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Project Runway's Amy Sarabi on Chinatown-Inspired Fashion and NY v. SF Style

26 year-old Oakland-based designer Amy Sarabi (who was part of 7x7's 2008 Hot 20 Class) is killing it on this season of Project Runway. We caught up with the designer to ask her a few questions about her inspirations, aspirations and SF style. Check out her collection here and cheer her on tonight on the show!

What are your plans after Project Runway?
Doing Project Runway is like the little mushroom in Mario Kart: It's a boost towards the finish line. I still want to have my own line, a large design studio with in-house sample sewers and a showroom. I want stores in New York and Paris made by experimental architects that are as interesting on the outside as the clothes are on the inside. It would be like a mix of MAC (Modern Appealing Clothing) in San Francisco and the Ann Demeulemeester store in Seoul. I am just a few inches closer to that dream having done the show and gained the exposure.

New York fashion v. San Francisco fashion?
I think that San Francisco is oozing with unconventional and creative energy. New York is where the business is...and where a lot of great designers work, but the energy is a little bit more restrictive there.

Do the words local, organic, green, ethically produced and sustainable have a place in the fashion industry?
Absolutely! I think it is open for interpretation...being green doesn't just mean using organic cotton. I think for people who design at my scale, which is neither large enough to buy anything at wholesale but still completely clearing shelves at fabric stores, green means something else. For me, it is about locality. I have good relationships with the fabric stores in the Bay Area like Stone Mountain and Daughter and Piedmont Fabrics in the East Bay and Britex in San Francisco. Keeping it local means less waste and I hope that as I continue to grow I can stay tried and true to the local businesses that have been a part of my growth.

What  potentials in the fashion industry do you see for San Francisco designers?
I have always said that more than any other city in the United States, San Francisco is the one that can breed an American version of the Antwerp Six from Belgium. I would love nothing more than to be part of a fashion movement coming out of the Bay Area.

What parts of San Francisco inspire your work?
My boyfriend's father has an interest in herbal medicine. He had done some research on the health benefits of a very particular Chinese root and couldn't seem to find it anywhere as he lives in a small town in Arkansas. He asked me if I could check Chinatown in San Francisco to see if they carry it. As I was walking back to my car one day I see a Chinese herbal medicine shop and step inside. There it was, sitting alongside this bag of what looked like little white chips with burnt edges. These little chips are beautiful and turned out to be dried sea coconut, a small dried fruit that you can throw in soup or tea I believe. That little bag of sea coconuts has inspired a whole collection. From the color, to the shape, to photographed images of it being digitally printed on fabric.

After the mushroom, what's your next inspiration?
I did a collection after the mushroom collection called "Tying the Knot", which first found its roots in the wedding dress I did for Lindsey Shook, [7x7's Marketing Director!]. It was based off a technique that I created sculpting around party balloons that were tied in knots. I have a weak spot for small natural things like fruits, vegetables and small flowers. So, as I mentioned above, my current collection is inspired by dried sea coconuts.

Favorite local spot?
A Cote on College Avenue in Oakland. Their frites and croque monsieur are nothing short of perfection!

What would you be doing if you weren't in fashion?
I think it would be pretty fun to be an Iron Chef!