Occasionally we have the privilege of getting to know our customers on a personal level, and Samara Saykin is one of those we were lucky enough to meet and learn about beyond her fashion interests. We sat down with Samara at The Smith in Nomad and chatted about her life interests, where she gets her inspiration from and the importance of helping those less fortunate.
Where do you live?
I live in New York, the greatest city in the world.What do you do?
I am a Care Manager at the not-for-profit organization Housing Works (a healing community of people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS whose mission is to end the dual crises of homelessness and AIDS through relentless advocacy, the provision of lifesaving services, and entrepreneurial businesses that sustain our efforts).How have you been successful in combining your two passions of social work and fashion within your career?
I began my social work journey practicing clinical social work as a grad school intern at a psychiatric center and then I went on to practice psycho-therapy at a clinic. Lured by the opportunity and magic of New York, I moved here determined to use my skills to help the homeless and the chronically ill.
After a brief stint at Bloomingdale's, I was hired by Housing Works to help address the social and medical issues of New Yorkers in need living with HIV/AIDS. Because of the culture of the organization and the location - in the heart of SoHo - Housing Works has been the catalyst fueling both my love for fashion and advocating for those within the organization’s community.
During my 2nd year working for the organization, I developed a strong desire to add relief and empowerment to the population through launching the clothing drive project Chic for Relief - a place where New Yorkers in need have the equal opportunity of directly hand-picking new designer clothing which is donated by fashion brands and retailers, including NOTTEVERA, which is one of our clothing donation partners.
By personally reaching out and networking with clothing retailers and distributors the project has been able to provide New Yorkers in need with quality brands. I was quite surprised how responsive and interested the retailers were in their efforts to contribute to the project. I believe Chic for Relief also provides the fashion retailers with the opportunity to help people in need while enhancing the respectability of their company. The project has been such success because of my natural compassion for people in combination with my love for fashion and networking. I truly believe fashion through its art form can contribute to lifting one's spirit and improving self-confidence. I consider myself fortunate to have found a place where I can pursue both of my passions.
How can I get involved in contributing to people in need?
First, ask yourself what social problem in this world has deeply touched you or has caused you profound frustration. You can help in many ways. You can volunteer your time and effort directly to services that are needed, you can give in-kind donations to charity such as Chic for Relief, you can participate in advocacy for the cause, or you can make a financial donation to help sustain programs for those in need.
What chic icons have you adopted your sense of style from?
One of my fashion icons is human rights activist and former Studio 54 socialite Bianca Jagger for her iconic style. Her quote “I don’t want to wear what every other woman wears” perfectly represents how my mother and aunts exhibit their fashion sense. From an early age, I became a fashionista, following my aunt, Marianna Heusler (Upper East Side resident and author of the mystery, No End to Trouble). I was always begging to wear her one-of-a-kind glamorous pieces that she either created herself or found in unusual shops. A portion of my wardrobe consists of many unique vintage pieces that have been passed down from my mother, aunt, or grandmother. Another source of inspiration for me is Bessie Kalfa, an interior design innovator, who was part of the late 1970's cafe society and social scene. I've been very lucky to have had the opportunity to meet her and learn from her personal guidance.
What book are you reading now?
As busy as life is today, I still find time to indulge in reading a few chapters from a book called In The Seventies: Adventures in the Counter-Culture. I find it quite fascinating how many correlations there are between that era and the issues that are going on today. I am also drawn to Murder at St. Polycarp - an interesting story about a murder at a Catholic school. Ever since I was a small girl, I've had vivid memories about my experiences as former Catholic school student and chapters within the book transport me back into that world.
My taste in restaurants varies greatly from a fresh catch brought directly from the Aegean Sea, to Milos Restaurant on west 55th street, to the fresh fruit wagon on East 72nd which offers succulent sweet mangoes. I'm very fortunate to be in a city that offers it all and well.
What do you enjoy most about living in the greatest city in the world?
First and foremost, there’s no other place I’d rather be. Living within the high energy of Manhattan has given me the opportunity to reinvent myself. The notion that I can just leave my building and explore endless options at any moment is a true luxury. I love people-watching, restaurants, learning about different causes and cultures, enjoying boutique hotel visits, conversing with random people and discovering what their passions are, indulging in Saturday trips to museums, and having the opportunity to be working within the heart of SoHo. New York has truly given me the freedom to be who I really am.