“Fashion is not necessarily about labels. It’s not about brands. It’s about something else that comes from within you”
– Ralph Lauren
Creativity comes in many forms – painting, pottery, jewelry and fashion among them. Regardless of the medium, skill in manipulating it is a talent. While other artists work with paint, clay or metal, the fashion designer’s tools are fabric, thread, buttons and zippers.
Clothing was originally made based on function and culture, a symbol of the wearer’s lifestyle. Eventually, artistic expression came through in textile design.
“For people interested in fashion, especially those interested in making their own clothes by hand, sometimes the process of creating the item or the pure beauty of the item itself can hold more importance than any personal or generational statement of dress or meaning,” says LEAFtv, a modern lifestyle resource for women. “Fashion is often fueled by the desire to be different enough to stand out, but similar enough to belong to the group that your clothing helps identify.”
And there are fashion designers in Cabarrus County making their own statements.
Sunya Folayan, who has an extensive education and career in social work, added artisan to her resume´ for several reasons. “I consider creativity a natural part of myself,” she says. “I am a social worker, and began taking care of my mother in 2008 until she passed in 2012. I just decided that I needed to create my own artwork. It’s an extension of the healing community – small, repetitious stitches that we do throughout our lives.”
“Our” refers to women, and Folayan strives to tell the story of strong, hardworking women, both West African and those struggling in today’s communities. She maintains a studio at Concord’s ClearWater Artist Studios for her craft.
“I make things in small quantities, by traditional methods and by hand. I make things that may be functional or strictly decorative. My affinity toward cotton, natural fiber, stitching and mark making comes from a deep place of memory from within. I use these tools as vocabulary to honor the tedious, unrecognized work of women’s hands. My work also honors the unpaid work of my foremothers’ hands,” she explains.
Creating both art and fashion, Folayan first painted on silk, giving away the completed pieces to her family. That evolved into dying natural fiber.
“Sometimes the fabric tells me what to do. I’ve had that bolt of cotton sitting over there waiting for a purpose. I’m looking for cotton manufacturers in the South as well as local dye manufacturers. There are a couple really good distributors in California and up north, same with dye; local dye companies won’t sell in small amounts.”
When creating one of her wraps (page 15), Folayan explains her technique. “I remove the fabric from the bolt and scour it by machine to remove any dirt and chemicals from the machines that process the fiber. Although I sometimes work with wet material, for these wraps I use dry fabric so I have more control over color and design placement.
“I then cut out and stitch the garment. Then I determine the colors and general theme. I use fiber-reactive dyes. As a surface designer, I use a variety of techniques to transform the essence and plane of the garment. This usually involves using a variety of techniques that cause the fiber to take in color in some places while creating active resists in other places.
“In addition, I selectively add and remove more color, and I often use paint and screen printing techniques for further customization. Finally, once complete and the excess dyes rinsed away, the garments are sometimes embellished with paint or seed beads, etc., dried, steamed and pressed as finishing. The iron is one of the most important tools of the art of this craft!
“Much of my work is evocative…typically, if I construct a garment for someone, the work is intuitive,” she adds. “I usually interview the person to get a feel for them and I allow that energy and knowing guide the work.”
Having delved deeply into the history of indigo last year, Folayan plans to offer Blue Prints – A Surface Design Class in Glorious Shades of Blue, beginning this month at ClearWater.
“In my studies on blue, I’ve learned lots about indigo and its importance to trade and global economy: How human lives were exchanged for blue cloth in West Africa, how the color became associated with transcendence, pain, fine artisanship and hope,” she says.
One of Folayan’s affirmations is, “Be a lifelong learner.” If you’d like to learn more about her design work or would like to join her in Blue Prints, call ClearWater Artist Studios at 704-784-9535 or visit clearwaterartists.com.