designer_series | sanianitos
“F*ck it! I’m jumping the wall!”
Happy Monday everyone!
New week, new series…
I’m actually really excited about this post not only because this is the first in my designer series…
…but it also because it features one of my close creative friends, Sanian Lewis of the lifestyle and accessory brand, Sanianitos.
I have had the pleasure of interviewing Sanian in 2013 for my undergraduate thesis which focused on the marketing forces that affect the Trinidadian fashion industry.
Sanian’s insight into the local fashion arena as an emerging designer was crucial in my understanding of both the Trinidadian consumer and also the opportunities and limitations that the industry faced.
Since then she has zhuzhed1 up anything she can get her hands on.
From her signature hand-painted sunglasses to her embroidered earrings, she has infused her polished Caribbean aesthetic into every piece she’s made and turned what was once viewed as a simple accessory into wearable art.
And, because we have been collaborating on quite a few photoshoots recently – some of which are featured in this post – I thought it would be a good idea to check in with her and her brand!
So…tell me a little bit about your brand?
Sanianitos is a fashion and lifestyle brand that reflects the essence of the Caribbean through the Trinbagonian2 aesthetic.
Simply translated, our pieces are bold, unique and unforgettable, and pay homage to the Caribbean woman that represents those attributes and more.
I registered the company about 4/5 years ago, but it’s only within the past 2 years that we have really been diving into the possibilities we intended when we began the brand.
The aesthetic was built around 3 pillars that lay the foundation for how I perceive fashion and fashion in Trinidad and Tobago, and then became the starting point for my own fashion and lifestyle business.
These are :
- paying attention to detail,
- using accessories that add a dash of your style to your every day and even ‘mundane’ – if you have such a thing – work life, and
- remaining conscious of international goings-on.
I credit my father to developing my meticulous eye for detail by how he chose a pair of socks, a cufflink, or a tie.
My mother showed me that even with an 8-4 uniformed bank job your personal style never has to be sacrificed. She also showed me that a statement earring was never relegated to an event or occasion, but was more of an expression of how you felt that day.
And finally, through my traveling aunt, I was kept up-to-date with everything that was happening internationally in fashion; on-time, on-season, on-trend. Every magazine she could get her hands on from British Vogue to Teen People was sent to me via barrel or anyone who visited her and came back.
I believe that one can most definitely see these qualities translated through my pieces.
So if you had to describe your brand with emojis, it would be…
Who would you say is your ideal client?
Good one haha.
My ideal female client is the woman who can have a corporate 8-4 job and then head to an after work Friday night lime3, looking like she never went to the office because she wore a shirt that she could unbutton under her blazer, had a pair of shoes in the car, and an evening lip-color in her handbag.
She is the woman who can wear a designer shirt with a pair of jeans, heels and fabulous earrings to an event, and stand out from a crowd of flowy fabrics and bandage dresses.
She thinks of fashion in an effortless way.
It’s not about how much money she has. She views her purchases as an investment.
That’s the client I want.
My pieces are made for someone special, and someone who can separate themselves from the collective in this age of sameness.
I’ve lived the ‘fashion on a budget’ life. And if I’m being completely honest, I still am.
But when you see me at an event, you don’t think, “she’s wearing that again?!”, though I more than likely am.
Fashion pieces should be versatile; it’s more about how you wear them than where.
My male client understands the same thing.
Fashion and style should be effortless and organic, and what draws him to a purchase is what speaks to him.
I’ve been surrounded by some men who wear suits every day, and others who wear Birkenstocks 95% of the time.
However, each of these men knows exactly what they’re looking for in their clothing and what they’re trying to say with their style when they step out into the world.
What would you say is a major misconception about you or your brand?
Currently, a major misconception is that I’m a carnival accessories designer, or that I just do sunglasses.
Another is about where or when is appropriate to wear one of my pieces.
Sunglasses aren’t only for the beach (!!) especially when you live in a country where the sun blesses you with its heat every chance it gets!
And, sparkly embroidered earrings aren’t only for formal events!! They’re also for when you’re having a rough morning and just need a little pick-me-up!
…and about the industry?
One of the misconceptions about the industry is that it is a closed environment.
It’s easier for up-and-coming designers, wannabe designers, fashion enthusiasts etc. to build a story from the other side of the figurative wall than to be brave enough to jump the wall and find out for themselves.
I think people are intimidated by the IDEA of the industry until they decide, “F*ck it! I’m jumping the wall!”
If fashion or any fashion event seems elitist, it probably isn’t a fashion event.
There are people that would love that to be the perception of fashion because, as far as they know, that’s what it looks like.
These are people who so wish to be considered and thus feel more comfortable creating their idea of what fashion is versus what it really is.
Fashion is a branch on the tree of art. And, in that regard, to be elitist would be the complete opposite of art’s freedom of creative expression.
Do you have any current frustrations you face within the industry?
Just the perceptions of it. The fashion intelligence, ya know?
It’s frustrating sometimes to see this generation of ‘designers’ consist of people who only did draping in school, or people who look at Pinterest tooooo much, or who think that only lovely fabrics make a collection….or that a collection only consists of ballgowns.
Does your customer also go to the mall? Have interviews? A casual Saturday???
And it’s especially hard when you yourself have gone through things like designer critiques and fashion assignments to encourage you out of your comfort zone and to push your perception of design and creation to really figure out your aesthetic.
Furthermore, the disconnect between local and international fashion really digs at me.
I have received so many pictures of Solange, Rihanna, and Beyonce in sunglasses that look like mine – that I currently have on sale because, of course, I don’t do anything by accident.
But what prevents that person who has a mood board filled with cool sunnies like that from purchasing the pairs I’ve made?
I haven’t figured it out….yet.
Don’t get me wrong though. There are a lot of things that inspire me, including the potential of the industry, so my focus isn’t really on what we are lacking but on what we can and have to gain.
At the end of the day, the frustrations I face are just reflective of the passion I have for what I do, the industry I’ve always wanted to be a part of, and Trinidad and Tobago – because I believe in our country and it’s ridiculous potential.
“We. Are. So. Creatively. Wealthy.”
I just want us as a whole to be smarter with that wealth before we go bankrupt…
And finally, do you have any advice for young creatives in Trinidad hoping to break into the fashion industry?
Jump the wall!
I wanted to know Meiling – to know what it took to have a sustained fashion company that has remained relevant for over 40 years.
I wanted to be guided by Babatu Sparrow, a professor a the Caribbean Academy of Fashion & Design.
I sought to absorb the information of experience.
I understood the importance of leaving my comfort zone, and so I did!
Everything that came after… well, that’s just cause-and-effect, isn’t it?
Whatever you’re going through is an experience. A ‘bad’ experience is only bad if you didn’t learn anything.
It’s only scary until you do something because what you fear is only what you’ve never experienced. This is why you can’t live in fear.
You will never evolve as a creative if you don’t push past uncertainty.
And if you really truly believe in yourself, your aesthetic, and what you can bring to the table please please PLEASE never give up.
Please, stay true to yourself, and please remember humility and authenticity are sustainable attributes and the ‘likes’ on Instagram aren’t.
models; Genie Mulrain (@bantublacks), Naomi Scott (@nayohmeesc), Shervonne Millington (@_shervz)
photographers; Jabari Quashie (@jabari_quashie), Matthew Creese (@matthewcreesephoto)
creative direction & styling; Yannick Gibson (@yarnes08)
assistant styling; Daniella Lopez (@dede_darling16)
1zhuzh:(v) to make something more interesting or attractive
2Trinbagonian: (n) used to classify someone who lives on either of the twin islands of Trinidad and Tobago
(v) hanging out/ socializing in an informal relaxing environment, especially with friends
(n) an event at which liming takes place