Sheron Barber introduces himself as a leather engineer
In addition to showing styles and marking times, our clothes have a lot to say about the world and our reality, especially for the past few years now. Including all the concerns brands have been expressing with sustainability and the reflection of this in their choice of materials, movements and social changes also appear in what we wear.
This change can happen in two ways: when consumers ask for them, or when the brands and designers themselves feel the need to give a voice to everyone. SHERON BARBER's case is the second. Raised in Camden, New Jersey, a city facing major social problems, he soon realized the impact of being heard and the impact of inclusion.
We talked to Barber less than a year ago, and here we are again talking about his new creations. He has no limits. As a designer, presentations are not necessary. The leather engineer, with an upcoming namesake fashion line releasing this July, has sourced materials from a long list of names such as Louis Vuitton, Goyard, Balmain, and Supreme. With his utilitarian creations, Barber gives other meanings and functions to his designs, be it pants adapted to cycle and work afterward, leather vest-bags, and in those times, masks.
Barber doesn't create thinking about gender — he aims at giving meaning and function to the designs and the non-binary concept happens naturally, because if a man wants to wear a dress, great, if a woman wants a stronger shoe, perfect. The most important thing is that people feel good the way they are, as individuals, without being labeled.
It’s not just about utility, Barber thinks of the durability of every detail too, making pieces that will go on for generations remaining whole and timeless. He explains everything about the importance of all forms of expression in this exclusive interview. Scroll and thank us later.
You once said that "you must create for something greater than yourself." What is that something?
I think the more I get into it, the more I start to think about removing myself from the brand and just creating a brand that's for all people. Also, on another note, I'm involved with some non-profitable charitable work in Senegal, and we're teaching kids agricultural skills, creative skills, academic enrichment. So a lot, I'm finding ways to use the revenue that's generated by the lines to help facilitate things that are going on in those parts of the world, to help people.
I think when I started working, the clothes were really about me and my mind, and now I'm starting to bring other designers, and really start to focus on different people, the needs of different groups of people, and what they need to move forward.
Less utility, I think when I started the main thing was utility, because that was trending, and it was cool. I think now, looking at it from a global perspective, we design things for different groups of people around the world. So we've really just been focusing on that, I'm putting together a creative team that's been helping me with that. It's really growing outside of Sheron Barber, the person, and it's grown into Sheron Barber, the brand. I'm looking forward to sharing what we've been working on.
You create things that you believe will solve human problems. What are the problems you're trying to solve?
I developed the mask, you know, developed different masks for people who want them, who want to go out having masks that have filtration systems in them. I'm working on garments that use antibacterial finishes so that different bacteria or viruses can't stick to the garments.
Also, I work on more regular applications. For example, if a person is riding a bike to work, I make pants that are somewhat menswear pants, but use certain materials to give you that activewear feel. So you can move around and still be presentable, whether it's in the workplace or in a dinner afterward, you look presentable, but you have the freedom of activewear.
So I've really been working on garments like that, and then we started to tap into pure performance, like actual workout clothes, and meshing that with lifestyle apparel.
Your utilitarian work is perfectly connected with what is happening in the world. How do you approach utility-wear through a non-binary lens?
I think when a lot of people think of utility, they think about tactical. And for me, utility is more about just garments that serve people, that can be utilized and serve a purpose when being worn. They may be a tech fleece that keeps you warm and transforms into a vest 'cause you can zip the sleeves off or a pair of drag pants that you can run in if you have to.
I think that everything we make is geared towards utility, just making things that function and adapt to different situations. So yeah, and again, all of the sensibilities are genderless. I make some kilts or dresses, and when I'm making a kilt or a dress, I'm just trying to make sure I could flow in it, I could function in it. So it's funny, cause even when we get into genderless and utilization of garments, I just design a dress.
I just wanted the experience, the freedom, and the motion, so we made a dress, and it has a separation between the legs. But I think that if you glance at it, it looks more like a dress, but if you put it on, it puts on more like a pair of pants. And I think that's really cool, that's where it tells a story of utility and non-binary. So, I'm excited to share little pieces.
What does it mean to be non-binary from a design perspective? And how is this vision reflected in your workflow?
It's funny because when we talk about clothing solving problems, we think about water wicking or antibacterial. But there are also social problems that need to be addressed. About creating non-binary garments, is there a difference between my sneaker and your sneaker? Is there a difference between my shirt and your shirt? I think at this point in time, people wanna be individuals, they don't wanna be batched in, a female doesn't wanna just put pink on a shoe and say that it's for females because it's pink.
So we create genderless garments. I try to keep female and male sensibilities in mind, and I try to create garments that everybody can enjoy, never making something saying "Well, this shoe is for a man." Even when I create more feminine, what might be considered more feminine garments, I still try to incorporate male sensibilities, just in case a male wants it too.
Some people might say like, it's more geared toward females, or it's more geared toward males, but as I'm designing and the team is developing them, we're keeping in mind the sensibility of all people, as a whole. And I think that's where things are gonna head in the future, I don't think individuals wanna be categorized at all. I think we just wanna be individually expressive, and we aim to do that with the garments.
A utilitarian silhouette explores shapes, textures, and the human form in a bold cut. Why do you use leather as a medium to achieve the final piece you're looking for?
I think for me, I fell in love with leather. I was into just regular garments, and then we got into draped garments. And I think the first time I visited a leather shop, I fell in love, just the smell of the leather, texture of the leather, touch of the leather, feeling through the leather.
"There's something different about making a leather piece. A person is gonna have it for a very long time."
If I'm making a leather bag or a leather shirt, I know that a person is gonna have this particular for 10 years, 15 years, 20 years, 50 years. So I’m trying to make every detail absolutely perfect. Cause I feel like a person who's buying something that's handcrafted out of leather is buying it with the intention to pass it down.
And I feel as if — I don't wanna say it's underrepresented, cause there are a lot of leather goods manufacturers, but it's more of a niche. And in that niche, I just feel really comfortable. Just becoming one with the leather, how it dresses the feet, how it wraps the foot, how it drapes the body. There are different techniques for how you craft with it, and how you work with it.
I feel like I'm engineering when I'm working with leather. It's like I'm designing, but I'm also engineering. I pick how thick I want the leather to be, I decide if I wanna skive the edges. Do I wanna paint the edges? Do I wanna fold the edges under? And I think that's why I love leather, cause it's just more detail-oriented, and I feel more like I'm not just designing but also engineering a garment that's hopefully gonna last a long time.
And now I'm being able to put innovations into the leather, like, "this is gonna function like this.”
"I think it's those three things for it: innovation, craftsmanship, and timelessness. That's what really draws me to leather specifically."
To wrap up: do you think utilitarian fashion is a power tool? Why?
I do! I think before you open your mouth, the first thing somebody sees is what you have on. So, for me to be able to create pieces that can help people express themselves, I think of an expression, how a person feels, how they wanna project themselves to the world without having to open their mouth.
I think that's definitely a power tool, so for me to be able to create things for those groups of people who wanna express themselves, it's definitely a blessing.
Barber has built, and continues to build, a legacy in design that goes beyond labels that don't work anymore. And if they're useless, why not break them and make room for something timeless and useful?
Read all our exclusive chat here.