Brimming with dedication and determination, Semhal Nasreddin a is Nigerian-born designer of Ethiopian and Eritrean heritage who pours her cultural experiences into powerful works of art. As the owner and head artist at SoulSky, her defined designs and bold use of colors tell stories of hope and life. Aisha Adkins chats with Nasreddin to find out how the artist uses her global experience to influence her work.
Where were you born? Where did you primarily grow up?
I was born Jos, Nigeria and was there for the first eleven years of my life. My parents are from Ethiopia and Eritrea — which was all Ethiopia, but underwent a massive civil war and it was decided one part would be called Ethiopia and the other Eritrea.
How do you identify in terms of nationality?
I would say I identify as all. My heart is in Nigeria but my family and my background is from Ethiopia/Eritrea. So I guess, I’m just African but more than that I feel like a global citizen.
Did you do any traveling growing up?
So far I’ve lived in Nigeria, Turkey, Italy, the United States, Tanzania, and Ethiopia. [My family] moved to Turkey because my dad and his brothers had a business in Nigeria. It was a family business. It had everything from cereal to textiles. They wanted to expand the company and go more into textiles. There were opportunities in Turkey. The following year my sister and I moved to Italy, where we had family. A year later, we moved to Atlanta in the eighth grade for educational purposes. We had a couple uncles here, so it made the most sense to come here. We have several family members here.
When did you decide to become an artist and designer? How did your family respond to your decision to pursue a creative career?
I wouldn’t say there was a definitive moment per se. Things kind of evolved in that direction. As a child I used to really enjoy drawing, and when I got older I had a passion for video editing and that kind of segued into graphic design. And with that I was able to express myself artistically in ways that were very fulfilling. That was about eight or nine years ago. Funnily enough, my mom studied art and graphic design when she was in college. Maybe I got it a little bit from her. [My family] was definitely supportive. They always wanted us to do what we love and what made us happy and just be the best at it.
How does your multicultural upbringing influence your designs?
My multicultural upbringing influences my designs as far as the different colors I use and the different themes I use (which will be more evident in future collections). My inspiration is my love for art and design. I also have a big love for animals. So I try to combine all of those things. It seemed like a natural progression to start my own brand.
What is the greatest cultural influence in your work? What message do you hope people receive when see your brand for the first time?
I guess it would be a combination of all, but maybe the use of color is mostly influenced from Africa ‘cause in general, if you look at the hundreds of thousands of different colors and designs – it’s always a celebration of color and a celebration of life in a way. I just want them to feel uplifted and positive and to believe in possibility. Just a general positive vibe.
What obstacles have you had to push past?
Now, the beauty of technology and the Internet is that if you have the drive and the passion, you can push pass. It’s not going to be easy, but with technology and e-commerce, you’ll always find an audience for what you do. As far as difficulties, it’s the usual growing pains, just trying to establish yourself as a brand and gain a following. Trying to save resources to create the brand and put out new lines. The hurdles are financial hurdles, but the advantages are the way you can use technology to reach people literally all over the world.
What advice do you have for any budding young designers?
I would say, first of all, the best thing to do is to make sure it’s something you’re passionate about and you feel connected to. Like anything else, they’ll be bumps in the road. If you’re not passionate, you’ll end up pouring a lot of energy and money into something you won’t pursue. Make sure it’s something you love so it’ll push you through the hard times. Find your own voice and be true to that. Don’t necessarily try to hop on the latest trends. You can be influenced by outside sources, but remember your voice – that’s what will attract your tribe. Study the industry as much as you can. Learn the structure of the business side as well, not just as an artist.
You can learn more about Soulsky at www.soulskybrand.com or on Facebook.