Interview: Fashion Designer Sheycha Dem on Developing an International Menswear Label
Sheycha Dem knew early on that she wanted to pursue a career in fashion. After graduating from Parsons School of Design, she worked with several designer labels before launching her own menswear label, Hotel 89, in Bhutan in 2015. Since then she has released two collections and is working on new designs for future projects. Recently, she took the time to discuss her career in the arts, her international company, and the successes and struggles of being an entrepreneur.
What kind of artist would you describe yourself as?
I am a menswear designer.
How did you get your start in the arts?
I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember and always pursued it while at school.
What drove you to pursue the arts as a career?
I realized I loved being creative at a very young age and pursuing it as a career followed very naturally for me. As a child I won several international art competitions and I think that really encouraged me to feel like I was good at what I loved to do. In addition, I have very supportive parents that always insisted I do what I love.
How did your time at Parsons School of Design define you as an artist?
Apart from gaining a lot of technical skills, I think my time at Parsons gave me a lot of endurance for performing under pressure as well. The intensive program really tested how far I could go with my design thinking and creative ability.
How would you define collaboration?
For me - to collaborate means to come together to share ideas to create something new.
How do you typically collaborate with people in the fashion industry, if there is any collaboration at all?
Everything could be seen as being a collaboration. Nothing can be done alone. In a few cases a designer might see a garment through from the inception to the final product but usually a designer might sketch a garment and then work with pattern makers and tailors to create a tangible item. Also, in other aspects of the industry - runways, magazine shoots etc., several people are always involved to create a certain product.
What qualities do you look for in a collaborator?
It would be nice to work with someone who was equally invested in whatever idea we were working on; that way passion and hard work would just follow naturally.
If you had any choice in the world, who would be your collaboration dream team and what kind of project would you work on?
I would love to work with my favourite artists - artists I look up to and are inspired by. I’d have to say my favourite photographer Iiu Susiraja, some of my favourite designers Dries Van Noten and Rei Kawakubo and one of my favourite painters - Matisse!
What inspired you to launch Hotel 89?
I found myself at home [in Bhutan] after my American work visa didn’t work out. I simply wanted to do something and thought that it might as well be what I love to do and trained in and figured out the execution along the way.
How would you describe a typical workday?
I go to the gym every morning by 7am. I come back and make breakfast (I’m a “coffee enthusiast” so this includes a whole brewing ritual!). Usually, I then tend to emails while I drink my coffee and then make a to-do list. I’ve been maintaining a “bullet journal” which I find really helps me with being productive. Then I do any “computer/sitting at desk” work. In the afternoon, I carry on with any manual or tactile work I might have (sewing, sampling etc.) since I tend to fall asleep during that time of the day . . .
What advice would you give other fashion designers starting out in the business?
To be honest, I’d like some advice myself. . . . But I’d say you have to keep at it. Accept many many failures and be very patient.
What's the hardest thing about being a fashion designer and entrepreneur? What's the most rewarding?
The hardest thing for me would be putting yourself “out there.” I think at the end of the day, I function primarily as an artist and as an artist my work is my mind and sharing your ideas and putting them out into the world can be a terrifying experience. Also, when you are a “one man company” it can be difficult to find the drive and motivation to keep going on some days.
I think one of the most rewarding things would be finding that people can relate to what you put out and that people enjoy what you made. I was extremely pleased to find customers who were complete strangers to me.
How did you learn how to run a business?
I still don’t know how to run a business. It is very much trial and error at this point.
What business advice would you give to other fashion designers and artists?
Just do itttt! As cheesy as that sounds - if you want to do something and have a clear idea - just do it. You can figure things out as you go.
How do you define success as an independent artist?
I think success is relative. For some it might be just being able to show your work, for some having people relate to it/enjoy it and for some it might be commercial success. For me I consider a project successful if ultimately I am proud of it. It’s a bonus if someone else enjoys it!
What would you say is your biggest achievement?
At this point I would say that it’s the fact that I’m still doing what I’m doing.
If you weren't an artist, what would you be doing?
I honestly can’t think of an occupation that wouldn’t involve some kind of creativity. As I mentioned, I’ve loved being creative for as long as I can remember. It is not an occupation to me. It’s just simply how I function as a human being. I think if I wasn’t a menswear designer I would be a painter.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years? In 10?
Hopefully making a mark in the international fashion scene.
What's next for Hotel 89?
We are currently working on our Autumn/Winter 2018 collection which will debut in February of next year.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.