Interview: Solange's Relaunched Saint Heron Shop Pushes Black Artisanship To The Forefront
There’s a party going on underneath the starry Texas night sky and Solange Knowles is in the middle of it, surrounded by the tangible fruits of a long-standing vision coming to fruition.
Behind the charming cottage known to Sprinkle, Texas inhabitants as Barr Mansion, a curated crowd of the cultured and fashion forward are gathered to honor the woman of the hour in dance and song. The scene is a rainbow of ethnicities—lots of manicured melanin and those who appreciate them—swaying enthusiastically to the tunes being conjured up at the DJ table (Kindness dished out a commendable mix of #TBT hits ranging from Lil Mo’s “4ever” to Janet Jackson’s “That’s The Way Love Goes”).
In the red-hued glass shed a few yards away, a five-by-five shelving unit positioned between the bar and clusters of acquaintances against the wall holds the reason for the evening. The small leather pouches, clay vases and cups, furry pillow purses, patterned sweaters, photography books, calendars, bandanas, nail polish, soaps and all purpose mist on display are all merch that can now be purchased in Saint Heron’s newly re-launched e-commerce store. The online shop, done in collaboration with Bigcommerce, will be a hub and home for the gifts craftsmen and creators of color don’t always get a chance to showcase.
“I have so many friends who are designers of color,” Solange says over the phone from her New Orleans home. “Hearing their frustrations and some of the challenges that they face constantly—and hearing these stories redundantly—I think it was only natural for us to get in there and shake things up a little bit.”
The evening’s fiesta commemorated the beginning of that shakeup, and who better to soundtrack the moment than the legendary Sun Ra Arkestra. The 12-member troupe sucked the room into their sense-heightening jam session, playing crowd favorites like “Space Is The Place” and “Sun Song.” "Oh my god, this is crazy!” says the guy front and center, in awe. He’s talking to the woman stanning out two people next to him; she knows every word the vocalist sings. In the corner of the room, Solo and her husband, Alan, are cuddled together in their matching neutrals—a tailored tan suit for him and a suede strapless number with an asymmetrical side slit for her — jamming out to the Arkestra’s booming percussion and the wails of their saxophones.
Before the euphoric moment, which she later described as “one of the most magical nights of [her] life,” Solange chopped it up about who you’ll find in the Saint Heron store, why it’s necessary and why Bigcommerce was the perfect fit.
On the frustrations that originally birthed Saint Heron:
Overall, Saint Heron was [built] out of a frustration that a lot of our stories weren’t being told in a way that I felt was true to the modern and innovative black woman or male. I think that those stories can relate and run parallel in the fashion and style industry as well. I have so many friends who are designers of color and hearing their frustrations and some of the challenges that they face constantly—and hearing these stories redundantly—I think that it was only natural for us to get in there and shake things up a little bit. We did a collaboration with Puma, which was the Word to the Woman campaign, which was first taste of actually creating a product that really went in line with our brand. Once we did that launch and were able to feel the response, feedback and love from that, we thought hey, why not just continue this conversation? Why not link up with all of these wonderful, innovators who are just creating beautiful things that really kind of speak to our brand ethos?
On what goods Saint Heron will carry and why:
The one thing I’m really excited about is that the Saint Heron shop is not grounded in just fashion and clothing. We have connected with artists and artisans in every landscape. We actually are carrying a calendar, which is called Shades of Blackness [by] Maurice Harris, and he created this beautiful, beautiful calendar that really challenges gender and sexuality within the black community. So whether it be carrying something like that, or there’s a ceramics artist who, her name is Kenesha [Sneed] and she goes by Tactile Matter, and she just creates these beautiful pieces and works of art. But in that industry, it’s not very often that you are hearing the story of a black ceramics or pottery artist. We are trying to be part of the conversation in terms of making that connection from the things that we own and the things that we wear, and the things that we have in our home, but still being able to connect that to our message of just celebrating that and supporting it, and supporting our own, and telling those stories in a way that’s sensitive and for us. We are just happy that we can now be a part of that conversation no matter how big or small.
On the artists who will be featured in the Saint Heron shop:
There’s a young designer from L.A. His name is James, but the name of his line is Phlemuns. He is really big on reconstruction and we love him because Saint Heron ultimately started to be a music forum, so we love him because he references a lot of girl groups from the 90s and the early 2000s. His work is really inspired by that era of musicians and so it was kind of a perfect fit for us. There’s also a young girl from Brooklyn whose line is Gamut, and that literally just came from us being on Instagram and constantly seeing her creations pop up. There’s a young lady name Mengly Hernandez who we actually featured in the Words of the Women campaign, who is a graphic and textile artist. We worked on creating everything form beach towels to throws. She primarily works with scarves, so we wanted to translate her textiles on to other items that were usable in our everyday lives. We’re also carrying a selection of vinyl from artists we really love, support and listen to and who are the backdrop for our everyday lives; everything from Alice Coltrane to King Me the band. We are also going do a lot of collaboration with musicians, just kind of one-off, vinyl pressings and continue the conversation with music and R&B storytelling, which is a huge part of our foundation.
On the SXSW pop-up launch event in Austin:
One thing that I’ve noticed about South By is the community building that you’re really able to do. That is why South By actually existed in the first place when it first started. It really was about artists being able to really connect with people. Sometimes an artist will play four or five shows in one day and a lot of times they’re free, so your fans are able to come to several shows of yours and you start to recognize faces and afterwards you’re able to talk and communicate. It’s really unlike other festivals where there’s all of this separation between the artists, the shows and the people. So much of Saint Heron is built around community building and being able to have that room for dialogue and that openness between the people who support Saint Heron and are connected to Saint Heron and the people who are actually kind of building Saint Heron. I thought that it would be a great opportunity to immerse ourselves in a space where we could actually have conversations and connect with people. And I guess also, being that it’s in Texas and it’s my home state, didn’t hurt either.
Big Commerce is based there and they’ve been such an incredible vessel for us in terms of building the Saint Heron shop. In the past, Saint Heron has had showcases that were so phenomenal, so special and so magical, and this year, we decided to forego having a huge showcase and just pick one, dream artist that in our wildest dreams we felt like we could never actually experience and that is the Sun Ra Arkestra. We are all going to be in awe all night.