Burke Residency: Introducing Olivia Sawai and FAAN•
Posted on August 09 2019
Burke recently moved into a shop space of its very own—its first, in fact! This move has been a dream come true and has brought us the opportunity to host residencies in our new shop. Every 3 months, we will feature a collection from both a brand and an artist; they will be installed in store and available for sale for that limited amount of time. We are so thrilled to be able to work with many more brands, designers, artists, and creatives in this capacity and to feature their exciting work. Stay tuned every 3 months to see who we’ll be working with next!
We are so pleased to announce that our very first Burke Residency will feature collections from FAAN, a Cleveland based clothing band, designed by Aaron Jacobson and abstract artwork from local Long Beach artist Olivia Sawai. Our intern, Emma, interviewed Aaron and Olivia about their work, history, and passions. Read on to get the scoop!
Aaron Jacobson: Designer & Founder of FAAN
Emma: Hi Aaron! Thank you so much for sitting down to answer my questions. To start off, could you tell us a little bit about yourself? Anything you’d like… and then, if you’ll indulge me, tell us 2 truths and a lie (We’ll reveal the lie at the end of the interview).
Aaron: I lived and worked as an architect in China before quitting my job to make clothes.
I danced competitively in my early twenties.
I’m embarrassed I can’t whistle and jealous of people who can.
E: I had no idea that Cleveland was the second largest garment center in the US until the 1950’s until I visited your website. Could you elaborate on your connection to Cleveland and how you see FAAN as playing a part in the story of the city?
A: Yes, Cleveland’s garment industry employed thousands of people. Recent immigrants like my great-grandfather, Louie, worked as petter-makers, graders, etc. People grew their livelihoods and communities around these practices of making. As the industrial workforce increasingly moved overseas, cities like Cleveland lost jobs, people and, to some extent, their creative identities.
When I moved back to Cleveland a few years ago, I hoped FAAN could be part of the conversation about what the city’s new identity might look like. What I’ve actually found here is a community deeply engaged with these questions of civic transformation and creative capital, and more importantly, a spirit of selflessness and care for each other. I’m proud to be ‘making’ again in Cleveland and I’m especially grateful FAAN is providing a platform for so many inspiring local collaborations. In no other city I’ve lived has working creatively felt so supported and so meaningful.
E: The fashion industry is notorious for the gratuitous harms it perpetuates at all levels of garment production—the problems can certainly seem overwhelming! How do you remain empowered rather than overwhelmed as you engage the processes of design and production of clothing? What ameliorations do you prioritize and on which aspects of fabrication do you focus?
A: This industry is devastating our land and water, threatening every person and animal that relies on land and water, and abusing millions of underpaid garment workers worldwide. We should all feel overwhelmed by this reality AND empowered to help change it. At the very least, we can help establish more ethical standards by holding each other accountable as brands and consumers.
For us, we launched FAAN with a commitment to domestic production. Then, we learned enough to know we had to source US-milled and second-hand fabrics. Now we’re focused on naturally-dyeing those fabrics and developing no-waste styles, too. There are endless considerations, but we do our best to keep evolving and learning from our collaborators, like Rustbelt Fibershed. Frankly, we don’t deserve your support otherwise.
E: I loved the following sentiment you shared recently on Instagram: “I used to design buildings, now I design clothes. Designing anything is expressing hope in the moments where things meet.” Can you share with us a little about your move from buildings to clothing?
A: Sure. When I first started making clothes, I was still practicing with an architecture firm in Shanghai. I approached clothing very much as an extension of my day job. My architectural sketches would turn into shirt details or jacket silhouettes. At first, the tech packs I’d share with pattern makers and sewers were literally architectural drawings; front elevations, section cuts through construction details, etc.
The visual language I used to communicate with my production team has definitely evolved, but I still feel like the design process is no different designing with steel or with linen. The difference- and this took me time to understand- isn’t the scale of the product, it’s the pace of the process. The expectation of immediacy in the clothing industry isn’t natural for me, honestly. My instinct is to slow down and be more meticulous about the way we work. Starting to break away from traditional seasonal collections and making time for inherently slow techniques, like natural dyeing, helps me find balance.
E: I was also struck by the hopeful inclusion of time along with space in your conception of design. As I think about the connection between clothing and buildings, they both seem to consider the space of our bodies with respect to how we move in and delineate the world around us. In your above statement, however, you incorporate a temporal moment that design creates—a moment, for you, that is expressive of hope. I’d love to hear you elaborate on your thoughts and the hope that you feel in your work.
I love the way you’re relating architecture and clothing through the medium of the body. I think that’s exactly my point in eliciting ‘hope’.
At any scale, we’re designing for people. You imagine what people need but also what might lift them. Designers have to be vulnerable in this way. Every decision we make communicates the kind of relationship we hope to have with people and the world we share. I think these are the moments I was describing; maybe not temporal, rather, in each deliberate stitch I hope for what people might feel.
E: Language is a powerful tool and I love FAAN’s use of the term “all-wear.” I hadn’t come across “all-wear” as a descriptor before and think it is a perfect—more inclusive and honest—alternative to more frequently used terms such as “timeless,” “seasonless,” “unisex,” “genderless,” “multipurpose,” etc. Could you describe what “all-wear” means to the brand and your designs?
A: We haven’t seen anyone using “allwear” either, but it feels best for us. In terms of design, we favor relaxed workwear cuts over anything form-fitting or trendy, for instance, but our intention really grew from our resistance to questions about our target market or “which side of the store” our collections belong on. It’s important to us that we present diverse people in our clothes and we don’t want to dictate who should feel good or welcome wearing them. If I’m being honest, though, we haven’t met all our standards yet and we’re working now to develop some lower priced styles and more inclusive sizing, too. In this sense “allwear” is an invitation to our customers, too, to keep communicating with us about what makes them feel proud to support FAAN and most comfortable wearing it.
E: Do you have any pet passions other than design?
A: I play piano often and badly.
E: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us? Also, it’s time for the big reveal… what was your lie?
A: Thanks so much for your thoughtful questions!
I didn’t dance. I wish.
Olivia Sawai, Artist
Emma: Hi, O! Thank you so much for sitting down to answer my questions! To start off, could you tell us a little bit about yourself? Anything you’d like… and then, if you’ll indulge me, tell us 2 truths and a lie (We’ll reveal the lie at the end of the interview).
Olivia: Well to begin with, my real name is Olivia, but I like to be called O for short. I am 26 years young and currently reside in the best city, Long Beach City! I was born in Long Beach, but raised in the Inland Empire. Right after high school, I decided return to the 562 and I’ve called it my home ever since. I am a local artist and an elementary school teacher. I do have a favorite grade to teach, but we’re not allowed to say! I am a proud Laotian and Cambodian. My family escaped the Khmer Rouge in the late 70s and made it all the way to Long Beach, California for a better life and freedom. Therefore, this factor has made me the person I am today; relentless, determined and passionate. I would also like to mention that I obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Arts from Cal State Fullerton (Go Titans!) and that is where my love for Art History developed. Lastly, I am a Sagittarius which means I love any type of adventure (it’s a plus if it involves good food) and making people laugh with a little dry humor and sarcasm. And, I would love to indulge you with a couple of things about me that you must figure out whether they are truths or a lie. Here goes nothing: Cats are my favorite animals, I am obsessed with Antoni from Queer Eye and I was Prom Queen at my High School.
E: When did you start making art? Could you trace your journey for us and describe your style and its evolutions?
O: I have always enjoyed drawing and coloring ever since I was a child, but I never considered myself to be an artist. Expressing myself through drawing and coloring brought me instant joy. Therefore, I held onto that nostalgic feeling my whole life. 2015 was the year I began to create art, but just as a hobby. I remember having no idea of what type of medium I wanted to use, so I just grabbed the first thing I saw at the art supply store which was acrylic paint. In the beginning of my journey, I painted realistic objects such as palm trees, sunflowers, etc and then I moved onto painting phrases on colorful backgrounds. Very Pinterest-y I would say. During this time, I was influenced by European art such as Impressionism. My creative process was put on pause for about 2 years due to school, but when I picked up the paint brush again I began to create abstract work. This was the beginning of abstract art journey! I was inspired by the abstract movement and fauvism. However, fauvist artist Henri Matisse really opened my creative process
to cut-outs and collages. My very first Matisse inspired work involved me painting squares of bright colors onto a huge piece of canvas fabric and using those squares to cut out organic shapes. I placed all the organic shapes in random positions and I absolutely fell in love with it. I became obsessed with creating rounded and squiggly shapes. Architecture was the next inspiration to become a component of my artwork. I created abstract architecture and combined the organic shapes together to create eclectic compositions that were truly inspired by Frank Gehry and the Bauhaus Movement.
E: Architecture seems to be a prominent source of inspiration on your Instagram; what is it about architecture, specifically, that speaks to you and how does it inform your work?
O: Yes! Architecture is my way of connecting drawing and painting into a tangible and also functional aspect of artwork. For example, Frank Gehry’s architecture is bright and eclectic and the first time I saw one of his buildings in person I thought to myself, “Wow imagine living or being INSIDE this amazing work of art.” Therefore, I love the idea of creating an array of abstract designs that could potentially become architecture! I utilize many components of architecture in my work as well as interior design.
E: If you could travel anywhere in the world to see one piece of architecture, what would it be and why? Similarly, what is your favorite piece of local architecture?
O: Wow, just one piece of architecture?! Okay.... I’m going to have to go with Luis Barragan’s Cuandra San Cristobal in Mexico City. The architecture has bright orange, pink and purple hues and geometric components in the courtyard. There is also a shallow pool of water in the courtyard which compliments the pink hues of the architecture. I love the way that the texture of the water and grass contrast with the pink and orange hues of the building. It’s like there are so many layers to unfold in this masterpiece home! My favorite piece of local architecture is a little far from local, but it is the closest! It’s in Culver City. The piece is called Umbrella by architect Owen Moss. This is an insane piece of architecture that everyone must see for themselves. It’s complex and has a futuristic vibe.
E: I spend a lot of time thinking about Instagram… its potential for community connection, eduction, & discovery, while also simultaneously feeling exhausted & pressured by it and actively trying to avoid it. I think we all share an ambivalent relationship to it to some degree; for example, I loved scrolling through your feed and getting so see some of your beautiful work, but I also felt so impatient to see it “IRL” at Burke—I’m curious to hear what’s it like for you as an artist to interface with Instagram.
O: Thank you for asking this important question. I feel that it’s essential to be vulnerable and authentic on all forms of social media. I actually just got back on Instagram last year for the first time in 4 years so you can imagine on all the crazy kinds of changes I missed during this time of being Instagram-free. So, when I did create one for my art page I felt all the emotions. I was excited to share my work and discover other artists work, but at other times I felt myself comparing and pressuring myself into creating every single day. Now, my creative process requires mental and physical breaks otherwise I would just lose my mind. I definitely value all the community connections and educational conversations that can come with Instagram though. It has opened many doors for opportunities for art collaboration, virtually meeting and connecting with other artists and learning from them. I have many followers from Europe which is so exciting and amazing to think about and I’ve learned about their styles, their lifestyles and perspectives on art. I never want to present myself as a perfect artist because I’m not, but I present myself as a brave artist. And I hope that’s the energy that my followers receive so that it can motivate them to be relentless with their artwork and to keep creating no matter what. One last thing, my favorite thing to do on Instagram is to share other artists (mostly unknown artists) and their work to my followers. It’s a way of saying, “Keep doing you because your work is amazing.” It’s a cycle for me. Sharing other art on my account motivates me to create, and keep the positive vibes on IG.
E: I loved the post you shared about being a teacher and seeing your students work. Does your experience teaching inform your work at all? Can you talk a little bit about how you balance work and art making? Do those two things feel separate or connected for you?
O: OH ABSOLUTELY! Teaching is huge factor in my art process. I always find the time to allow my students to create art in their own way. My current students are around 5 and 6 years old, so my purpose is to introduce individualism in all aspects of creativity. For example, I give examples of what kind of work they will create, but I will never limit their desires. If they want to add hearts, eyelashes, even glue a piece of scrap paper from the carpet, it’s a YES from me. I take this freedom that I’m giving my students and apply it to my work all the time. There are times when I hit a creative block, but I always keep in mind that my students do whatever they want and enjoy it because there are no boundaries on creating so this hypes me up to get in that state of mind. I have to admit that art making and work is extremely difficult to balance because there are so many things that go into teaching whether that be behind the scenes or during class sessions. I’m very passionate about teaching so I find myself really exhausted at times and not able to create art. But, the best time for creating art is during the holidays and summer time! That’s when all my ideas I’ve been hoarding in my brain during school just pour out. So, I’m still trying to find my groove with art making and work. Teaching and creating art will always be connected for me because there’s actually a lot of techniques I learn from my students when they get to create their artwork as well. It’s like I’m the student and their the teacher at times and that’s honestly one of my favorite parts about my job.
E: Do you have any pet passions other than making art?
O: I love to cook! If I could right now, I’d enroll in culinary school. Cooking is a de-stress activity for me because it’s just like creating art. I love creating new flavors and throwing in spices that I think would go great together and they always hit the spot! I also love feeding others because food is used for social gatherings in my family therefore, the more the merrier! Another passion I have is exercising outside. I love the outdoors and I enjoy working out when I can see grass, the ocean and trees. It’s just pure peace for me. I’m always looking for a hiking buddy (just to throw that out there)!
E: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us? Also, it’s time for the big reveal… what was your lie?
O: I’d like to share that I can be an introvert most of the time. All the crazy Sagittarius stories everyone hears can be true, but I think I’m evolving into a calm Sagittarius who really values her own space. So don’t be afraid to approach me because I really love making new friends! OKAY! HERE’S THE LIE: Cats are my favorite animals! (Sorry Cat lovers! Nothing personal, I love dogs, plus I’m severely allergic to cats soo....) Thank you for the fun, intellectual and insightful questions! I enjoyed answering them!