Sonya Darrow has quite an eye – for textiles, thrift, history, community and for combining all of these for memorable results. Sonya is a Goodwill Artist in Residence, a role that finds her scavenging local thrift stores, creating astonishing new garments from her chosen materials, staging in-store art happenings, sending a monthly newsletter, and maintaining her colorful blog under the moniker Ladyfits.
Sonya’s design savvy may seem like a product of bohemian New York or Los Angeles, but Sonya works where she grew up, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and takes bohemian literally – her Czech roots are an integral part of her life and her art. Sonya describes herself as the “one lone wolf who stuck it out” in the Mid-west, resisting her friends’ impulse to “flee to the coast.” Her decision to stay in her community was influenced by the 2008 flooding of the Cedar River, a historic natural disaster that destroyed many significant places were inspiration to Sonya as she grew up. “I can’t get stories like I get here anywhere else in the country,” she says.
Sonya literally lives with her history, residing in the home that belonged to her grandparents and ensuring that it doesn’t go to someone who “will rip out the closet doors.” She tells me about her dialogue within the space, and her use of many of the things left by her grandfather – like a hand carved wooden chain. Sonya grew up in a family that strongly supported the arts and creative expression, and attended Iowa State University to study Art History and Studio Arts.
This past summer, Sonya was asked to exhibit at the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library. The task questioned her personal definition of Bohemian, and her answer came in the form of six handmade garments that combined Czech folk dress and thrift materials. She describes her process from two directions – sometimes she discovered materials that she envisioned in a new way, and sometimes she deliberately incorporated an item because of its story, such as a vintage kitchen towel with a floral motif painted by someone’s Czech grandmother. “This is a resource mentality, use what you have by bringing it back to life through creativity. It is one of the ways I explain my inner Bohemian through the embrace of resourceful expression,” she says.
She worked with the Cedar Rapids Solid Waste Agency to produce a sustainable fashion show with upcycled designs. The show was held in a warehouse that recycled airplane parts, a result of Sonya’s interest in the region’s abandoned industrial spaces, which once served metal processing and meatpacking demands, among other things.
Sonya was thrilled when Goodwill of the Heartland reached out to her. “It’s a dream for any artist to have someone say, ‘What do you want to do with us?’” she explains. She describes her residency as carrying the “ambassador flag of thrift.” She has been known to locate her studio space within the Goodwill store – “Art is scary,” she says, “The process should be with the community itself.” As for her medium of donated items, Sonya celebrates the tension. She finds no spark in art supply stores, and claims “It’s boring to be able to use everything.”
While upcycling and recycled fashion has perhaps (finally) hit its stride in the mainstream, Sonya keeps it real. Her commitment to place and her community’s Czech heritage brings a special element to her work, and she does not falsely allude to the much-marketable themes of quaintness and authenticity – her aim is true.
To learn more about Sonya, please visit www.ladyfits.blogspot.com