What Changes Up and Coming Fashion Designer Shayan Pashai Would Like To See In the Industry - a Q&A
While attending school in a city like San Francisco, I met countless fashion students hoping to one day become full-time designers. And over time, I noticed them one by one change majors, industries and trades due to the physical, time and creative commitments of the industry. But one person I knew whose dreams of becoming a designer never wavered, was East Bay native Shayan Pashai. I met Shayan in 2012, and after witnessing his impeccably made and forward-thinking clothing - even owning a custom garment myself, I was excited to find that years later he is still designing, now while attending school in Santa Monica. And I wanted to get the details on all the exciting things he's been up to, and what motivates and inspires him in such a competitive and fast-paced industry.
Sydney: You recently presented a collection at Santa Monica College’s LA MODE 2018 fashion show. For those who don’t know, tell us more about the event itself.
Shayan: The event is a showcase for all the graduating students in the fashion design program at Santa Monica College. It’s there to give students creative freedom to present a collection based on 3 looks, that demonstrate their creative and technical skills, and how imaginative they can be. It’s a collection we present in the beginning of the class. We pitch it like we would to any client or investor, we tell the professors and class what makes it unique, then from there, we start building our looks, we do fittings, and then it’s showtime.
Sydney: How many people presented this year?
Shayan: I believe 17
Sydney: I saw you had a three piece collection with a very entertaining video intro to it all. Can you reiterate what you said was the theme and your intention for the collection?
Shayan: The collection is a way to step back from technology and appreciate our clothes. It’s a way to take us back into what it means to have a sense of style. It’s not so much about having the next trend. It’s more about appreciating the clothes and seeing it at a slower pace. Technology has made the fashion industry so much faster. I wanted to create a collection that was much more emotionally satisfying. Rather than just satisfying based off the trends. I wanted it to connect with people’s imagination, and foremost make people walk away in shock as to how wearable and creative something can be. The middleman between a high fashion statement that’s also wearable.
It’s also all nature inspired. For example, in the first look,the sleeves are draped in a way that mimics the way large leaves fall. The last look has fiber optic lights installed into the shoulder piece which light up, and that represents the glowing elements in nature such as fireflies. Nature is always very inspiring, so I always try to incorporate it into every collection of mine.
Sydney: How long did it take you to create the collection?
Shayan: It took me 4 months from beginning to end. From the sketches to the patterns, all the way up to the fashion show, it was a 4 month process.
Sydney: Wow! Did you have any assistance throughout the process?
Shayan: No. Everything is done by student designers.
Sydney: Very nice. What new techniques did you learn or hone with this particular collection?
Shayan: One new technique I learned was how to free-hand machine embroider. Basically, I’d take the panel and traced out a silhouette by hand, and sew over the silhouette rather than have an automated machine do it. That’s another reason why the garment has such artisan quality and technical details to it. All that detailing is done by hand. On the last look, there is a pair of high-waisted pants with a tulip hem. And on the right leg, there is a free-hand machine embroidered stitching that outlines the shape of roots growing on the pant leg. It looks so dynamic and explosive, as it’s not something you see every day on a pair of pants.
Sydney: Taking that technique into consideration, as well as the fiber optic lights you mentioned before, it sounds like there were so many exciting challenges regarding this collection. What was the biggest challenge in the entire process?
Shayan: Yes, there were quite a few challenges involved in this collection. I love to challenge myself! But I would have to say the hardest challenge was the fiber optic lighting. I had never worked with fiber optics before. I didn’t even know where to buy them or how to install them. But eventually, I just did enough research and used my sewing knowledge to sew the fibers into the garment.
Sydney: And I see that you and one other student received the Future of Fashion award that evening! Can you tell me more about that award?
Shayan: The Future of Fashion award is for students with a great eye who can lead and innovate into future trends and looks. Maybe these students could become the next Galliano because of their ability to innovate and cultivate a whole new wave of fashion, based on the emotion our clothes now bring
Sydney: That’s awesome. Congratulations on your win!
Shayan: Thank you very much.
Sydney: So what made you choose the SMC fashion program? What is it you like about it?
Shayan: What I love about the SMC program is that so many of the professors are in the field. They have a lot of experience, they’re very patient. And even though I came into the program with a lot of prior sewing knowledge, they still challenge me and push me. And that’s what I needed.
Sydney: What’s the best thing about living in Santa Monica?
Shayan: I love being so close to the beach. The weather is always incredible. It’s a slower pace of life, I will say. It’s not as fast paced as the rest of Los Angeles. It’s a nice, easy relaxing environment.
Sydney: What inspired you to become a fashion designer?
Shayan: I wanted to become a designer because I’ve always been a curious person. I’ve always been obsessed with what makes people tick, why they dress the way they do and what makes them who they are. And fashion has always been the greatest way to decipher a person’s personality. I love to study human behavior, and this just came naturally. I’ve always had a talent for design since I was 16. A lot of people always give up after their first bad project. But I just kept pushing myself, got better and better and now here I am.
Sydney: Tell me more about your fashion background and experience as a designer.
Shayan: This is my first time debuting as an independent artist. Prior to this, I worked at Atelier des Modistes in San Francisco on Hyde Street.
Sydney: Oh nice!
Shayan: It really opened my mind to a much higher quality way of wearing clothes, because all of their fabrics they had were imported from Paris or Italy. The textiles we used at the atelier were just so remarkable. That’s what made me obsessed with great quality clothing.
Sydney: I can only imagine what it’s like to work with French and Italian textiles after only working with American textiles. That must be a very interesting contrast
Shayan: It is! It opens your mind a lot. That’s once again why I want to bring high quality clothes to the American public.
Sydney: What are your plans for the near future? What do you think your next big project will be?
Shayan: I’m definitely going to be on the road promoting my work, doing collaborations with other designers, and hopefully another fashion show soon. I probably will be going for my bachelors in New York. In the meantime though, this summer I want to promote my collection as much as I can while adding more pieces to it. My website recently launched as well.
Sydney: Wow you have a lot going on don’t you?
Shayan: Yes I do! I’m moving forward with my career, and making every opportunity possible for myself.
Sydney: You’ve always been very focused for as long as I’ve known you. Do you know which school you’re going to in New York? Or do you just have an idea of where you’d like to apply?
Shayan: I’m probably going to apply to FIT. That’s my #1 choice. If not, Long Beach is always a good back up, but I feel like I have a good chance of getting in.
Sydney: Who are some designers you think are leading the pack in innovation and forward-thinking?
Shayan: I’m definitely an admirer of Iris van Herpen. I think her designs are some of the most innovative things I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Her textiles don’t just stop at fabric. She does 3D printing, she works with laser cut outs, and any sort of medium you can imagine. This woman challenges herself to create such beautiful visions. To me, that’s what an artist should be doing every day: Challenging themselves.
Sydney: That’s a unique answer.
In your video presentation during your show, you say “I feel like technology has definitely made the fashion industry much faster. I feel like we’re not valuing our garments as much as we should.” Can you expand on what you mean by our effects on the environment through our culture surrounding clothing?
Shayan: Yes. I recently saw a documentary called The True Cost, which basically shows the effect that fast fashion has had on the industry, as well as the whole world. A lot of people in third world countries are being taken advantage of and are working for pennies on the dollar, barely getting by. We are polluting our oceans because of all the toxic dyes we are using to dye our clothes. They end up polluting the waters of the villages that the factories are based in. It really opened my mind and made me think: Why can’t we have it all? Why can’t technology and fashion and nature coexist?
It made me want to do my part. I don’t want to invest in mass production. I don’t want to create a million cheap pieces that will fall apart with in a week. I want to create something that will last. When a person wears a garment that will last forever, they can pass it on to the next person in their family and say “This is something I wore. It means a lot to me.” That’s a very emotional moment. And that’s a sentimental piece that’s going to last a lifetime. With cheap brands, you can’t say that.
Sydney: What changes do you hope to see in the fashion industry in the next 15 years?
Shayan: I definitely would like to see the consumer become not just more conscious, but also more proactive. Instead of people shopping fast fashion, I would love to see people shopping at thrift stores, supporting individual artisans, skilled tailors, and smaller brands and businesses. Shopping within your neighborhood creates a social connection and helps hidden gem businesses. It’s not about buying something and walking out. It’s about meeting people in your neighborhood, making friends and building a lifestyle around your clothes rather than it just having it be on your back.
Steven: I have a question.
Steven: Who is your dream client to design for?
Shayan: That’s a great question! I would love to design for Aurora. She’s an up and coming artist. She has a very similar mindset to mine. All of her music is very emotional as well as nature-oriented. All of her songs really make me cry. Even though she’s very young - she’s 22, I have never met a young person so passionate about nature and living a life of harmony, rather than having to have the next best thing to be happy. I respect her so much
Steven: Cool! Thank you.
Sydney: It was great getting to speak with you today, Shayan and hear about everything you’re up to these days. It sounds like you have a lot of exciting things going on and I wish you the best of luck.
Shayan: Thank you.