Sablā Stays is a true renaissance creative.
From her time in the fashion industry to graphic design and now art direction, she’s never allowed anyone, even herself, to put her talents in a box. Hailing from Far Rockaway, Queens, her design journey began at the High School of Fashion Industries as opposed to traditional high school, followed by Parsons School of Design – the only college that she submitted an application to.
This is indicative to who she’s always been. The self assured artist knew she would be in design since she was 11 and followed that path ever since. What she didn’t realize was that she would find herself working with one of the most beloved multi-hyphenate artists and consummate cool girl, Solange Knowles. Her current role is art director of Saint Heron, Solange’s creative agency. As her Instagram bio once read, “Ex-fashion designer, now graphic designer disguised as an art director,” Sablā didn’t necessarily think her career would take her where she is now, but she’s open to the beauty of change, which is clearly evidenced by another unexpected professional win, her life-changing grant from Instagram’s #BlackDesignVisionaries program.
She recently sat down with Essence to talk about her lust worthy career, her time working at Saint Heron and what led her to being recognized by Instagram.
Sablā , I read that you’d always envisioned going into fashion. What made you want to expand your artistry into other design areas?
While studying and working in fashion I constantly felt limited; that all my other artistic interests had to be in service to fashion to a point where I became quite resentful of it. Mind you this was during a time where I was studying Fashion Design at Parsons therefore everything I literally was doing had to draw a direct line back to a garment or at least fashion theory. I evolved to a place where my once upon a time vision of being a fashion designer evaporated. Thankfully I always had an artistic practice outside of fashion that ran linear to it, a lot even predated it.
What were your design influences growing up in New York?
There’s an energy I always seek out for my work to have, one that stems directly from my childhood growing up Black in New York. I remember vividly that warm yet enlightening feeling I used to get while looking at artwork, listening to music or being in certain environments as a child that I aim to replicate in my making process. For me my biggest influences were never tangible ones, always an emotion and spirit.
Tell me a bit about your journey to Saint Heron. Was it something you planned or was it just kismet?
Definitely kismet. In 2018 when I decided to leave fashion for good I took a month to myself to build out a graphic design portfolio and website all with the intention to send out a mass email to my network of peers, friends, mentors, etc. letting them know where I was at and what I was looking for. Amongst the group were people a part of the Saint Heron team. That mass email I sent out to probably 80+ people is what led me to an interview with Solange. It just so happened that I sent out that email while she was looking for a new Art Director and Designer to join the team.
Why was it important for you to apply for the #BlackDesignVisionaries grant?
This is the first grant I ever applied for that I felt centered designers like myself, even upon applying I honestly did not think I would win. I sometimes feel like my work doesn’t necessarily fit within the realms and rules of “graphic design.” The grant in itself symbolized another step in closing the gap of accessibility and equity I feel Black designers often find themselves at.
Why is this opportunity so critical for Black designers to know about?
I found myself one too many times (and still find myself) with the doubt if I’m right for something, when it comes to putting forth my work let alone my identity since the two are often quite intertwined. The subconscious undercurrent of that self imposed question is will this be “too black” or is this the space where I want to give my “blackness.” I think grants like these help Black designers feel safe to shell out such a sacred part of themselves and eradicate that very unfortunate common question we find ourselves asking.
What are your hopes for other Black creatives that are just starting out?
My hopes for other Black creatives starting out is to practice, practice, practice. Learn how to set healthy boundaries, take care of your mind and spirit because when those two aren’t aligned, your art won’t be. Lastly, appreciate that the most magical part of creating is the process it takes to get to the final product.