Textile Trailblazer Sina Pearson Plans Her Next Act

After running her own textile company for 25 years, the designer is now bringing her brand and inimitable creative process to Momentum Group.
Sina Pearson

Photography by Laurel Golio

For a full week every month, Sina Pearson flies out from New York City to Seattle, and transforms into a gardener. “My happiest moments are when I get out there and it’s 40 degrees and drizzling,” the textile designer says. “I can put on my Polartec gardening clothes and my Birkenstock plastic clogs, and tromp around in the garden and feel wet.” Pearson’s namesake textile company was acquired last year by Momentum Group, so she spends the rest of the month at Momentum’s minimalist showroom on New York’s Park Avenue. “It’s like left brain, right brain,” she says, insisting that pulling up weeds in Seattle and marking up fabric samples in New York are really two versions of the same mind-set of constant tweaking and iterating. “In the design process, you have to just let the fabric be what it wants to be. You can’t fight it. The same thing with gardening—if you plant something and it dies, it was never meant to be there.”

Pearson has something of a genius for bringing external influences into her long career, in which she has served as president and design director at Unika Vaev, cofounded the Association for Contract Textiles (ACT), and started her own textile company. Ideas drawn from her heritage (Swedish), travels (in person and through books and websites), and yes, gardening have figured prominently in the hundreds of high-performance contract textiles she has created over the years. They also helped shape her latest work—the Hi-Tech Overshot collection, which was unveiled at NeoCon this year.

Like most of Pearson’s work, this collection is very personal. Overshot refers to a weaving technique where longer weft threads create blocks of color on the fabric; it’s a traditional weave that young weavers still learn today. While translating those color blocks into Momentum’s collection, Pearson thought back to her days weaving at the giant Swedish Rya rug loom at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, where she was a graduate student in the early 1970s. For the colors of fabrics, she turned to the pale, sophisticated hues of Gustavian-style interiors in Sweden—a country that’s especially close to Pearson’s heart.

“My mother was a landscape designer—self-employed—and the daughter of Swedish immigrants,” she says. “I grew up under that cultural umbrella of being Swedish.” Not only was her first weaving teacher Swedish, but after graduating from Cranbrook, Pearson left for Stockholm in 1972 and studied at Konstfack until 1974. Those years were formative. “Sweden was always just part of our life,” she says.

Sina Pearson

Pearson at Momentum Group’s New York City showroom. The designer has already produced three collections in her new role.

So it should come as no surprise that her first leadership role was at a company with Scandinavian roots. In 1975, furniture entrepreneurs Sam Friedman and Pat Hoffman created a textiles division at their company, ICF Group, and named it for the chief supplier of their fabrics, a textile mill in Denmark called Unika Vaev. Five years later, they hired Pearson to head their growing contract textiles division, telling her to treat it as if it were her own company.

At Unika Vaev, Pearson mentored a generation of designers, including Dorothy Cosonas, who is now creative director of KnollTextiles and KnollLuxe. Following in the footsteps of earlier trailblazers like Florence Knoll, Pearson, like her contemporaries Susan Lyons and Suzanne Tick, pushed the boundaries of textiles’ colors, materials, and techniques. Their sure-footed work laid the foundation for today’s professionals. “The most important lesson I learned from Sina was the methodical and studied process of laying out a color blanket for a new textile,” Cosonas says. “It showed me that while you can be passionate about color, you still have to marry that passion with logical, meticulous decision making. In the end it is this combination that forms a distinct point of view in your work.”

In 1985, Pearson cofounded ACT because she felt that textile designers’ interests weren’t being represented by professional organizations in the furniture industry. “Over the years, it’s gotten to be this incredible organization, writing standards, handling legal and environmental issues,” she says, “far beyond anything that I could have ever visualized.”

By 1990, Pearson was ready to strike out on her own and founded Sina Pearson Textiles. “I think it goes back to my mother having her own business,” she says. “I just thought that’s what everyone did.” For 25 years, the company produced collections that reflected the industry need for high-performance materials while also bearing Pearson’s unmistakable personal style and influences drawn from her travels.

Nordic, her last collection for her own company (but now available through Momentum), is a case in point. In April 2014, Pearson and a group of her friends from around the world decided to rendezvous in Iceland in July 2015. “I had a whole year to prepare,” she says, and that’s what she did—poring over videos, listening to Icelandic music, obsessively following forums on TripAdvisor. She wanted to plan the trip so well that it would be a rich source of inspiration, and she’d be able to design a collection when she returned. In the end, “I did the collection while I was getting inspired. I couldn’t wait,” she says. Nordic launched at NeoCon in June 2015, before Pearson ever actually flew to Iceland. “It’s everyone’s favorite fabric because it has something to do with craft and folklore,” she says.

When Momentum Group acquired Sina Pearson Textiles, it was in part to bring this unique aesthetic into Momentum’s portfolio. Having worked with creative leaders like the artist Sheila Hicks and industry veterans Carl and Emanuela Magnusson, Momentum understood the need for a distinctive brand to join its stable of three textile companies. “Sina’s life journey is expressed through the textiles,” says Shantel McGowan, vice president of design at Momentum. “We are so pleased to have such an accomplished design figure sit amongst the Momentum Group design team to actively brainstorm and collaborate on new ideas.”

For her part, Pearson is excited to hand over her administrative responsibilities and be able to refocus on her creative vision. Travel is still a big part of her agenda. Her international jaunts will inspire the collections she will be designing each year—“Every trip, I average a thousand digital photos a week”—but she’s also traveling across the country to meet with architects and designers, to educate them through CEU courses and talk to them about how textiles ought to be designed and specified in an age when performance, sustainability, and wellness are becoming more important than ever before.

She is finding that younger audiences often want to hear about her design process. “So we sit down and unpack everything,” she says—her heritage, her travels, her passions. She talks to them about letting design ideas take root as naturally as plants do, and about embracing an attitude of exploration. “It’s not about having a straight line from point A to point C,” she says. “You can wander through your life and find satisfaction.”

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Categories: Design, Textiles

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