Interviews are very therapeutic for me. Having real conversations, especially with creative people, always leaves with something new. This year in particular has been very trying, and I think I’ve been consistently reflecting on how I can be the type of person who achieves their dreams. A big part of that has been these interviews. Talking to other hustlers and absorbing the attributes I admire in them. Sonya Harris, founder of the streetwear brand IAM.ECCENTRIC, was the first of these new interviews I did. And her relentless drive and unapologetic uniqueness instantly inspired me. And I hope you think about fulfilling your own dreams while you read/listen to our interview.
Matthew Warhol: I wanted to start it pretty broad, I wanted to ask you what you look for in pieces when you’re shopping? What attracts you to certain clothes?
Sonya Harris: To me, it’s more so about how it makes me feel. I'm all about feelings and experiences. So for example, if I buy a certain one piece set thats fitted it’s going to make me feel sexy or I might buy an oversized hoodie that’s going to make me feel cozy and comfortable, I feed off of that as well as experiences. I like to know there’s going to be certain statement pieces to wear to this event and I'm going to have a great experience at this event. I'm attached to garments like that because I don’t really like to go shopping. But when I do, it really has to move me.
Matthew Warhol: How do you feel in the outfit you’re wearing today?
Sonya Harris: Okay so, I got on my crop top, which says “Imma throw shade, if I can’t get paid.” which is a big quote that one of my icons and idols whom I love, Lil Kim made. I absolutely love her stuff. I love everything she’s about. And I have on my satin track suit pants — I really love these. They’re super cozy so comfortable and I love it. These are like a good every day piece as well. I have them in purple, green, and black. I wear my black ones so many days out of the week. Like these are my go-to pants. And then I have on my Nike Air Max’s.
Matthew Warhol: Oh I love those Air Max’s with like the stripes all the way around. I really want a pair of those. We both got a pair on.
Sonya Harris: Yeah, these are the Air Max 97s and I had to get them ‘cause I'm all about the old vintage or retro sneakers. So to me these are a timeless piece that I know at age 25 or 35 I'm still going to wear them.
Matthew Warhol: Gotcha. So like with your own clothing line, do you wear your own stuff too?
Sonya Harris: Yeah I do, that’s like all I wear. I'm my own walking promotion.
Matthew Warhol: So when you create, how do you come up with the idea for a piece? Explain that to me.
Sonya Harris: So basically—going back to how I said when I shop I look for something to give me a feeling—when I'm creating I'm trying to touch my core fans and supporters, but I'm also trying to touch people that I haven’t. So I'm constantly thinking ‘What is this going to make somebody feel?’. It’s basically like a female empowerment movement because I feel like Sailor Moon and her friends signified what it was like to support each other as a close group of friends. I feel like in today’s society, we don’t value at that and everyone is in constant competition with each other and not trying to better each other. So going back to when I design, I'm actually looking for like the feeling, so I want someone to feel like … ever since I created this piece, girls, little girls, teenagers, older women feel like they're a part of something now, because I created a movement. Because now it’s #HomegirlsSupportingHomegirls like that’s my movement. So I just want everyone to feel something when you’re wearing my stuff.
Matthew Warhol: you keep using the word “feeling” and I really like that, because I feel like for a lot of people, when they look at clothing it’s more like “whatever.” They don’t see it as art. You saying that when you’re walking through a store shopping you kind of just look for feelings, I get the same thing when I'm looking through a museum or something. Like “Wow, this is cool.” Even with clothing—maybe you have the same experience—if something maybe isn’t for you, but you get that feeling like “Wow, this is a cool thing. I wouldn’t wear it, but someone would look really good in this.”
Sonya Harris: Definitely, I totally agree with that and I also look at like—you mentioned like its similar to art—clothing is a form of art. It’s definitely a form of art. So I always look to be about feelings or experiences because I know those things are timeless. A piece of clothing will come-and-go. That’s why I try to stay on feelings and experiences because I have certain pieces that have feelings. I'm pretty sure everyone has that one piece that where they wear it they’re like “Yo, I remember that one day that I got so drunk and that was a crazy day, but I love that day. That’s the day I made out with my boyfriend for the first time.” It’s all about feelings and experiences. That’s what I'm about.
Matthew Warhol: Going into streetwear, I feel like it’s something that’s definitely gotten really big in the last … what would you say … this decade? When did you start creating and actually making your own stuff?
Sonya Harris: I actually started my freshman year in undergrad, which was in 2010. And from there, I went to LIU and I double majored in Business Management and Marketing. I was living on campus so I figured that my long term goal was to be an entrepreneur and to be in clothing, so why shouldn't I start right now? I can gain the skills and the assets and be around a popular market of my demographic that I want to sell to and do both at once. And that’s what I basically did.
Matthew Warhol: Streetwear is becoming more of a, let’s say, more of a trend than it has been. I feel like there’s so many brands that people are like “oh I want to start a streetwear brand,” because they see an adidas tracksuit and are really like into it. So what they do is just slap a, you know, a sans serif font on a t-shirt and that’s kind of like the whole thing. How do you feel about that saturation and how do you stand out from that?
Sonya Harris: Okay, that’s a great question! So for me—I personally feel like I do agree—it is getting way too “hype.” From the newest rapper to the newest designer to the newest photographer to the newest blogger, people are just trying ways to … I guess, express that they’re “creative.” But to me, it’s annoying. But I don't let that really distract me because at the end of the day, I feel like if you're really genuine and you're pure about it—like my timetable speaks for itself. If you’re really about it for the right reasons, ten years later or fifteen years later, you're still going to be in the game because you're genuinely here for the art. But for those that are coming as a quick come up, it’s not going to come. People don’t understand the processes or how much capital you need. They don’t understand the nitty gritty and that’s the first step that people have to pay attention to.
Matthew Warhol: And as soon as things get hard, they want to dip.
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Sonya Harris: Yeah, that’s exactly why I don't let it distract me. Because at the end of the day, I always believe that someone is going to either qualify or disqualify themselves. I don’t need to do that. I feel like I'm in a lane by myself and I’ve been told that as well ‘cause as you see, there’s not a lot of female streetwear brands—even though I don’t even want to be called a female streetwear brand. I just want to be known as a creative that makes pieces for the youth and for my people. I want to just show that we’re all one at the end of the day. We don’t have to separate into male or female. This is my brand. If you’re a guy and you want to buy my stuff, buy it. If you're a chick and you want to buy my stuff, buy it. If you’re a child, buy it. I support everybody and I want everybody to support me.
Matthew Warhol: you touched on an interesting thing, I feel like these layers have definitely been peeled back on men and what they wear and women and what they wear. I’m like a huge Young Thug fan and fashion wise he’s a huge inspiration for me because he’s not afraid to wear a dress or like a crop top and stuff like that. And uh, yeah, who are some of those people for you that you see and you’re just like “Daaamn?”
Sonya Harris: That’s a good question… Ummm…
Matthew Warhol: Even if its not someone you want to dress like but just.. Man this person kills it.
Sonya Harris: My friends.
Matthew Warhol: Oh really? Cool.
Sonya Harris: Because I want to look at my friends like celebrities and they're the rockstars. They’re the ones that are helping me shop to find the dopest pieces. Those are the ones who I'm like “Damn, you’re killing it.” Of course I'm inspired by like Pharrell, Nigo, stuff like that. But my friends that I see on a daily basis are the real icons for me.
Matthew Warhol: That’s like an amazing answer. That kind of goes back to your shirts, Homegirls Supporting Homegirls.
Sonya Harris: Yeah like this bracelet I have on is made by my friend Height & Light Jewelry.
Matthew Warhol: I love her stuff.
Sonya Harris: I support it and she actually created a custom chain belt for Young Thug like thats one of her loyal clients.
Matthew Warhol: What?! That’s so cool. Have you had a moment like that? Like in your buildup? Because I know we were saying theres a lot of capital that goes into it. What’s a moment where you were like wow this has all been worth it? That you felt like you’ve arrived in some sense.
Sonya Harris: Definitely I’d have to say, the fashion show I did in Philly in February. I put it together after I was in LA for All Star Weekend. I was not too sure if I was going to do the fashion show, and I was on a time constraint, and I didn't feel like I had new pieces, and at a fashion show it’s supposed to be like all new stuff. But I was like, “no I'm not going to miss out on this opportunity.” So literally once I came back from LA, within 3-4 days I put together pieces of how I dress on an every day basis and put that on the different models and had them look how I look in different fits to reflect me. So that was definitely a highlight, a big moment where I was like “dang.” I really appreciated it because I was able to see my work and getting that round of applause and just like that abundance of support. I felt it.
Matthew Warhol: Was that your first show?
Sonya Harris: My first show!
Matthew Warhol: Did you do like the last walk?
Sonya Harris: Yeah I did the last little walk, I danced at the end. It was so cool too because I never realized how fast it goes. Like the process is like 95% of the thing, the 5% is the end and that adrenaline rush. That feeling makes it all worth it. And you’re going to stress out and everything isn’t going to go your way but when you get that feeling, it’s all worth it.
Matthew Warhol: Is that what keeps you going?
Sonya Harris: Definitely, definitely.
Matthew Warhol: Is there anything else that pushes you?
Sonya Harris: Well, it’s the feeling and the fact that I do believe I was put here on this earth for a purpose, and I do feel like I have a strong personality and demeanor. I just feel like I'm trying to make a statement so that pushes me. Because I know I'm not just doing this for me. I'm trying to like leave my mark on the world where somebody can look back. Like, “Sonya? IAM.ECCENTRIC?” That’s how I'm trying to be like.
Matthew Warhol: How have your designs evolved since you started?
Sonya Harris: I will say it has grown with me. The pieces have grown with me with age. Like starting out from 18 and I'm 26 now, they reflect my timeline.
Matthew Warhol: Were you this person when you started doing it? Did you dress the way you wanted to? Were you still the same person?
Sonya Harris: In high school, I got Best Dressed or Most Out Of the Box. I’d be the type of person that would set trends. Like for example, wearing Dr. Martens before they were “in” and once they were, I didn't want to wear them because everyone else looks the same and I feel like we’re all individual. Like no one should try to be identical cause we’re all different.
Matthew Warhol: When did it start?
Sonya Harris: I felt like when I was in high school. Being eccentric, I feel like I've always been this person cause that’s just me. I don't try I just like being different. And it might not be in my ways of dressing or just the way I think.
Matthew Warhol: Even before you were like designing your own pieces? Were you like cutting pieces and maybe like bedazzling stuff? Did you still have that craftiness to you?
Sonya Harris: I'm not so much into the crafty, I'm more so like a visionary and stylist of creative direction. I can be the type where you’re like “Hey, Sonya, I'm going to this event, can you pull something for me?” I always put myself together well so I put my friends together as well. Like, I’ve always had a sense of style—like okay this is what’s cool and I know this is going to be a hitter.
Matthew Warhol: You were saying you like to focus more on the marketing aspect of the uh overall look and piecing together, how does that translate into this? How do you go from that mindset and translate that into actually making something? Does that make sense?
Sonya Harris: Like from a marketing standpoint?
Matthew Warhol: No, no. You were saying it’s not so much the cutting and sewing…
Sonya Harris: Yeah, I don’t do that.
Matthew Warhol: But it’s more like the feeling. How does that part of your brain translate to actually creating something in front of you?
Sonya Harris: Like me being so tapped in to my five senses, I'm so like into that. And then its a lot inspiration, I can read a book or see something that inspires me—there’s a message in that that needs to get out. So when I find something that I'm moved by, I start like writing it down. Just like coming up with cool ideas. Getting it done with like the graphics, logos, whatever the case may be to reflect that.
Matthew Warhol: You have this one piece that I saw that looks almost like either its a fireman or a construction worker jacket… What’s that?
Sonya Harris: How I got that idea … it goes back to the Philly Fashion Show. It’s what I walked out in. I put that piece together in less than five days and put my logo together.
Matthew Warhol: That specific one?
Sonya Harris: Yeah, I love it. So me being from New York—my father works for the Department of Transportation so for that—you got the like city worker feel. I just closed a deal with the city. I'm a part of this agency that’s for minority business women and entrepreneurs, so I'm getting the backing and funding from New York City agencies to do contracts with them. Right now I'm working on a collection with the Department of Transportation. So I[the jacket] was like “Let me release the first peek of IME NYC Coming Soon!” I love that piece.
Matthew Warhol: Where is that going from there? Were there other ideas? Are you still working on it?
Sonya Harris: Yeah, it’s actually going to be dropping in the fall because it’s so hot [right now] and everything. I'm going to be doing more collaborative stuff as well because I'm very hands on when it comes to my city and even just like the world in general. I just want to have a message and do things with my community because I feel like it starts in your home first. So other than me collabing with the DoT, I want to do like NYC public schools. I want to do the parks. I want to like bring awareness to things through my garments. People think my stuff is streetwear but let’s talk about the elements and natural resources. Let’s dig into that. I'm spoon feeding people medicine and they don’t even notice it.
Matthew Warhol: You were saying earlier that you look at yourself not a designer but a creative overall. You want to use that for good, essentially.
Sonya Harris: Definitely.
Matthew Warhol: What specifically is a mission statement of yours outside of your clothing? What are things that are important to you?
Sonya Harris: The difference I'm trying to make is I just want to have equality. I really want people to know we are all one, we are all one human race. I feel like in society—and in our past history—that it was social classes and brackets and different things that made us separate with like religion and race and financial class. But at the end of the day, if we strip all that away, we’re all one. Just like how we’re talking right now. So I just want to teach that if you spread love and peace and if you give out that energy, positive energy will come back and this whole world will be a better place.
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