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Elmhurst native makes impact on sneaker industry

By Jessica Meditz

[email protected]

Sarah Sukumaran, founder of Lilith NYC.

The sneaker and fashion industries were always an interest of East Elmhurst native Sarah Sukumaran, but they were never something she thought she would pursue as a career.

A business graduate of Babson College, she found herself in the world of marketing and tech in New York, working as the head director product at Nike.

It was during March 2020 when she decided to quit her job and launch Lilith NYC, a Queens-based footwear brand for women and femmes in the sneaker world.

“Spending time at Nike, I realized that I wanted to definitely create shoes for women because for so long, I felt they were underserved in terms of selection, sizing and colorways,” Sukumaran said. “I gravitated towards men’s styles still as a 20-something-year-old, couldn’t get my size, didn’t care for the colorways dropped for women and the silhouettes had still been centered around male sport.”

Sukumaran emphasized that women spend more money on sneakers than men do, owning 80 percent of the wallet share.

Despite this, her time at Nike revealed that the industry is not moving at the pace that she would like, and feels that brands should make an effort to cater to their audience.

Lilith is Sukumaran’s outlet to reach out to other women who love sneakers and explore feminine identity and style through its designs.

“Everything from the brand top down is really through the lens of the divine feminine, because historically, everything has been either hyper masculinized or hyper feminized. In sneaker culture, the expectation for women is super sexually presented through campaigns or ads, or it was the opposite where you have to be a tomboy,” Sukumaran said.

“Especially in 2022, I question how we can express our gender, sexuality or style on a spectrum, and I wanted to do that through the lens of the divine feminine,” she continued. “It’s an energy that we all have, but it transcends the gender binary and doesn’t pigeonhole us the way the industry has wanted us to.”

Lilith’s debut silhouette, the Caudal Lure, is designed by Sara Jaramillo and named after a type of mimicry snakes take on to lure their prey. The shoe’s outsole resembles a snake’s tail.

The serpent, throughout region, culture and time, has been a symbol of the divine feminine, and this imagery is ever present in the brand.

As the daughter of Tamil refugees, Sukumaran expresses her culture through this imagery, since the Hindu goddess of protection is represented with a five headed cobra.

She simultaneously ties in her connection to Queens to the brand through Caudal Lure’s colors, concrete jungle green and amberlou brick.

The green pays homage to the grit of Queens and lush of urban life, redefining the urban jungle, and the amber-toned brick represents the bricks used by architect Louis Allmendinger for homes throughout Elmhurst, Sunnyside and Ridgewood.

Lilith NYC is currently online only, but Sukumaran said a physical storefront in Queens is a goal of hers.

She has participated with in-person popups, such as Queens Collaborative, to share the designs with locals, and hopes to release more colorways and a new design next year.

During Women’s History Month, Sukumaran embraces the fact that Lilith NYC is a women-run brand and commits to sharing women’s achievements through storytelling.

“Whether you’re a woman in tech, footwear or architecture, women’s contributions are constantly erased. They’re constantly overlooked, and sometimes attributed to men,” Sukumaran said.

“That’s why we named it Lilith; she was considered the first feminist because she didn’t want to be submissive to Adam. Historically, she’s been written out of history in a negative light, and so the name is to tell our own stories and men don’t get to dictate it.”

Magdalena brings French fashion, innovation to Williamsburg

Born in New Mexico and raised by her family in France, fashion designer Helena Pasquier has been to many places in her life. However, the only place that has ever truly felt like home to her is Williamsburg.
“When I got to New York I thought, this is where I wanted to be,” Pasquier explained in an interview this past week. “When I arrived in New York, the first neighborhood we went to was Williamsburg and I had a crush.”
Although she is relatively new to the Williamsburg arts community, Pasquier descends from a lineage of French fashion icons. Her grandparents were innovators in the lingerie industry, founding the famous Parisian brand Aubade.
“When I decided I wanted fashion to be my career, I spent a month with my grandmother to learn,” Pasquier explained. “I think it was genetic matter. It was in my heart.”
Along with her brother Paul, Pasquier launched the fashion brand Helena Magdalena last year. The brand’s name combines the first names of Pasquier and her grandmother, and reflects the family’s long standing commitment to innovation in the world of fashion.
Helena Magdalena follows the simple mission statement of “Slow Fashion, High Value” and is committed to making small runs of highly individualized pieces with unique fabrics.
The brand’s flagship project – The Alchemy Line – features hand-crafted pieces made with high-quality recycled fabric, metal details, and gemstone buttons. All of the brand’s work is hand-sewn by Pasquier in her Brooklyn studio.
“The whole process is very fluent,” Pasquier explained of her work with recycled fabrics. “For each piece, even if it’s going to be the same pattern, it’s going to be a different fabric. That’s the part that I really enjoy. It is very unique and there is no chance of running into someone who is wearing the same exact piece.”
Pasquier hopes that the individualized pieces will be empowering, especially for women. To this end, many of the pieces in the Alchemy Line are meant to evoke the imagery of female warriors.
“I want women to feel powerful, and for women to be powerful nowadays they feel like they have to dress like men,” Pasquier explained. “I want to try and make the feminine powerful versus trying to find the power by dressing like a man. I’m trying to make clothes that are feminine but that will never restrain you.”
Much of Pasquier’s work is with private clients who she meets in her Brooklyn studio, but a limited supply of Helena Magdalena pieces are available at Malin Landaeus, the vintage shop at 157 N. 6th Street in Williamsburg.
However, Pasquier insists that Williamsburg continues to inspire her work. Since founding Helena Magdalena, Pasquier has had multiple chance encounters with jewelers, fashion designers, and other artists in the neighborhood who she hopes to collaborate with in the future.
“I just love the community that there is here,” said Pasquier. “It is a big city but it feels like a village. Everyone knows you, everyone is creative, and everyone can use each other’s help.
“That’s not really the case in France,” she added. “Everyone is more about pulling each other down.”
Going forward, Pasquier also hopes to share her work more directly with the neighborhood. Last October, Helena Magdalena held a COVID-friendly fashion show in the streets of Williamsburg, with a runway, models, and all the other bells and whistles.
Satisfied by the success of that event, the brand now plans on organizing seasonal pop-up events to share more of their work with Brooklynites.
Despite the roadblock of COVID-19, Pasquier has confidently been able to remain focused and excited with her craft.
“For me, working during the pandemic was not that complicated,” she explained. “It actually brought some new and refreshing things to the world of fashion.”

Visit helenamagdalena.co to see more of the brand’s work.

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