✂️ Designing the weird of Portland with Sundari Franklin

It’s Wednesday. 

And you know what that means: We’re getting weird today.

Each week, we’re highlighting and celebrating elements of Portland’s wonderful weirdness in collaboration with the amazing folks at Weird Portland United (WPU).

If you haven’t read them yet — you can find our February Weird Wednesdays here, where we interviewed The Unipiper, local artist Cedar Lee, and The Portland Sleestak. And if you missed last week’s interview with magician Spencer Sprocket, peep at that here.

This week, we are going for a long walk through mysterious and eerie woods, with a silken cape dragging through the leaves behind us, wearing whimsical and ethereal garb with a local weirdo and wizard of design, a queen of making the old new again, a goddess of eco-friendly fashion: designer Sundari Devi Franklin of Minnie Opal.

What follows is our interview, edited for length and clarity.

Mind telling me a little bit about yourself and the work you do that adds to Portland’s weirdness? 

I’m a fashion designer who specializes in upcycled clothing. Everything I make has had a previous life and I just give a new one — a renewal.

I started making masks during the pandemic and donating them — over a dozen of them. I sent them to nurses in Texas, Virginia, and Colorado. I also sent some to the Navajo community, because they were getting hit pretty hard during the pandemic — that community is very close to my heart from my days living in Mexico.

Upcycling is a huge part of Sundari’s art and design. (Model @pariscamillec; HMUA @reneejbeauty; 📸: @bjorkette

How long have you been practicing your weirdness here in Portland, and what got you interested?

I’ve been designing for the past 20 years, but really the last three years it started to take off. I had been making some stuff and I had a model friend me on Facebook. I started looking through her feed and saw this fashion show coming up. I reached out to the show’s producer and he invited me to do that show.

After that show, I started to notice other fashion shows around Portland and became more involved in the fashion community. This started to lead to awards and larger shows. Portland Fashion Awards had an “Emerging Designer Award” and I thought “That is what I want. I’m going to be that next year.”

I worked and worked and worked, I networked, and built this amazing community of models and photographers. Suddenly my work was being photographed and my designs were evolving. With the competition aspect it gave me a new kind of drive to just hone my craft and let my art be my life. I appreciated this because for a lot of artists, you also have to work on the side to support what you do — and it felt like such a gift to just create my art and watch it become something so much better.

One of Sundari’s designs for 2020 involved creating ornate plague doctor masks. (📸: @kickassdesigns; Mask pattern from Vex FX)

How did you get involved with the folks at Weird Portland United? 

It was amazing to know I was nominated for a WPU Keep Portland Alive award. I had known about the nomination — and I felt really blessed. I was making these masks for the community to stay alive, and that was it — I wasn’t charging anything or trying to get anything out of it. I was just trying to keep people alive. And to know I could possibly win a grant — I had never won anything so part of me was like, “What?”

It touched my soul in a very special way that THIS is what community is about. You get back what you put out into the universe. And you don’t always get it back the way you want, or you think you will. I’m pretty sure I cried (when I heard the news that I had been nominated) and felt very special. When the first round was determined, I was informed that I hadn’t won the first round, but Weird Portland United reached out and told me “don’t worry, there is going to be another round, and I am really pulling for you.” To have someone in my corner who valued me — even a stranger — it felt incredible to have someone pulling for you.

When I learned I had won in 2020, I cried again. I was at a point in my art where I needed that kind of support and funding. I had started a boutique in December and I was putting down money on a lot of festivals, but I wasn’t seeing a lot of return on that. It felt like the world was crumbling for everyone.

To be blessed with the award money — I was able to put that back into making masks for people, and it helped to continue the work I was doing.

What big bad wolf? (Model @ballerina_boss; hmua @reneejbeauty;

photographer @kickassdesigns)

What does contributing to the wonderful weirdness of Portland mean to you?

Weird is awesome. I grew up in a rural town and I was the “weird one.” And being in Portland, I wasn’t the only “weird one” but I was still “weird.” To be part of that community, to be recognized for my weirdness, my oddness, my art, it was very validating. It was like “I can be whoever I want to be, and people here will honor that and let me walk my path in beauty.”

Portland didn’t leave me feeling judged — I didn’t feel I had to be anything other than what I was. I love that the artist communities, and the weird community here honors the individuality of people.   

Unique and original. (Model @plusmodelkeria; #ninasphotograghy)

Where can folks find you online, and do you have any upcoming events, news, things you want to shout out?

Things are pretty clear in my schedule right now!

I have a few festivals lined up for next year, one of them is the Marry Me Wedding Night Market in April. It’s definitely for the unconventional bride to be. I’ll set up my mobile boutique and be selling my wedding and bridesmaids dresses. 

You can find Sundari on Facebook, Instagram, and support her work on her Etsy page

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