Sana Aloui: Imagining Americana

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Sana Aloui
Image: Sana Aloui, Jim Prinz

Meet Sana Aloui, the fresh young (22!) Chinese-Tunisian-American artist-designer currently living in the Bay Area. A recent graduate from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sana creates textiles and garments that explore multiculturalism and liminal identity, and is particularly interested in traditional textile processes and clothing styles as well as the imperfect, asymmetrical and weathered. And with a childhood spend living in the US, Benin, Macedonia, Egypt, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe due to her parents being in the foreign service, Sana has an unlimited pool of experiences on which to draw inspiration. ‘Most of my projects investigate textile traditions of different cultures that have personally impacted me’, she says, ‘culture is more than my inspiration; it is a lens through which I understand design and form relationships with my audience’. We catch up with Sana to hear more about her work, inspirations and plans for the future.

The Fashion Conversation: Can you please tell us a bit more about your collections, your inspirations, and the techniques you used in your design and creation process?
Sana Aloui: My BFA thesis collection, What Makes an American, was inspired by my Chinese grandmother’s multi-cultural quirks, 70’s family photos, and imagining Americana through the eyes of immigrants. I love designing textiles and worked extensively with screen-printing and creating my own knitwear for this collection. I had the wonderful opportunity to show my work in a runway show, installation, and photo shoot at Garfield Park Conservatory, as well as in a group show, GAINS, all of which can be seen on my website. I recently collaborated with my sister, and wonderful photographer, Ranya Aloui, on a photo series featuring What Makes an American, worn by my grandmother Cheng!

Sana Aloui
Image: Sana Aloui, Jim Prinz

I’ve also made various mini-collections and special projects from the past four years (have a look at my website). The project “Fujino” was created during a month long trip to Japan I took to study indigo dyeing and katazome printing. I learned how to hand-cut my own prints into tanned paper to make a katazome stencil. I had the privilege of printing the yukata (summer kimono) fabric, dyeing it with natural indigo, and learning the traditional way to hand-sew the kimono. We documented the yukata on beautiful mountain paths in our town Fujino! For me this project embodies the respect for materials one gains by participating in every aspect of the process, from design, printing, dyeing, and construction to documentation.

TFC: What inspired you to study fashion?
SA: It was something I always knew I would do! I made art from a young age and was curious about how people expressed themselves through dress. My mother once told me that how I dressed was a way for me to communicate and connect with others when it was not easy to initiate a conversation. I was very shy in kindergarten class but often led others in make-believe games.

TFC: Tell us about your experience at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC)? What is the most important thing you have learnt?
SA: Although I knew I wanted to study fashion, I didn’t really understand what making clothing was about until I came to SAIC. I had never sewn much either! There were many, many mistakes and moments in the middle of an impossible pattern that I wanted to quit, and almost did. As I developed my love for printmaking and knitwear, I saw what I could create with textiles and gained more confidence. Then I knew had done the right thing by staying! One important takeaway for me was to constantly challenge yourself to put everything into a project and truly have integrity behind what you say about it.

Sana Aloui
Image: Sana Aloui, Ranya Aloui

TFC: How would you describe your design aesthetic? What sort of critiques have you received on your work and from whom?
SA: I love everything hand-made, hand-drawn, weathered and imperfect, whimsical yet familiar. Professors have encouraged me to keep my work contemporary and avoid costume. One thing I don’t like to hear is the word “ethnic” in relation to my work; it’s outdated and nonspecific. I have heard from writers and friends that they understand the cultural references I make and love the world I create, which is always wonderful to hear.

TFC: Who is your favourite designer at the moment and why?
SA: I am currently in love with Molly Goddard’s work! I admire how wonderfully girly and whimsical her world is. The casting is really lovely and I feel that we want to dress similar people. I always think, who wouldn’t want to wear that?

TFC: What are you goals for the future? What are some of your upcoming projects?
SA: In the next 10 years I would love to work for many designers that I respect and learn more about production processes in textiles and sustainability. One day I would love to have a small knitwear oriented brand that makes non-seasonal collections by hand in a charming studio by the sea or in a remote location! I would love to travel and meet more people who share my passion for textiles and art. For now, I will focus on building my experience working for established brands and maintaining my inspiration by working on my own special projects!

TFC: What is one thing people who know you would be surprised to learn about you?
SA: I would really love to learn a martial art – I’m thinking aikido.

TFC: What gets you out of bed in the morning?
SA: The sun is up! I love making pancakes or muffins in the morning.

Sana Aloui
Image: Sana Aloui, Ranya Aloui

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