is what I did right after I finished high school. Now that I am older I am loving it less. Maybe because I have a child now? and I think the current global climate is turning me off as well. We just came back from India though where I did find amazing fabrics and other old handmade pieces which was so inspiring.

Where do you want to travel next? What’s your dream destination?

It’s interesting because I realized recently that I'm interested in going to places that I have never been interested in going before, like Japan, Norway, and Iceland. But my dream destination is always the new collection, I wanna see the next images! I can hardly wait!

*Images courtesy of brand

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