Guided by Passion: An Interview with Saleena Titus
Designer, model, photographer, and overall beautiful creative, Saleena Titus is one of the DMV’s most passionate emerging artists. With the launch of her brand SAL.T, Saleena has been busy designing her next collection, curating visuals, and balancing her life as a student.
While taking a break between shoots, Saleena caught up with me at Maketto to share her story over some croissants. We talked about what it’s like to grow up as an odd ball, how she was able to shed negativity, and how we can all better navigate the tensions of today. I’m glad to be sharing an insight into the mind of such a talented person, but also a newly found source of inspiration of mine. Saleena is a light that reminds us how bright we can shine when we truly begin to embrace ourselves.
Now here’s a glimpse of that light…
Thank you so much for coming out again. Let’s get started with introducing yourself to the people.
Hi, my name is Saleena Titus. I'm born and raised in Virginia and I’m a creative.
Could you tell me a little bit about how life was growing up for you?
It was different. All the people that I hang out with now, have all grown up in New York and D.C. — people who are from the city, but I grew up in the country pretty much [laugh]. I was home schooled, so people would call me “the weird girl”. I was only home-schooled a year but still, living in Lorton, which is very small with just a bunch of horse fields, going to high school was a big culture shock. High school was really crazy for me.
When did you first notice your creative talents?
My love for fashion? I’d say probably my 10th grade year in high school and it was after I joined my fashion/advertising class. My teacher pushed me to go outside of my creative “box”, because I always had it. I would always think differently, wear something that people would make people say “What are you doing?”, but then it became my own style and people were like “oh that's just - that’s just Saleena’s style” like “that’s how she rolls”. But, if it wasn’t for her then I don’t think I would be where I am today.
What exactly did she push you to do that was outside your creative box?
Well outside of just like doing normal class activities and stuff, her and I would go on field trips with this other girl Kalea. Later on, her [Kalea] and I put on our school’s fashion show that was canceled three years before, but we brought it back. So, we would all go on little field trips outside of class, and going to New York with her was a really big like “This is what I want to do” moment. We went to The New School and Parsons School of Design. Then we went to a bunch of cool fashion galleries, and stuff like that. But that’s what really pushed me.
What are your thoughts on the D.C. scene as a whole compared to say New York or other big cities?
As much as I love the DMV, there’s not a lot of room for growth. So like what I plan to do, I know that I can’t do that while in D.C. or Virginia, because when I am here I mostly spend my time in D.C. to get anything done. In Virginia there’s literally nothing to do. Mainly because everyone’s mindset is on a different path, and that’s okay, everyone’s on their different path, but it’s not the path that I want to be on and there’s not much for that where I am. A lot of stories that I hear of people starting at nothing and then becoming something… it happens in New York. There’s just a lot more opportunities there, I feel.
So you said you couldn't do what you wanted to in D.C. What do you want to do?
So I have my brand SAL.T and I started it I wanna say 5 months ago. Pretty much it’s just a platform of all my ideas. Right now, it’s just accessories but come January I’m going to be starting my clothing collection for females first. So that’s my goal and I plan to turn that into something big while living in New York. BUT, I’m going try to start my base here and grow from there.
What idea was SAL.T born out of?
To be honest… so I’ve always loved fashion and I’ve always loved all this… but honestly what pushed me to do SAL.T, and I've never said this to anyone [laughs] but its okay you can use it! So, I was in a relationship with someone for quite some time… or not even, just for a little bit of time and...it was not the healthiest relationship. As soon as I got out of it, I realized I needed to do something for myself, and I would have never done that if we were still talking, or dating, or whatever, because it was kind of a very self-oriented relationship. I was kind of living through the other person. So me, being on my own, I was like "I'm going to do something that I can make myself out of". So that's how SAL.T came about and yeah [laughs]. I'm really happy and I'm somewhere that I would have never thought I’d be like four months or six months ago. I never would have thought that I’d be here, but a lot of good shit came out of it [laughing], sorry.
Wow something so beautiful—
Came outta of something that wasn't so beautiful [laughs].
Yes [laughs]. Now how do you want people to feel when they wear something from the line?
So what SAL.T means, it’s S-A-L dot T, is “Saleena” dot “Titus”. The origin of my name means ‘to flow with salt water’. With that, I picked SAL.T because when you add salt to food, you're adding that component to the food to make it flavorful. So SAL.T is just to be added to your style. A lot of the pieces are not your typical jewelry pieces. I use a lot of hardware and I don't go to jewelry stores to get any of the material. I go to Home Depot and all these other places where you'd be like, "Oh I'd never find something to make jewelry from this store!” you know what I mean. So it’s supposed to make you feel different. It's supposed to make you feel however you want to feel. When I was growing, I always used to be like "I can't wear that because I'll be seen as different". I didn't have the confidence to be like "I want to wear that", even though in my head I wanted to wear it, I just couldn’t step pass that invisible line. So I want anyone to be able to feel like they can wear this. That's why even with my shoots, I use different looking models and I use different settings or like I have someone wearing it in a fancy ass setting versus like a grungy ass setting. Anyone can wear this. It's not geared towards one specific person or one group of people. I hated feeling like that when I was younger so I didn't want anyone to feel like that. Also brands now, be like “You can't wear that!” “You're not stylish enough!” or like “That's outta your lane!”, but I think anyone can wear anything. If you wanna rock it. You can rock it.
That’s tight. Switching gears a little bit, could you tell me about your cultural background?
Like ethnicity wise? So I consider myself a mutt [laughs] because my dad is Panamanian and Norwegian and Irish, and then my mom is Puerto Rican, Italian, Maltese, and Irish – something like that. So I'm just like a big mix of everything. I pretty much just tell people that I'm Panamanian, Puerto Rican and Italian because that’s like the three main things.
Oh wow that’s beautiful. Do you think any of those cultures have had an influence in your work?
No because... so I draw my inspiration from stuff that actually happens and situations and scenarios – using a perspective from my own eyes to just looking at things. So for instance, two years ago I pulled like a lot of inspiration when I went to Italy. I pulled a lot from that and just tried to do work through that. This summer I’m going to Ghana, so I plan to pull stuff from that and do a lot of projects over there.
Do you feel like the creative community in D.C. is pretty supportive and welcoming?
It’s very welcoming depending on who you're talking to. Like someone that is trying to be the best, may not be very welcoming as someone else would. But, I've met some very supportive people that are trying to do what I'm doing. We build off one another and we're just both people who are trying to hustle. That's how we relate and that's how we live in that whole world together. We're not competitive towards each other because we're both in our own lane doing our own thing. If we were kind of like copying off each other, bouncing back and forth, I would be like "No, that's not what's going to happen here”. But, I don't see that happening. I'm working on a New York platform right now. I have a good friend that's living in New York and she's trying to bring me into that world. I actually/hopefully, have a pop up coming up in New York soon. So hopefully that works out because I want to start networking myself and get my foot in the door.
A lot of things have begun surfaced after this political shift. How do you see things and how do you navigate through it all?
I just always try to treat everyone equally. I don't like when people say, "I don't like white people". I really hate when people say that, because for instant, my stepdad is white – a whole half of my family is Italian. People are like "they're white", but they were immigrants too, bruh. You can't just put everyone into this little box. I feel like everyone has just fought and no one wants to listen to anything. I have to be careful when I say stuff like this, but everyone's been on this like, "Fuck Trump, fuck this" like going out crazy, looting, and this and that. I don't think one person can ruin our entire country and what we’ve build, you know what I mean. Obviously, what we've been building on is not the best thing because we're here now, so obviously something went wrong. But at the same time, everyone doesn’t need to be like “fuck this person” so much. If everyone just cooperates together then, it's going to be OK. Obviously he's the most immature bastard ever – he acts like a child. But if we all work together and elect the right people in the Senate and in Congress, we will be OK. We don't need to be like "Fuck this person!”, “We don't like this person, so we're not going to listen” or “We're not going to do anything civil”. It just adds to the fire. Some of the things he says are not all the way bad if you actually listen. I'm a public relations class and as much as my teacher hates Trump, we listen to the content of what he is saying. Not everything is super bad. The majority of what he says is stupid and he doesn't make sense, but some of the stuff is like, “OK, he actually makes sense – maybe we give him a chance with that”. But even if you say that to anyone they're like, "I can’t fuck with you anymore" like "nope, sorry, bye." Then you're being the person that's causing this fuel that does not need to happen. There doesn’t need to be this constant fuel between everyone because it’s just causing separation. Everyone should just listen: sit down, calm down, and actually listen. Not all Trump supporters are bad. I know some Trump supporters and they’re really not anti-black or anti-colored people at all. They’re actually colored people. So, it’s weird, but I still respect you as a person. It’s just different views that people have.
I totally feel that. But lets try and wrap things up on a positive note [laugh]. What advice would you give girls, or anyone, on building confidence for themselves? It feels like you have been really working and growing that.
You just need to step back, realize that your love for yourself should over come everything else. And if you have an idea, and you want it to come to life, then don’t let anything get in the way of that— you just need to keep pushing. Within these five months I have been so impatient, like I have no patience what so ever, so things haven’t been so smooth. I wanted things to go from something to nothing so fast, but it takes time. So with me just starting and nothing happening, I get in this creative block, but them I tell myself, “Saleena, you JUST started. You just need to keep pushing." So honestly I’d just say keep pushing and if you have a vision... if you believe you can make something out of nothing then you should just go for it and love yourself. I ignored that completely and I literally lived through someone else and realized like “Wow, that was shitty” and now that I have so much love for myself I can actually see growth. Before I wouldn’t even know what’s happening because I was sorta lost in the sauce.
So don’t get lost in the sauce [laugh]?
YES, don’t get lost in the sauce! [laugh]
Cool, and lastly where can we keep up with you?