How Traditional Techniques (& Lots Of Color) Inspire Abacaxi Founder Sheena Sood

What do you get when you combine a love of world cultures, sustainable production techniques, and striking silhouettes and patterns? Enter Abacaxi, a small batch fashion brand started by Sheena Sood. Although the label takes its name from the Portuguese word for pineapple, Sood takes inspiration from her travels and ties across the globe. Refinery29 recently caught up with Sood to learn more about her process, inspiration, and latest collection.
One thing becomes very clear when speaking with Sood – she takes quality textile and fabric creation seriously. She employs practices like weaving, beading, and embroidery in creating and producing her designs. In addition to traditional practices, Sood also honors her own intuition and the planet throughout all phases of the Abacaxi process. From the organic, regenerative cotton farm she utilizes in India to the vibrant and sustainable plant dyeing techniques, details are carefully and consciously considered. Sood is all about creating a quality product that’ll last, and one that you’d want to wear forever too.  “I think when you wear [clothing] –even if it's like a casual dress or something that you might wear all the time– when it's handmade, when the fabric is moving, or maybe it has like some little detail, it really it does feel different," she says.
Dynamic silhouettes and bursts of colors of color are key qualities that have become synonymous with the essence of Abacaxi. As a lifelong world traveler, Sood garners inspiration for her collections from the countries she visits and most importantly the life changing-experiences she faces. Sood explains that her latest collection, "Stingray," was inspired by her first time snorkeling and overcoming her fear of the ocean. "I will never forget the moment of actually just dumping my head underwater and overcoming that fear and then seeing this incredibly beautiful, kaleidoscopic underwater world that I had never seen before...I think about the stingray I saw gliding along the ocean floor. That's also a memory that stuck with me."
You can experience Sood's intricate designs firsthand since Stingray is available to shop online now. Keep scrolling to read my conversation with Sood, where she dishes on everything Abacaxi including the design process, colorway inspiration, and her loyal customer base.

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What inspired the launch of Abacaxi?

"I worked as a [textile] designer for several different brands before I started Abacaxi. I really wanted to just focus on using a lot of these traditional textile techniques that I find so fascinating, especially from India, which is where I'm originally from. But also…it mainly started with wanting to bring those textiles into everyday wear like hand-woven fabrics, different beading, and embroidery techniques, and even plant dyeing and traditional dyeing techniques, too. There are a lot of crafts that are obviously done less and less and less and kind of at risk of disappearing, too. I wanted to work with these artisans and give them another opportunity to bring it back."
How did the name come to be, and how do both cultural influences impact the brand's design?

"Both of my parents are originally from India. I grew up in the US. When I first started my line, I was making this capsule in Brooklyn, and I actually didn't really have a name for the brand. I was planning to just put my name, but as I was actually making it and putting it together, it was the depth of winter... And for some reason, I had like all these memories of my time traveling along the northern coast of Brazil. And it came back to me and I remembered the word “abacaxi.” It's such a musical word. And I loved the way that it was spelled, and I remembered the way that the fruit sellers on the beaches would just basically sing out the words of the fruits that they were selling. O knew I wanted my brand to have that tropical-inspired, happy kind of experience. I lived in Argentina when I was in high school, so I've always been fluent in Spanish, and kind of I've been lucky enough to travel a lot around the world as a kid. My dad …would travel; a lot and he would bring us on a lot of different trips. So there are definitely different cultural influences just based on my experiences and my travels in my work too."

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Abacaxi's collections are filled with amazing pops of color. Where did you get the inspiration for such vibrant design color stories each season?

"I'm obsessed with color… I actually did one collection called 'Color Is a Cure' that was really I just let the color itself be an inspiration for the whole thing. And I do actually believe in the healing power of color. I don't really believe that fashion exists in the industry. So it's like, you know, certain people have a certain skin tone, aren't supposed to wear yellow or orange or whatever. But I do feel that there's a strong reason why some of us are attracted to certain colors and not other ones... I sometimes start with a point of inspiration, but other times just start designing and choosing the fabrics and the techniques, and the palette comes together based on the materials. Color inspiration can come from so many different things. Sometimes it's a memory or a certain place, but sometimes it's really just the materials themselves or the fabrics or the techniques that I want to use."
 What efforts does the abacaxi team use to ensure products are being produced sustainably?

"I mentioned that the emphasis on handcrafted textiles was important from the beginning. All of our production up until now has been made in small batches just because of the nature of the way it’s made. The tie-dye stuff every piece is literally tied and died by hand. It’s all a very slow production process."

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What would you say sets Abacaxi apart from other small independent retailers?
"I think my background as a textile designer and the technical knowledge that I have on all of these different methods of creating textiles really sets the collections apart in terms of the detail and just being able to work with custom weaves, costumes, [and] accessories. Every fabric, essentially every embroidery, every print, — it's all custom. The other thing is my flair for color…I [also] like to tell stories. There's sort of a lot of storytelling within each collection, so sometimes it's more subtle and sometimes it's a little more [obvious], you know, you can decipher the symbols in the prints."
How would you describe your customer base?
"Well, I think that my brand and everything that I do tends to resonate with a lot of South Asian people, but also just like people who have multicultural backgrounds, I think because of the stories that I'm telling and the inspiration behind the silhouettes that it seems to be who is attracted to the brand. I also have been doing extended sizing up through 3X or 4X, so not all styles, but most. And then, as you know, things are growing and our production is getting a little bit bigger. I'm hoping to eventually offer up to 4X for all styles. I'm like a size 14, so I always sort of design with several different sizes and body shapes in mind, just naturally."

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What would you say is what you're like best selling product of all time or like the one thing that you're really known for?"

"Three designs come to mind [and] one is called the Ava dress. And it's just a really flattering, long-sleeve dress silhouette that has smocking. So it's really flattering on several different body shapes, and it's a full circle skirt with big puff sleeves and smocking at the wrist too with a square neckline.
The other piece that embodies a lot of the ethos of the brand and was a really popular piece that sold out is called the Divya blouse. It's [a] one-shoulder blouse that has a pleated scarf attached to the shoulder. You can wear it in many different ways. The last one is the smocked shorts. They're just super cute. They're very comfortable to wear. They come in a whole bunch of different colors with little neon dots and fabrics, so that's been a bestseller and a signature design, too."
In Refinery29's Talking Shop series, we're chatting with owners of up-and-coming small businesses about their experiences launching, the big challenges and wins they've faced, and of course, their products and services.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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