Sheron Barber roots and passion into custom pieces
Growing up in one of the poorer cities of the United States, SHERON BARBER witnessed poverty first hand ― little did he know that his unique perspective on versatility and durability would eventually fuel a streetwear design practice that now has celebs like Usher hitting him up for custom pieces.
If you know the brand DR14, you know their unique upscale streetwear collection characterized by eye-catching asymmetrical shapes, unmatched everyday accessories, and high-quality materials like leather designed down to the detail. You may not be as familiar with the man behind the vision, tho.
Today the designer constantly drops instantly recognizable leather pieces and produces one of a kind creations for A-list celebs ― all because of an insatiable desire to create and never-been-done-before original concepts. Thru it all, Sheron has never lost sight of the young beginner without a guide into the fashion industry that he once was, and seeks to provide that access for the next generation of creatives.
Tap play or scroll down for our chat with the designer on his past journey and next steps, plus everything in between.
Your brand, DR14, is a huge name when it comes to leather accessories ― how did it all start, and how does your personal history connect to the brand’s philosophy?
I think I always had a desire to make things. Early on I made screenprint t-shirts, and once that stopped being fulfilling I moved into cut and sew, and then into more experimental silhouettes ― as I progressed more I became fascinated with leather goods, bags and accessories. I think I have a natural knack to make things serve me more based on how I grew up. You know, I grew up in one of the poorest cities in the country, and I can remember only having two or three pairs of pants to last me an entire year. So now, when I design a pair of pants, it's important to me for those pants to be applicable to all situations. I think when I hit the point of starting DR14, it was important for me to be able to almost create a mood board utilizing items that were utilitarian in nature. I think a lot of that philosophy comes from my own experience.
“My childhood, wanting to have THINGS THAT LASTED AND COULD BE WORN OVER AND OVER AGAIN but still look cool and clean.”
We’re very inspired by your will to make lifetime pieces, so what is it about accessories like your many different bags that enables you to express your creativity? What's the biggest inspiration for you to create them?
It's wild, because I think my inspiration in making bags didn't necessarily come from where I started. I grew up in America, part of hip-hop culture, and growing up as a black man there weren’t many bag options. Women carry bags all the time and as a man it's like you only have a couple of options. You could carry a backpack or a duffel bag, and by the time I was getting a little older, more men wanted to carry bags, so they started creating male bags and fannies. Still, I felt like there was never a bag created that sat properly with the male physique. So, I started wondering, what bag can I make that’s small. You don't wanna walk around all day with a duffle bag, even commuting with a backpack can be a bit inconvenient, because you don't know the person who's behind you and you can't really watch your items. I really just started trying to figure out what kind of bag I could create that could inspire men to wanna wear bags and not feel feminine ― to not feel like their masculinity was in question just because they were carrying a bag. One day I was looking at a bulletproof vest and I was thinking about 50 Cent, I thought the image of 50 wearing this bulletproof vest seemed so cool and macho, and I thought about how cool it would be if I cut down a bulletproof vest and made it into a bag. I was picturing the functionality, I could put my phone here, my wallet here, I could put my cards here, and because it's on my chest, I could watch it. I could feel secure about it, my hands would be free, I could drive with it, I could put a jacket over or under it. I just ran to my shop and we started sewing the first Chest Rig, and I realized that this is a bag that men ― no matter how macho, how tough, how strong, or however they view themselves ― will wear this bag. That spark of imagination literally came from trying to shift the social construct, to create an opportunity for men to feel like "I can wear a bag without feeling feminine."
How do you think that leather and the slow, handmade process you’ve created help you achieve what you're looking for?
I fell in love with leatherwork. As a creator and a designer, the thing I appreciate most is process ― the process of knowing where leather comes from and then actually watching leather go through all these different steps, to the point where we're making a pattern, we're skiving the leather, we're backing the leather, we're making sure each stitch is on point. Plus, knowing that this item can potentially live in somebody's wardrobe for 30, 40 or 50 years. A really nice shirt you might keep for 10 years, a really nice pair of shoes might last you 5 or 10 years. But a really nice bag, you can keep for a lifetime and pass it down. Your mother, your father, they may have Louis Vuitton and Gucci bags, and they pass those bags down. You never get to a point where you throw that Dior bag in the trash and say ‘I'm never gonna wear it again.’ If I'm gonna make a leather good, I want the attention to detail to be so precise that a person will appreciate it for decades to come so it will stand the test of time.
“I think that's where I became fascinated with leather goods, THEY STAND THE TEST OF TIME AND COULD LAST A LIFETIME.”
The concept of using a product for generations is largely connected to sustainability, similar to your practice of reviving old garments that your clients no longer use with fresh life. How did you start making these customized pieces, and what does it mean to expand a product’s lifetime in such an artistic way?
As I recall, I pretty much invented this Chest Rig situation and it took off. I remember making one for Rihanna, one for Drake, one for Quavo, one for 21 Savage ― and it really started to catch wind. At this point I wasn't really doing a lot of upcycling, I was using different leathers, different exotic materials. Then I had a client who wanted to make one that's really special, and as we talked about what it could potentially be made of, I told him we could use anything. Then he started to tell me a story about how his mother had passed away and had given him her bag collection. He had a Goyard tote that had belonged to her and I said "You know what would be really cool, I could use her Goyard tote and make you a Chest Rig.", because he basically had a bunch of her feminine handbags that he couldn't use anymore. So, by taking her Goyard tote and then turning it into something that he could wear, he felt closer to his mom, I was able to repurpose and recycle that. It was really cool to be able to do that, at the time I didn't think it would spark a whole wave of people wanting me to upcycle designer bags, it was just a one-off. But, when I did that, I think it attracted a new market of people who were just excited to see me cutting luxury goods. It created a whole tidal wave. One of the very first Chest Rigs I made was made of a personal friend’s old backpack, and we reused all of the embellishments off the original piece. I actually still have it in the archives and have been holding on to it. With this shift, I think people already knew that I was a leatherworker and could make cool things out of leather, but now it's like, "Oh, you make cool things out of leather and you can repurpose stuff in my closet that I don't use anymore." It just went even more crazy after that.
How does it feel to have so many celebrities, but even more than that, so many people in general relate to your brand philosophy?
I’m still a huge fan of art and culture myself. So, it's funny because some of the people who I really look up to call me on a daily basis for things and every once in a while it still blows my mind. Like, last night Usher FaceTimed me, he said he needed my help with something and asks me over to his studio, and I rush over and he's like "I got a concept for a sneaker and I know you can do it last minute, cause I know got all the tools at the crib, right?" And as I agree I realize that Usher himself really just FaceTimed me to make a product, and he's like a friend at this point. I'm really flattered by it, I'm just appreciative to have a gift that I can share with people and for people to identify with it and be willing to work with me. I'm just honored, I aspire to be good at what I do, and I think that when people you admire accredit you for being good at what you do, it serves as a form of validation. It's like if you were a singer, and you get a call from an artist you admire wanting you to hop on their track, it's like, "Wow, they really want me to hop on a track! That means that they appreciate the work that I do.", and I appreciate it because some products I have were worked on for like 120 hours. So, when a person sees that and they appreciate it, whether it be a celebrity or just a person that just appreciates quality, it's always flattering.
You make your craft a very tangible and accessible thing for the general public through Instagram ― why is it so important to share your creative process?
For me personally, I love the process, I think it’s the thing I'm most intrigued by. If I watch a car being built, I love watching them machine the metal, because it gives you a unique perspective of genuine understanding. When I started out, there was no reference point ― like, if you wanted to be a painter, you would watch Bob Ross and say, "Oh wow, this is how you paint!" When I wanted to do fashion, there was no blueprint or video to watch that showed you how to get into the industry, and there was definitely no video that showed you how to design and craft things. I think I put a lot of what I do on social media because I wanna inspire the youth. I really want them to see what I made and how I made it, you know? I can make a vest for Teyana Taylor and I can just show you Teyana Taylor wearing the vest, and the response could be "Oh, this guy Sheron is really cool, he makes stuff for Teyana Taylor." But for me, I wanna show the kid how I did it ― I had an idea, or she came to me with an idea, we shared the concept then put it on paper and next we actually gathered the resources that we needed. From there it was a four, five six, step process to actually create something, and then you see me actually put it on the person. I think that just shows kids that they can do it too, that it's possible and well within reach. And sometimes, when you actually see the process, you think "I can do that! I could do something similar to that.", and it becomes a reference point for a person who wants to jump into the craft. It’s important for me to inspire kids and give them a reference point that I felt like I didn't have when I was trying to break into the industry.
Is this the message that you want to send to future creatives, that they can do whatever they want and everything is possible?
Absolutely. I think that's probably the most important thing for me. I feel like as human beings, we all have things in our head, whether it be music, art, philosophy ― and I think that in your lifetime, it's your responsibility to figure out how to get these ideas out of you and put them back into the world for humanity to experience. Teaching that skill to kids at early ages, so that by the time they're 20 they already know how to get an idea out into the world, it's important to me.
With an inspiration like SHERON, creatives of the future are set up for success.
Get to know more of your faves (and their faves too) with more [metcha originals].