written by Moses Naughton-Garrison
Hey Onea, I appreciate you taking the time to chat. Would you mind introducing yourself to our readers?
I grew up in New York City, on the Lower East Side and moved around quite a bit as a teenager throughout Brooklyn. My parents were both artists so I was lucky to be surrounded by their peers, almost all of whom had been involved in the downtown art scene in the 70’s and 80’s. My parents made an effort to introduce my brother and I to that world, bringing us to gallery openings, events at the Brooklyn Museum, MoMA, and more. They really encouraged us to explore our respective creative interests. I left the city for college in Massachusetts where I studied political theory, studio arts and poetry - so I don’t have what some might call a traditional education in fashion.
photo by Kelsi Kobata
When did your interests shift from what you were studying towards fashion?
I’d say it really started during my year abroad in Berlin, between my junior and senior year of college. I was spending a lot of time alone and was eager to take on a new hobby. My mother had taught me basic sewing skills and I thought that might be a good place to start. The woman I was renting from at the time was also an artist and had taken me under her wing. I expressed my interest in sewing and design to her and she very generously offered up her own sewing machine. I started out testing my hand at basic construction and quickly grew into more exploratory forms of garment making. I spent a lot of time at flea markets and antique shops searching through antique tablecloths, lace, really anything I could get my hands on.
I had for so long found my comfort in the written word, and had yet to connect with a physical artistic medium, one that was more tangible. I very quickly found myself feeling boundaryless and open to what garment making and design offered me.
How did Silphium come about?
Shortly after graduating I was introduced to a friend of a friend who ran a fashion consulting firm. There I did everything from designing ready-to-wear lines, to sourcing materials, and styling shoots. I was entrusted with such a wide range of tasks, and that really gave me the lay of the land in regards to how the industry works. In 2019, I transitioned to Totokaelo, where I was the private label women’s designer, which was very hands-on and gave me the foundation for starting what would become Silphium.
Sadly, as was the case for many brands, Totokaelo closed in the first few months of the pandemic. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay in fashion after that, given that it wasn’t my sole background. I could feel myself becoming disenchanted with the industry both in regards to what it demanded of me as well as what I felt it had to offer. Despite that, I continued to experiment with garment making on my own - mostly making shirts and shorts for friends and friends of friends. It sort of just grew from there.
In the beginning I didn’t accept that I had started a brand. I was like, no, it's just a side project until I figure out what’s next. I was posting occasionally on Instagram, but was mostly getting orders through friends and word of mouth. That said, I was having a lot of fun with it. It was a way for me to explore my own sensibilities and tastes and also continue to educate myself in terms of garment construction and development.
What’s it been like moving from mostly custom orders to full collections?
I think my comfort zone is in the making and designing of things. So when it comes to the big picture, like how do I scale this and how do I grow that - I’m pretty illiterate. I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by a community of people who are more well-versed in those things, and have given me advice and helped that transition along.
Tal at Colbo, for example, reached out to me two years ago and was like I'm opening this store and I love your work, would you want to wholesale with us? At the time I told him no, it was really daunting the idea of expanding, and I wasn’t sure I had the capacity for it.
He ended up reaching out again, maybe eight months after the store had opened, and asked to grab a coffee and see where I was at with Silphium. I appreciated that he was really supportive of the work, and was in tune with the nature of a one-person production line. He presented the idea of a collection for Colbo to me in a way that felt accessible, and by then I felt more equipped to take something like that on. I launched that collaboration in September of 2022, and it established Silphium for me in a new way. I had never developed a reproducible collection before, with the intention of creating core styles. Colbo was my first retailer and now I’m in six, soon to be seven, other stores that I’m really excited about.
In what ways has Silphium grown aesthetically since you started putting together full collections?
I think that from the beginning, Silphium has been a playful brand. When I started out, I was so enthralled by the actual making of the pieces that I wasn't as invested in what it meant to run a business. When I did the launch for Colbo, I was thinking a lot about reproducibility and brand identity - sort of, what do I want this to be? I wanted Silphium to have some weight and a narrative that felt consistent. I was also inspired just thinking about what I wanted to wear everyday, and seeing the clothes that my friends and my community were attached to, which is where the Silphium denim came from.
I wanted to maintain the throughlines that had always been there, while exercising a degree of restraint and intentionality. I knew that I wanted my work to be gender-less, timeless, and seasonless. So, how could I achieve that? I found my answer in focusing on the simplicity of the silhouette, while affording myself freedom in the materiality.
You’ve mentioned community a lot, it sounds like that’s played a big part in getting Silphium to where it’s at today.
Absolutely, Silphium probably wouldn't exist if not for the community. I think that having friends who want to wear your work, who want to show it off, who want to connect you with other people, who want to just embolden what you do, is hugely important.
I also think it’s the biggest indicator of success for me - seeing my friends in Silphium gives me a sense of collectivity and direction. I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by people I admire and am able to collaborate with. The Silphium collections are all shot with friends, from the photographers, to the models, and the art director. The same goes for my website and retailers - it’s all been made possible through friends. I feel very grateful for that, and for those people and spaces that have supported me and the brand.
photo by Isla Anne
I know you’ve just put out a new collection, are there any other things coming up for Silphium that you’d like to tease?
Right, we just released a new collection, which is available to shop now. I’ve gotten so accustomed to larger collection formats, but this body of work is moving away from that in that it’s smaller and more intimate. It’s a new approach for me and is something that I’m excited to open up.
In other news, Sincerely Tommy in Brooklyn just started stocking Silphium, and we’ll be coming to a few other retailers in the next few months. I’m also always open to custom orders, which is a big part of Silphium and something I love doing.
photo by Isla Anne