’tis the Season for Comfort & Joy
When asked who taught her to sew, fashion designer Arlinda McIntosh chuckles, “Hey, I’m a Black girl., I think my Mom taught me at birth LOL ” Indeed. Today, the New Jersey-based founder of Sofistafunk, a bricks-and-mortar and digital studio offering McIntosh’s unique, hand-sewn skirts and dresses, lives by the mantra, “Life Is A Gift Meant for Celebration.” Her creations are wildly whimsical, versatile in their wearability, but what seems to define these brightly colored stitchings is a sense of memory, remembered past, resonance. More than anything else, wearing Sofistafunk is an invitation to emancipate yourself from any preconceived notions of what “age’ means.
Her boutique, she explains, came to be unintentionally. “I married in my early 20s,” she says, “and then I became a single parent unintentionally. I was working for a cable company at the time, and the rent was due. One of my friends said, ‘Why don’t you just make something, and I’ll buy it?.” So she did. With less than $30 in her pocket, she bought denim and sewed then distressed a few dresses for friends. She took $5 from the pot for five strands of pearls which she presented to her buyers when they arrived to make their purchase. “This quickly turned into what I started calling “Wine And Cheese Fashion Affairs”, except there was no wine, and no cheese LOL” she says, recounting how guests were served Welch’s white grape juice and bunches of green grapes. An early client was recording artist Faith Evans, who had admired a dress Arlinda had sewn for herself and was wearing at church, a floor length green jersey fabric with sleeves that touched the floor. A call from Sean Combs’ Bad Boy label followed a few days after he saw Faith wearing a shorter version of it that Arlinda created. To name a few others Heavy D, Queen Latifah, Erykah Badu became clients during the 90s when Arlinda’s business centered around the music business. In 2006 She opened her New Jersey lifestyle boutique occupying two floors of a Victorian house, even creating a parlor for gentlemen to relax and wait while the ladies shopped, and took Sofistafunk to the digital realm in 2007.
Her creative spirit made itself known much earlier in life, however. Raised in North Carolina by a minister mother, she recalled the first day of middle school,”…and everyone was wearing this plaid pleated skirt with a yellow sweater. I didn’t like that we all wore the same and similar outfits so I told my mom about it. Later in the week, I noticed our kitchen curtains and loved the rooster pattern so I took it upon myself to take them down and make myself a skirt and wore it to school the next day.” (I did have to answer to my Mom about that but it went ok:). Boisterous roosters are still a favorite motif when Arlinda is shopping for fabrics. This rustic image ties her designs to a deeply rooted experience. Ditto for her signature garment called “The Gathering,” a skirt inspired by her female family members and friends she watched as they picked cotton in North Carolina. Tucking the front of the skirt into the waistband instantly forms a practical pocket. A few more folds and tucks convert the skirt into a loose-fitting, superfly pair of trousers.
She now shares her adventurous spirit with others through her “Older Is Bolder” workshops, one of which is offered on mypeppermint.com.
“In my youth I’d daydream about being older,” she laughs. “Seriously, I’d hear my elders talk about this grown lady menopause thing and it intrigued me so I wanted to know more about it, gray hair and the whole aging thing. ” The key to her buoyant attitude is the willingness to ride the waves of uncertainty that define life at any age. Life, she says, is not so much short as it is unpredictable. Life, like fashion, is just fabric: what matters is how you style it and wear it. For Arlinda, one of the greatest compliments any woman can give or receive is, “I love your style.” She explains that she doesn’t “dress up”– she merely dresses for what she calls “the Day-Gala,” and she does wear makeup when she feels like playing with it but doesn’t always. Beet juice, ginger, turmeric and water to restore her spark from within. “I don’t know when I won’t be able to dance, play and blow bubbles,” says Arlinda, “so I’m just doing as much as I can now.”