Sheron Barber’s lifestyle/creative goods brand is called DR14. He skillfully makes one-of-a-kind products and remixes the highest of high-end (Louis Vuitton, Goyard, Balmain, etc.) luxury label’s bags and accessories into new works of functional art. His client base ranges from celebrities like R&B star Teyana Taylor to video gaming company, Activision for the mega successful Call of Duty franchise. Seeing Barber at work and getting into his frame of thought is like taking a trip to a foreign land where everything is made better and more vibrant by vision and not preconceived notions. Follow the man who is on a mission to make the world feel his thoughts through art, design and fashion.
VIBE: So where are you from?
Sheron Barber: Camden, New Jersey.
East Coast origin, now based in Los Angeles…how did you start in the design industry?
I started off like most kids, altering my own clothes. Then I got on the heat press and then screen print and then I had a desire for more so I got into cut and sew. Then I wanted to go even further so I started to focus on leather goods and accessories.
Growing up, who influenced your style?
I don’t know if, if any one person in particular influenced my style. I think I was influenced by hip hop as a whole. My style was very street and I was inspired by the streets. I think seeing the neighborhood guys just being fresh, pulling up in their BMWs with their jewelry on. And then, it’s funny because when it comes to my design I’m also inspired by things like Transformers or Inspector Gadget. That’s why a lot of my designs are like adaptable or they turn into other things.
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What was your first big check from fashion?
The first person to buy a significant sized piece off of me was [boxing legend] Floyd Mayweather. He had me make him a bag with a hidden compartment that housed his watches. I would make over the top bags out of gator and crocodile, and he was the first person to buy one of my bags.
You’ve built DR14 into a successful creative goods company, but when did you know you was that ni**a?
(Laughs) That’s funny. I’m still insecure. When I put something out, I’m never 100% confident. I’m confident that I’ll get the idea out of my head, but I don’t know how other people are gonna receive it. So I never put something in front of someone and know that they’re going to like it or love it…but I don’t think that all my designs come from me. I think they come from like a cloud, like a source of energy that I tap into, whether it be through meditation or deep thought.
Sometimes I just see something, a vision. Then I do my best to get my idea out of my head. If I get the vision I had in my head out, then for me it’s a successful design. I’m indifferent to if they like it or not. That’s not my job, my job is just to get the idea out of my head and into the world.
You just partnered with some overseas [operations] opening a manufactory. How is it working abroad and getting into all of that?
I think Europe has a long history of artisanship and there is also a great history of artisanship in America, but if you look at the history of fashion in Europe, there’s a real knack for artisan level quality. I think if you look at the leather industry there, the garment industry there, there are families and companies that have been participating for hundreds of years.
It stems from Louis XIV. Louis XIV at one point, you know, he was a king from the age of five all the way until the time he was 72. So he had the resources of a nation and later in his life he would commission artists from all over the world. Like if you were a shoe maker he would summon you to make him shoes. If you were a tailor, he would have you make him custom suits. The people who were considered “common people,” if you got to make a shoe or a jacket for a monarch it would raise your rank in society and then you would become a member of a family that makes shoes for the king or that makes garments for the king.
So in Europe, a lot of that is still preserved in the fashion industry. What you have [are] families who actually create things. Whether they are shoes, jackets or garments, but some of them have been in the business for four or five, six, seven generations. And in some situations you get the artisanship that has been preserved and that is amazing. So I still make things in America, but somethings I am starting to venture out because I feel like I want to use the best people in the world to help me execute my ideas. I have things that I’m sourcing from different countries in Africa, I have things that I’m manufacturing in different countries in Europe, and obviously my style is from the streets of America. I’m trying to take a global approach.
When it comes to style, who do you consider to be the most stylish ever?
The most stylist individual? That’s a hard question. For me I have different people, and I’m inspired by different things. If I had to pick one person that I think just was crazy with it, maybe Michael Jackson. Like seeing Michael Jackson with the glitter socks and glove or the jacket with the zippers, that was extremely inspiring.
It’s crazy ’cause I could say that, but I could also say I’m a person who could see a homeless person on the street that’s layered in a bunch of clothes, and they could have one really distressed piece that they’re wearing for survival and the way they layer it…I can appreciate the actual aesthetic of it. I’ve found myself emulating that aesthetic. So yeah, I would say anything from Michael Jackson to a homeless person in the street, I’ll consider stylish.
How does it feel to be a Black designer and collaborate with major brands like the video game series Call of Duty?
You know, I’m still flattered when anybody wants to work with me. Working with Call of Duty was really a blessing. The [C.O.D.] team showed a lot of love. I don’t expect people to wanna work with me. So when they reach[ed] out to work it was just an amazing feeling. Especially when they let me do what I wanna do creatively and Call of Duty really just let me do my thing. They reached out to me to do a bag and I ended up telling them that I wanted to do a chair and they just supported the idea. Then we came up with the concept to do a throne for the winner. So I think to come from a place that I come from, I never saw myself collaborating with major corporations. I’m always flattered and almost in awe. I remember calling my Dad to tell him, ’cause my Dad loves playing Call of Duty, and I was telling him I’m doing a collaboration with them and he was like, “What?!” It’s just an amazing feeling. I always feel honored and humble.
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When were you last super happy?
Hmm. I’m not sure, maybe like as an individual, maybe…I don’t know. I’m always chasing something. So I don’t know if I ever experienced like complete bliss or joy. I’m happy when I get a moment of clarity, but like complete happiness it may have been 10, 15, 20 years. I’m not necessarily the happiest person.
That’s deep. Well, what keeps you dreaming then?
I think my dreams are more like visions. I don’t…I feel like in a large way I’ve sacrificed my…even back to the happiness question. I sacrifice my personal joy and my happiness for the art and for the culture. So I’m of service to whatever delivers ideas to me. I’m of service to that entity or that deity. So I can’t really take ownership, but when it comes to my designs, I don’t really have a dream. I more so have a vision that I’m trying to live out. I feel like it’s my responsibility to live out the vision. Every time I have a new idea, it’s more of a responsibility or a burden to get the idea out, ’cause I feel like if the idea was delivered to me, it’s now my responsibility as a human being to get that idea out of my head into the physical world. So, I’m actually more so haunted by ideas more than anything. Like I wake up with like three ideas and I’m frustrated if I can’t get them out of my head and if it’s not right, I become like a maniac trying to get the ideas right.
I think from the outside looking in, people may think that I’m living a dream and in a material way sometimes. I have things that people like, but those things don’t make me happy and those things aren’t a part of my dream necessarily. They’re just, I guess the fruits of the labor you know. I like nice things. I enjoy nice things. I aspire to have good taste, and I enjoy being able to purchase the shoes I like, or being able to buy the car that I always wanted. I’m more into design, but, but if an amazing designer designs a chair I enjoy being able to purchase that chair and participate in that part. But as far as like a dream I think I have more of a vision that I’m trying to see through.
With so many fans of your work, who would you like to work with on a new level?
For me, I think who I work with is not about a person, it’s more about resources. Again for me as a creator, I’m just trying to get ideas out of my head. I don’t draw very well, so I can have an idea in my head and I see it and I could try to sketch it. I might sketch it on a napkin, but if I find like a sketch artist that can help me sketch, that is like amazing.
I’m very good at utilizing the talents of others to bring what I see in my head to life. So when I look at collaboration, I don’t necessarily look at it like as who I’m working with, but more so what resources they have access to and how much access they’re going to give me to those resources so I can get ideas out of my head. When I look at companies like Louis Vuitton and I know that they work with some of the best leather workers in the world or some of the best garment makers in the world or some of the best hardware developers in the world, or even some of the best woodworkers furniture manufacturers in the world. When I think of runway shows, I have sound design in my head I have entire aesthetics locked in my head. So when I look at companies like Louis Vuitton I would like to work with them just to have access to the resources to bring new ideas into the world.
What calms your spirit when things are going crazy?
I’m a pretty dark person. I don’t know if my spirit is ever calmed. Sometimes I think I have anxiety issues. I’m very anxious and it’s funny because I think people always tell me that they don’t see it because I’m so laid back, but on the inside I’m always working, I’m always thinking, and a lot of the times I’m overwhelmed. Sometimes it’s simple things like a smell that brings me back. Like I love the smell of Palo Santo, so a certain temperature with some Palo Santo will like recenter me and remind me that it’s not that deep and I can breathe and relax.
So you recently kind of went after GQ and Vogue questioning them and their editors perception of fashion. I wanted to know why do you think black creatives look to white institutions for validation?
I think as human beings we all are in search of validation. There are elements that pertain to white and black, but I think it’s really like if you’re the best, if you consider yourself the best basketball player in the world then you want to play in the NBA and you want accreditation from ESPN. If I’m the best musician in the world, I want to win a Grammy. If I’m the best designer in the world, I want to put my garments on a runway in Paris and I want Vogue or GQ to write about it.
We say, “This is this. This group is the epitome. This is the group that writes about things that are great.” And I think we aspire to have those groups write about us. It’s actually a dying thing ’cause if we look now, like kids today, I don’t think are really worried about that. I was on my Instagram the other day and I got hundreds, tens of thousands of people sending me messages. I got thousands of comments, probably more engagement than GQ and Vogue. I just think with them being a staple of fashion and me doing what I’ve done in fashion, some recognition is deserved. That’s not necessarily what pushed me over the top where I started to have that moment with Vogue. You know, I look at them like GQ, Vogue eventually they should write about me, ’cause I do what I do. But I’m not seeking validation, I wasn’t actively seeking validation from them.
What actually happened is an independent journalist from Vogue, I guess somebody sent her my work and she doesn’t follow me. She doesn’t know anything about what I do, she doesn’t know anything about street culture and she decided to go on her Instagram and post my work. I guess she reviews bags, and she said, “For everybody that’s sending me this bag telling me how amazing it is, I just want to let y’all know that it’s fake. It’s not a real bag, is a knockoff.”And her followers, not my followers or we have mutual followers maybe, started telling her, “It’s not fake, is a Sheron bag.” And then she’s like, you know, “I don’t care who made it. It’s fake. It’s not made by Louis Vuitton nor Hermes.” And then they proceeded to tell her, “He buys real Louis Vuitton, real Hermes and then he creates like these custom pieces for his clients.” And by then I think she just had an opinion and she just wanted to run with it. She wasn’t open to hearing anybody else’s opinion. So she continued with, “It’s fake.” Then at this point I decided to chime in and broke down what’s going on to her. “I’m an artist. I buy Louis Vuitton, I buy Hermes, I put them together I make my own stuff.” People even continued to tell her. And then she’s like, “That’s not real design. You’re just putting fabric over an existing bag.” I’m telling her, “I don’t do that. I actually make everything from scratch.” She’s like, “But it’s still not your design even if you put it together.” I said, “Well, if you actually follow me, you’ll see that I have thousands of designs that I’ve contributed.” You know, she didn’t want to hear any of that. She was in attack mode.
So I think I started to tell her about herself just letting her know, “You don’t get to judge hip-hop. You don’t participate in the culture.” She’s saying that’s not real fashion and I’m telling her, “At one point y’all said that hip-hop wasn’t real music, y’all said it was just noise.” I said, “Now I’m in a cafe in Paris and y’all listening to hip hop. At one point, y’all said graffiti wasn’t real art, but now I go into these different institutions and you have graffiti in museums. Now you’re taking what I’ve done and you’re saying that is not real fashion. You know I was never born with a silver spoon in my mouth. So whenever we’re dealing with hip-hop culture, just the nature of Black people or hip-hop culture in general, we’ve always had to take nothing and make something. Whether it be soul food, having to take pig intestines and collard greens and make soul food, or having to vandalize a train just to get your art idea off or having to jack the break in a disco beat and loop it to get your rhymes off. And now I was like, “Yeah, I’mma jack Louis Vuitton’s fabric and make my own piece out of it.” She’s saying that that’s not real. But Billie Eilish is one of the most iconic faces that’s popping up in all these spaces and that’s what the streets actually know her for…wearing reworked garments, and cutting up designer stuff. But she wouldn’t know that because she’s not a participant. So I just went on a rant basically saying, fuck her, fuck Vogue, fuck GQ and I stand by that, fuck them.
Like a boss! Is there anything you would like to say to the new up and coming designers out there?
My advice for anybody that’s trying to achieve anything would just be never give up. If you never give up, you never lose. You don’t lose until you fail to get back up. You know, like you could fall 999 times, if you get up a thousand you’re still up one. Try to find validation within self, even though I know it’s hard, it’s just a human struggle, but enjoy the process. There is no end. There’s no end goal. No matter how much you try to achieve an end goal, you will learn that there is no ending. It’s just a cycle. Perseverance is important. And any idea that you have, do everything in your power to get that idea into the world. I don’t care if you want to make a mouse pad or a shoe or a flip-flop or if you have an idea for a computer app, do whatever you have. Use every resource at your disposal to get that idea into the world, ’cause the world needs those ideas.