A Q&A with Shabd Simon-Alexander

photo: Shabd Simon-Alexander and Paul Mpagi Sepuya : interview: PERISCOPE

The world Shabd Simon-Alexander fashioned is far afield from those you would associate with the word "Tie Dye." But for years she has been creating an artful, unique line of clothes using the techniques of Tie Dye.  Now, while briefly putting the making of seasonal collections on the back burner, she has written and had published,  "Tie-Dye: Dye it, Wear it, Share it," to spread the joy of Tie Dye. Shabd discussed why she wanted to write this book.

How did you discover Tie Dye?
In 2008, I was at a garden party where the host set up a table for tie-dying.  I had so much fun. I didn't want to stop. So I played with it for the whole summer, exploring it, figuring out my aesthetics because I didn't even like the look of it.  And then I thought, I wonder if I can make a living out of this so I can keep doing it everyday.
That led you to start cutting and sewing.
I always made clothes. I put together a fashion show in high school.  I knew I didn’t really want to work in fashion, but I always enjoyed making it.  Then after school ended, for about eight years I was making handmade clothes for HaNNa, Hanna Fushiwara's gallery in Tokyo.  After starting this tie-dye thing, I met a group of cool New York based independent designers.  Eventually, the community I was in started to change around the time that I wanted to write a book.  For me, fashion was a means to an end, not the end itself.  It was a way for me to create and communicate directly with the people buying my stuff, something which doesn’t occur in making art so much. 
You wrote the book to teach people how to do it?
I taught classes almost since the beginning, about a year after launching my line. People were so excited about the classes. I'd have people who would drive in or fly in from different cities and countries to take my classes. I'd get emails from other people asking about it.  There was no good book about it, so I thought, “Okay, I need to teach these people too.”  What interested me about the Tie Dye was textiles, not just making them, but also how the textiles play into social and cultural life, the way they travel through history and bring the community together, and the way they keep culture alive. If they’re not used on a regular basis, they will die out and then they are lost forever. So from the beginning, I wanted to promote the idea of Tie Dye. In fashion, as soon as you start making something cute, people will rip you off. Maybe it’s not your ideal, but you can embrace it or you can get bitter about it. So I embraced it.  When small designers make stuff, and big designers copy them, it helps get the idea out.  I can only make enough to keep myself and a few people in Brooklyn busy. But what about all the people in India who culturally will always make tie-dye?  If you make the clothes trendy, young people would be interested in it, and if you make it financial viable, some big companies will want to do millions of tie-dye fabrics, and then they need to go to these villages in India where they have practiced it for hundreds of years.  So I’m not directly affecting any of this, but I can be a part of this chain reaction that helps this thing stay alive.
Tie-Dye is one particular method. You never found it limiting as a way of expression?
No, I think the name is the only limitation.  Naming the book, I had to make a difficult choice. I know what people think about the name and I had a similar feeling.  We could avoid using the word, or we could use that word and battle through people's prejudices.  If people open my book, their idea about Tie Dye might change.  I think of Tie-Dye as a medium, not as an aesthetic. So that’s how I approached it when I started doing it.  I was like “Well, it’s just like painting or drawing." You know, nobody says, “I don’t like music.” You would say, “I don’t like rock music” or “I don’t like classical music.”  It’s more about what you do with that medium.
You researched the whole history of Tie-Dye.
l had this idea that tie-dye was from the 60's. Then when I started researching it, I realized that it’s older than history, it’s been around for thousands of years. We don’t even know when it was created, but it has existed all over the world. You imagine if you try to dye a solid color and do a bad job, you'd probably end up with tie-dye. It probably grew simultaneously all over the world.  There are so many different aesthetics. 
So it is about fighting a certain idea or stereotype about it by introducing this whole new aspect of it.
I hope so. And I think learning the extent of the history is not to bring you backward, it’s to let you know that it’s not one solitary thing and it can be anything, so that people go forward with it . By understanding how many possibilities there are, I’m hoping that people will go beyond what I could ever imagine. Once they learn techniques and possibilities,  I hope they will make crazy stuff, past my wildest dreams. And I hope they will post them online or email them to me, so I can see them.


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