Photo by Ritchie Jo Espenilla
Brooklyn-based Sarah Nsikak is the founder of La Réunion, a fashion brand that tells stories of Africa with an attention to sustainability and minimal waste. Sarah works with vintage and upcycled textiles to create custom pieces, including patchwork dresses that are inspired by the women in Namibia’s Herero tribe. After surviving a war with the German Empire at the beginning of the 20th century, the Herero women adapted the style of dress of their oppressors and made it their own. Sarah, too, has made the patchwork dress her own, sourcing bright textiles and unexpected patterns that she brings together in a singular perspective.
We asked the first generation Nigerian-American, photographed here in the Emme Parsons Leo sandal, about what’s inspiring her now.
How would you describe your style?
Ever-evolving. Lately, I’ve been into a more timeless maximinimalism that leads to wild print mixing and weird layering. Also gravitating more towards two piece sets.
Can you tell us about your brand La Réunion, and what led you to create it?
I created the brand because there wasn't much out there that celebrated Africa from an African perspective, and certainly nothing being made in the most environmentally responsible way. I was getting disillusioned by all the white companies traveling to Africa and creating work with artists there, but neglecting to really celebrate the history of the artistry or to help destigmatize Africa. I wanted to reclaim our stolen stories and share more of what has yet to be told.
Which designers and women are inspiring you right now and why?
I’m lucky to have a friend in Maia Ruth Lee - we were able to catch up in New York recently, but she made a brave move away from the city and her community to start a simpler life with her family. It’s been special to see how her integrity and art practice has been maintained throughout such a transition, and I really admire the ways she’s been able to shape shift and adapt as a mother, partner, and friend.
What is your current favorite shoe from Emme Parsons, and how would you style it?
Leo in Black is a very sleek and polished style. I always want at least one piece of my outfit to be refined so there’s a bit of balance in the chaos.
Guilty or not so guilty pleasure?
I’ve been very hedonistic lately concerning dessert. I don’t think I would say no to any dessert at the moment - the more chocolate the better.
You are so conscious of the waste created in the fashion space. What is your process when curating and selecting textiles to use in creating your pieces?
It took a lot of time for me to let go of the idea that every textile can be a part of my project. I know what I like and what looks good together, and I think that’s what people trust when they order a custom dress from me. Now that I’ve refined my preferences, I’m more equipped to donate materials to non profit organizations and invest in the special vintage textiles that I know would otherwise collect dust in someone’s attic before being tossed. Part of sustainability is editing and making/having less.
Favorite meal to cook for friends?
I always feel like I need to make fried plantains as a side dish for any meal with friends. I don’t see restaurants serving them the way my parents made them growing up, so it’s fun to share that part of myself while giving (most of) them a new take on the dish.
Best kept secret in Brooklyn?
Lover’s Rock, a bar in Bed Stuy. It’s the best for so many reasons - beautiful outdoor patio, sweet servers, reggae, and they make delicious patties too!