May 1st, 2016
Introduction by Laura La Rosa
Header Image by Jay EsPhotography
Based in The Bronx New York, Sunny Cheeba easily embodies that ultra-cool big sister you wish you had who lives to pay homage to all things outlandish and analogue.
Sunny founded and runs Cheeba’s Goods vintage clothing line which stemmed from an inherent love for thrifting and salvaging pre-loved, eclectic items. When she isn’t making ends meet and running Cheeba’s, in her ever quest to keep culture alive she also co-heads up Live From Underground, a music community that fosters a platform for local artists in The Bronx.
In awe of her style, art direction, and ability to build two uniquely progressive projects from the ground up, we were stoked to have caught up with her to talk about how she makes it all happen in any given week.
Your passion for vintage seems inherent; tell us about your earliest thrifting memories…
I remember it like it was yesterday! Around my neighborhood in the Bronx there used to be a huge salvation army that was the size of a warehouse. My mom would go in to get her latest thigh high leather boots and floor-length jackets. I remember running up and down the aisles trying on ridiculously huge fur coats, pretending to be as fabulous as my mom. I’d try on the costume hats, jewelry and sunglasses and prance around the place as if I were the next star to be born. That store closed over 15 years ago and was replaced by discount stores, but every time I walk by I remember running through those aisles with dreams of becoming the next queen of funk.
Word is you threw in your job to start up Cheeba’s. What was the defining moment that led to such a bold move?
That decision sprung from the desire to create something bigger than myself. When you’re working odd jobs to make someone else more successful, there comes a point where you want to be the one to call the shots. I’ve always felt the need for freedom in my work life; the freedom to create, the freedom to come and go as I please…but those are luxuries that don’t come with regular jobs. So one day I said to myself “Fuck it, your twenties are for taking risks, do what you love!” I hit up my designer friend Ariel with a vision of an alter ego and the rest was history – my alter ego was birthed. I took up all the vintage clothes that had been sitting in my room and priced them for my first pop-up shop at home, and that was the launch of Cheeba’s Goods.
“When you’re working odd jobs to make someone else more successful, there comes a point where you want to be the one to call the shots. I’ve always felt the need for freedom in my work life; the freedom to create, the freedom to come and go as I please…”
What can you share with us about your thrifting methods? And where does your buying ‘eye’ come from?
First thing’s first, I’m all about textures and patterns. I scan racks and bins for colors, silhouettes and patterns that jump out at me. If I see some iridescent or lace clothing sticking out of a pile I’ll grab it. Most of the time it will be something horrendous but when you find that needle in the haystack, it’s the best feeling. My eye for goods has developed from all the years of digging through bins for a bargain. I don’t believe in paying full price for most things.
You’re also an artist, photographer, and curator and co-founder of ‘Live From Underground’, can you tell us more about these projects?
I really started flexing my creative muscle when I reached the age of 18 and picked up a camera. Capturing the essence of fleeting moments and turning them into visual poetry is what I fell in love with. The ability to capture your experience of any given moment and share it with other people was something I’d never been able to do before. It was a time of really exploring my surroundings and possibilities. I frequented galleries and museums (alone and with friends) because the arts wasn’t something I was exposed to as a child. As I delved into the arts I started becoming friends with other creative going through similar journeys of self-expression.
In the midst of developing my craft, my friends and I started to realize that the neighborhoods we lived in did not have any outlets for us. We had to travel outside of our neighborhoods in order to meet other creatives and take part in shows. We knew there were people just like us who resided in the Bronx – artists in need of creative outlets. After my partner Rosangelica and I came back from SXSW in 2015 we knew it was time to create our own nirvana. In March 2015 we launched our first open mic at a local yoga studio in the Bronx. Since then we’ve curated over 25 open mics, music showcases and vinyl parties in our communities. Our network of friends has grown tremendously to the point where it literally feels like we are part of one big family in the underground. We have big plans to continue to grow, expand, and possibly even tour in the near future with the artists we’ve come together with.
You have a pretty rad film photography blog too. You’re obviously an avid lover of shooting on film…
Film is my guilty pleasure right now. And I only say that because of how expensive it’s become. I was introduced to the film world by my friend Demi Vera back in 2012 and since then I haven’t looked back. I think there’s something so precious about film that really makes a capture more meaningful. These days you can snap a picture on your phone and it probably gets lost in all of your digital files, but with film it’s forever. I take time with each shot I take and I’m more mindful of the moment. Some people will try to capture one moment over and over again, adjusting the light on their camera and it can completely take away from the reason you picked up your camera in the first place.
Growing up, my family was really big on capturing moment. There’s tons of family albums in my grandmothers house that I can pick up and time travel through these moments. Having something tangible holds a lot more value to me than skimming through a hard drive. I truly am an analogue girl stuck in a digital world. I collect books, vinyl, cassettes, old cameras and the like. You’ll never catch me reading a book on my phone. I understand how easy it is to do that but I like to feel the things I’m consuming – like being able to highlight and make notes in my book or choose a cd to put on as I clean my room without any ads.
“Having something tangible holds a lot more value to me than skimming through a hard drive. I truly am an analogue girl stuck in a digital world. I collect books, vinyl, cassettes, old cameras and the like. You’ll never catch me reading a book on my phone”
I’m really keen to know about your workplace(s) feels like, and what a typical day/week looks like for you…
At the moment I’m still living with my grandmother at home, but I’ll be moving out at the end of April with my boyfriend. Living in my bedroom at home means I have all my different outlets cramped into one space. On one side of the room I have all of my vintage clothes and shoes. On the other side I have my turntables, vinyl collection and cameras, and on the other side all my books and personal clothes. It’s been working well but it’s time for this butterfly to come out of her cocoon. With this space that we’ll be moving into we’ll both have the opportunity to create our own studio to work in, as we’re both artists.
These past two months have been nothing less than insane for me. I had to go back to working full time to bring in the funds I need to invest into Cheeba’s Goods, so I work about 4-5 days a week serving at a restaurant. On my days off I am constantly meeting with my partner Rosangelica to plan future showcases for Live from Underground, as well as meeting with prospective venues as our crowds continue to grow. Thursdays are my day to work on Cheeba’s. I meet up with a friend of mine who is also working on her own clothing brand and we brainstorm ways that we can better our brands, our work ethics, and ourselves. On days that I get off work early I meet with my uptown vinyl supreme crew to discuss new records we found and how to make our parties a more enjoyable experience while staying organized. So in short, I’m clocking in full time for the man and full time for myself. It’s easy to get distracted from the goal when you’re juggling more than one thing, but I’m learning more and more about finding my balance and creating time for each one of my crafts – be it organizing, curating, branding and enjoying life all at the same time… I’m a work in progress!
What advice would you give to anyone hungry to start something themselves, but perhaps apprehensive?
I would tell someone to not wait until they “know” what they want to do to start something. It takes trying a lot of different things to find out what you love or what you’re good at. Sometimes we put too much pressure on ourselves to have it all ‘figured out’ instead of just trying to see what works and what doesn’t. I’d also like to say that building something outside of yourself helps you recognize the work ethic that’s needed to be great professionally or personally. For example when I’m lazy with Cheeba’s Goods it reflects in my sales, but when I put in the work it thrives. It helps you recognize the strengths and weaknesses you need to work on – what you create is a reflection of you.