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November 14, 2012

interview part 1 // noelle sharp of aporta

i'm truly excited to share the first (of hopefully many) interviews to come on this little corner of the internet. for the debut, i asked artist, designer and founder of APORTA, noelle sharp, a few questions. chicago based, APORTA is a collection of knits, scarves, reclaimed furs and other woven treasures.

through a friend of a friend, i discovered her work online and instantly fell for the story she is creating in each piece she constructs. she creates for modern day warriors.
1. who are you creating for? what story are you telling?

I am creating for everyone. I've never put an age limit on who I think would wear my items nor am I gender specific with what I design. I grew up playing outside in the mountains with my cousins, a lot of them boys, which leads to me making items that might be a little more masculine or structural rather then dainty and feminine. I think I own one, maybe two dresses, ha ha. 

The story is one of a traveler marching against the things that prohibit him/her from living the way they want/fighting battles/experiencing life. During this experience this person carries a piece of cloth on them that protects and guides them. And this is something everyone can relate to, cloth as something that calms and protects us, as babies we are bundled up in blankets, as small children some of us have security blankets always by our sides and as adults we turn to cloth as a way of representing the person we will feel inside. 

I am drawn to an older more genuine form of living. Objects are made by hand and made with purpose not out of desire. And that's something I really try to express to customers is that you are buying an heirloom piece that will be passed down from generation to generation. You don't need 5 of one item, you buy one and have it all your life. To own a APORTA product is to invest in quality products produced by hand in the USA.
2. it is clear you feel strongly about sustainable and well made products - where do you get your materials from?

This is a good question because it was one of the important factors of starting APORTA, to get away from mass produced and poorly made products. I was tired of not having well made and designed products to buy. Not knowing how it was made, where or who made it always raised the question of   "well how do I know what I am buying ?" This really pushed me to start making things I needed and from there people started asking to buy them.

As APORTA grows there is a dialogue that I am having to work through that involves artisan makers and how to go about hiring these weavers and knitters to help me produce products.  But also how I can make new jobs available for these skilled artisans. And that isn't just  knitters and weavers but also the suppliers of materials. There are so many US yarn companies that are sustainable and completely manufactured locally that are looking for companies to buy their products. This is now a huge part of the puzzle, beginning to work one on one with these small companies to create a local, completely US made line of products. The yarns I work with vary from Midwest yarn suppliers to larger distribution companies (based in the US) that supply a lot of weaving supplies in larger quantities. 

Along with materials, as I mentioned before, are the jobs I wish to create for skilled knitters/weavers and sewers. There are so many craftspeople that have either spent their life knitting or weaving as a hobby or have created with this craft as a means of income that don't have an outlet for their craft. I need these artisans  and have every intention of treating/paying them for what they are worth. I think of our elderly in homes that have been knitting for years and years, that are looking for a source of income as they run out of savings or  are not supported by their children, I want to be able to pay them to knit for me, to have a income and gain some freedom back into their life, to feel valued.  This next year will be a lot of communicating with potential employees as well as discussing what kind of job opportunities I can create by knitting/weaving/sewing for APORTA. 
3. how did you get into your craft? where do you want to take it?

My mom taught me how to knit when I was around 6 years old, so i have been knitting for 21 years. I'll never be as good as she is though, she is the real deal. I studied weaving at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago while in the Fiber Materials Department. Their weaving department is fantastic, loads of floor looms and either 2 or 3 digital looms which I use in my conceptual art practice. We have seen knitting have this crafty comeback with the help of different companies like Etsy, even Martha Stewart.

Weaving is still predominately one of the older crafts.  I want to make it more accessible to the consumer market and to fashion designers. I've worked with one fashion designer that wanted a specific type of weave structure for his mens wears collection so we began the process of collaborating and producing a really unique, quality fabric. I am starting to receive more interest and feedback about that collaborative project and really do think it will become a strong part of APORTA. For the most part I see weaving breaking free of the older generation of weavers that weave for personal projects and interacting in not only the fashion community but the art community. It will be interesting to see what the next 5 years do  for weaving in terms of mainstream production and artistic express.
4. you're creating depth in what some consider a shallow industry - how do you stay true to your values in a fast paced, money driven world?

If Anna Wintour came to view my collection and asked me to change it, I wouldn't. I'm not making work to fit into an industry that is , for the most part, fueled by the desire for fame and money. Yes I want to be able to support myself but most importantly I want to make work I find interesting and moving. I'm not saying I wouldn't listen to her thoughts/suggestions, but I am not going to conform to someone else's idea of what my work should look like just to fit in. With that said Anna Wintour is a very important part of the evolution of fashion, I love that she wears fur and brought that elegant aspect of fashion back. I just find it interesting that she knows what she wants and doesn't give in or make sacrifices to her goals, but everyone around her does just because they want to fit in.

I lived in Manhattan and worked for a knitwear label, it was exciting and inspiring but I found myself exhausted and not as inspired as I imagined I would be. My goals are not the goals of most of the people in the fashion community. I want my work to stand out because I worked hard and true for it, not because I held my tongue around the people that either make or break me. I thoroughly enjoy what comes out of the New York, Paris, Milan fashion scene. I am constantly inspired and moved by certain designers. The important thing for me to recognize is that I gain my inspiration from the my surroundings, the mountains/deserts/friends/family/music/strangers/traveling/history, rather then feeling like I HAVE to make my designs look a certain way in order to be successful or recognized.
5. what is your creative environment look like? where do you work? what are on the walls of your studio space? what music is playing?

This is a good question as this year has proven to be challenging in the apartment arena. I have been living with my friends who have quite a bit of space in their home, so the front room has turned into my studio but is still a liveable space. I find myself having a space to create but not nest in, if that makes sense. I usually go from having a few images or writings up on the wall that switch out daily or weekly.

A lot of my creative environment is defined by having music playing, have to have music playing. I've always considered music/sound the purest most natural form of expression, can be produced without the means of equipment/supplies. So I have to have music playing. It really depends on the time of day and how much energy I have. In the morning usually jazz or country (Neil Young). By the afternoon I need a pick me up so some metal/rock or rap (Led Zeppelin/Blood Ceremony/Radiohead/Electric Wizard/GZA/Bahamdia). Night time is usually something older like Tony Bennet, sad like TVZ or foreign like Dungen.

Lately I have been experimenting with knitting/weaving in silence, as a means to slow down, to calm down, to understand how my body is working. The first few days were strange but I actually enjoy it now. It's refreshing, it makes days with music extremely enjoyable. I try to imagine myself somewhere isolated, in the mountains or the desert, without the distractions of the city, and just focus on the work I am making.

6. What does your creative process look like?

It varies from writings to paintings, lots of samples and testing of materials and a ton of my time spent researching old historical clothing patterns and photos. Most of it is experiencing life on a day to day basis as corny as that sounds. When I come back from being in the mountains I am cooking with ideas. Going to the movies or a show leave me feeling overwhelmed with goals and new ideas. 

When it realy comes down to it though it is a very organized process, especially when it involves weaving, more so then knitting. I have to take a lot of notes and be patient with a sample that didn't turn out right. Its a rewarding and very frustrating process. But a lot of my mistakes lead to happy accidents, I won't reveal any of them but they are out there. 

Collaborating with more artists/designers/people is something I have set as a goal. To be pushed in a direction I wouldn't have gone in, to use a material I never would have bought, situations like these lead to movement and growth.

7. the reclaimed rabbit fur - it's fabulous - tell me about it please!

I love fur, I would never and have never bought brand new fur, every fur item I sell is reclaimed from antique fur coats. The abundance of antique/vintage fur coats out there is INSANE. There are so many of them! And the most beautiful furs! I find that most women are afraid of wearing fur, and rightly so, who wants paint thrown on them? But my reaction to fur is logical. It's cold out, whats the warmest thing I can wear. FUR. 

I wear reclaimed fur items all winter long, and my grandma's long, huge collared vintage mink coat. By wearing just a fur stole or bandana it still keeps you warm and looks classic/elegant with just about anything. The reclaimed furs have been received extremely well. I've sold out of them a few times and am going to start designing more items from them such as ankle/wrist cuffs and beanies.

that, ladies and gents, concludes part one (of two) with the talented noelle. come back tomorrow for more APORTA goodness.

until then, find more about her and her work (her new baby line, Børn is amazing):
>>> website
>>> tumblr
>>> shop

*all photos are noelle's


  1. Hands down the hardest question for any artist to answer is the creative process question. How do you quantify inspiration or imagination? It isn't acceptable to just say, "It just came to me one day."

    Excellent blog you have here.

    1. so true. i love how different we all are in our approaches and how no one seems to have one way for making the magic happen. yet we do have our habits and our go-to's.

      thanks for stopping by!