We sat down with The Nook’s resident poet Nisha Patel to talk fashion, art, politics, and her feisty stage persona SalT (pronounced Salty). Read on to learn more about this ambitious babe.
Back when we decided to conduct interviews for our blog, Nisha’s name came up in conversation. She has incredible style and her poetry is both relatable and beautiful. When we first reached out to her, we were overjoyed when she replied. Like. Girl is busy. We thought we’d be lucky if we could sit down with her in May, but she made time for us. (Thanks again, Nisha!) We were so excited to meet with her, so we could pick her brain on her fashion choices and inspiration.
Salty Mars: What makes you salty?
Nisha: What makes me salty? Men. All the time. All the men. Fathers. Brothers. Boyfriends. Ex-boyfriends. I think a lot of my learning to love myself was in response to the way men have treated me. And I had to really think my way out of really toxic thought patterns that I think have just been dictated by men. You know? And so, my being a salty person, a lot of it comes from just overcoming all these negative forces that I think are often working against women.
Salty Guadalupe: And how do you feel that has affected the relationships that you have with the men who have historically been the ones to dictate these thought patterns?
Nisha: I think I come off as a fairly aggressive person and so it’s been really interesting re-navigating old relationships, especially coming into more self-confidence. Because you can see that there’s resistance on the part of men who want to treat you the way they’ve always treated you. So, it’s been very interesting and there’s been pushback, but at the end of the day I don’t have time to be anyone other than who I want to be. And so, I just have to keep moving forward with that.
Salty Guadalupe: Have you found that because people are used to behaving a certain way towards you, and this is typically something that goes on for years, that you have to limit those relationships and protect certain parts of yourself in order to engage with them?
Nisha: For sure. I think most women grow up catering themselves to the men around them and hiding parts of themselves or choosing which parts to display to make the most of their relationships. And I definitely grew up doing that and sometimes still fall into the same patterns because they’re useful and they’re familiar, even if they’re not the most honest or the ones that make you love yourself the most. So, yeah, I definitely feel I navigate a lot of different spaces, both as an artist and as a woman, and as a young woman, as well, that I often don’t give myself enough credit for.
Salty Guadalupe: Do you have any fashion icons?
Nisha: Yeah. I really like Mindy Kaling’s style. That’s where I learned that you can wear multiple patterns at once. Very useful to my growth as a fashionista. I also really like Korean street fashion. So, like, a lot of street wear has been really influential for me lately. And I really like high femme. You know, ultra-feminine wear and, like, I like taking a few elements of high femme and then mixing it in with street wear or with more casual wear just ‘cause in Edmonton you can’t walk around full-time in high femme, despite what I want. So, it’ll be like, one fur scarf or a little bit of a lace collar, you know? So, you’ll take bits and parts of it.
Salty Guadalupe: Yeah. In this city, do you find that people comment on [your fashion sense] freely?
Nisha: I find that people will stare. Often. Especially because I’m a plus-sized woman, so a lot of people have preconceived notions that if you’re plus-sized, you can’t be fashionable or that you’re not allowed to indulge in fashions that are trendy. Like, you have to wear the same type of fashion all the time. And I’m very experimental in my style, so I often find it incredibly frustrating to deal with people’s stares. But at the same time, you can’t deny how you want to dress and what you’re feeling that day. And fashion is a reflection of my mood and my impulses and I’m used to expressing myself publicly now, so I just get used to it.
Salty Guadalupe: What’s your favourite thing to wear right now?
Nisha: Probably my fur scarf. It’s a fake fur stole that I got in a used clothing store in Osaka, so that is my favourite item of clothing right now.
Salty Mars: So, would that be part of a go-to outfit?
Nisha: Honestly, you can wear fur with any jacket whatsoever. And it kind of makes your head look bigger. So if you have big hair, you just walk down the street and everyone looks at you. (laughs) If you’re feeling in that kind of mood.
Salty Guadalupe: What’s your favourite kind of shoe?
Nisha: Well, I really like these Kate Spade ankle boots that I have, and they’re covered in glitter. So, they’re super uncomfortable, but they’re so pretty. And I hate how they make me feel—but they look so good.
Salty Guadalupe: (laughs) So you hate the way they make you feel, but you loooove the way they make you feel.
Nisha: Yeah. They’re deeply uncomfortable. They have no arch support whatsoever, but they’re so cute.
Salty Guadalupe: I have a pair of shoes like that, too.
Nisha: (laughs) Other than that, I have some Steve Madden hi-tops that are completely silver. They look they’ve been spray-painted in silver. I got those in Las Vegas at an outlet store. And those are a really fun, loud item that I to wear for no reason whatsoever. (laughs)
Salty Guadalupe: Do you really need a reason, though, to feel fabulous?
Nisha: You don’t need a reason to feel fabulous, but sometimes I feel I have to earn silver hi-tops. (laughs) Like, is this going to be a day where I can walk around like this?
Salty Mars: I feel that, actually. There are times when you don’t want that kind of attention.
Nisha: Yeah. Honestly. Like, I didn’t consider myself someone interested in fashion until I went through some pretty hard times. And after that I decided that if I looked good from the outside, that maybe I would feel better on the inside. And, like, I just haven’t looked back. It completely changed my entire perspective on how much I’m worth and how good I feel about myself. And yeah. It’s just been a really good way to appreciate who I am.
Salty Guadalupe: I think that’s awesome. That’s super rad! A girl I met in university taught me that the days when you feel the worst are the days you owe it to yourself to dress up.
Nisha: Yeah. I feel that.
Salty Guadalupe: So, that’s self-care. And so now when I have a really bad cold, or if I really don’t feel well and I have to go out and see people, I feel I try extra hard because I’m like, “I don’t feel great, but I don’t want you to know that.”
Nisha: Yeah. I mean then I show up and I’m like, “Oh, feel like shit.” And people are like, “Well you don’t look it!” (laughs)
Salty Guadalupe: Exactly.
Nisha: And I’ll be like, “Yes!” Finger gun. Just being able to control how I look has been super empowering to me.
Salty Mars: Is there a local designer that you follow in the city?
Nisha: I’m a fan of Workhall—but like, a lot of boutique places in Edmonton, the sizing can be hard for plus-size fashion. And so, I usually go with stuff that looks brand-less? Like, it doesn’t look like it came from a certain brand, unless I’m very deliberate about that. And so, locally, Workhall is one of my favourites, but of course, only if the sizing works out in my favour. (laughs)
Salty Guadalupe: So who’s your favourite high fashion designer?
Nisha: Right now, I’m really into Vêtements. Like, the French designer.
Salty Guadalupe: You have excellent taste!
Nisha: I just love most of the stuff that they put out.
Salty Guadalupe: What is it about them that you like?
Nisha: I find that they take a really good approach to incorporating, like… I wanna say, pop culture? You know? So, they’ll use art in their pieces, or will do uneven pieces that almost look like street art sometimes, or something you would see on a wall. And so, like, I find a lot of their clothing looks like street art or artwork and so I really like that about their clothing.
Salty Guadalupe: What’s your favourite place that you’ve traveled to?
Nisha: Oh, Japan. Without a doubt. (laughs) You can put it on my tombstone.
Salty Guadalupe: Why Japan?
Nisha: I really enjoy Japanese media and pop culture. But beyond that, when you’re there, the street fashion in Japan is amazing. People are so fashionable. And I’ve been there in the winter and I’ve been there in the summer and people are fashionable all year-round. Like, the women walk around in really good fashion. The men walk around in really good fashion. Sometimes a lot of gender neutral fashion, as well, which I don’t see a lot of in Edmonton. But in Japan, there’s tons of that, so, that’s really cool to me and really inspiring.
Salty Guadalupe: I like that too. the clean lines… the minimalism…
Salty Guadalupe: Sometimes not even super minimalistic. Just really gender neutral. I like the clean lines of it. And the fabrics that they’re doing! Some of the fabrics are phenomenal!
Nisha: Yeah. I really like good fabric in clothing just ‘cause you should invest in your clothing. It should last long. And so, fabric really makes it or breaks it for me. There’s some really high-end brands that use really terrible fabric. So, I might love my Kate Spade boots, but they’re made terribly. You know the quality of Kate Spade is actually quite low, for such a high price.
Salty Guadalupe: That’s a good point. I think for a lot of people, [high-fashion] is something that isn’t very accessible. I have a background in luxury retail, and one of the things that I appreciate when I go looking at fast fashion is looking at the fabrics and then look at the stitching.
Salty Guadalupe: And it’s amazing how terrible some of the stitching and the fabric selections are for some luxury fashion lines. So, looking for that quality can be really tricky if you don’t know what you’re looking for. And I think for a lot of people that are used to only being able to afford fast fashion, sometimes you can forget the elitism that exists when people say things like, “Don’t buy clothes from H&M, or Wal-Mart, or Zara,” or whatever. But it’s like, Zara for some people is high fashion.
Nisha: Yeah. For sure.
Salty Guadalupe: But you have to know what you’re looking for.
Nisha: Yeah. I think that fashion definitely is a class marker sometimes. I think really good fashion doesn’t discriminate based on what class they’re stealing from. You know? Like, you can be inspired from all different types of clothing, but the thing about high fashion right now is that they’re taking advantage of a lot of lower-fashion trends and then monetizing that. So, a lot of really casual streetwear brands that 90s rappers were wearing are now worth $2000. So it’s like, where is the democracy in that? Like, of course it’s political and people don’t realize that. I’m just really passionate about clothes.
Salty Guadalupe: No, that’s a great point. That’s a great point. Because something like Chola fashion, right—
Nisha: Right. Completely appropriated. I feel that way about my eyebrows. Because, growing up, thin eyebrows were in and I am a person with a really hairy face. And so, my eyebrows have always been really thick. So, I used to get them really thinned. And, like, threading is super painful and that’s just what we did. And now, like, a 100-pound white model wears thick eyebrows once and it becomes a trend and I’m like, “Well, I’m just going to take advantage of the fact that I don’t have to do anything.” (laughs)
Salty Mars: I haven’t plucked in so long. (laughs)
Nisha: But back then it was like, you had thick eyebrows because you came from an ethnic background and you were hairy and you were a dirty immigrant. And now it’s white girls filling in their eyebrows ‘cause they only have half an eyebrow to begin with. You know? Trying to emulate this new fashion trend and I’m like, “We’ve been here this whole time with our thick eyebrows!” You know, plucking our uni-brows. (laughs)
Salty Guadalupe: Yeah! I want to scream, “Do you remember when it was gross ‘cause it was on a brown girl?”
Nisha: Of course!
Salty Guadalupe: Yeah. “Your racism is showing…. And I hate you.”
Salty Mars: So, what is a cause that you’re passionate about?
Nisha: I think that the way we treat youth, is quite detrimental to their mental health. And so, I would say if there was going to be any one cause that I’m most passionate about is being able to get mental health resources to communities who need them the most. And those are often oppressed minorities, or minorities who don’t traditionally have resources. And so—especially for the South Asian community, where there’s a huge mental health stigma—I try to do work in that field. Even though it takes an emotional toll, as well.
Salty Mars: When we talked on the phone you were like, “Oh my god, I love the name of your blog! Did you know that that’s my stage name?”
Nisha: Yeah. It’s a running joke between me and some of my friends. My name is Salt, with a capital T, pronounced “Salty”. (laughs) When I told people that a blog named Salty Fashionistas was going to interview me, my friend Charlotte wasn’t happy. She was like, “Wow, are you going to sue them for copyright infringement?” And I was like, “I know. I’m so mad at myself that I did not think of this first.”
Salty Mars: Honestly, we went through a lot of names, right? We thought, “What would we describe ourselves as? Salty.”
Nisha: Salty. Yeah.
Salty Guadalupe: And it’s funny because a lot of people that I talk to are like, “I feel every time I hear someone describe themselves as salty, I think of you.” ‘Cause I am, though.
Nisha: It’s important.
Salty Mars: It’s important. So, what do you think has been the biggest lesson to come of this year?
Nisha: The hardest thing that I had to learn was how to be kind to myself enough that I was still contributing to my creative process in a way that was healthy. And so, a lot of people will create art out of stress and out of trauma, and out of very terrible things that they’ve been through. And some of what comes out is not good art, but it’s very cathartic. And so, as someone who performs a lot, I’m very mindful that I have an audience. I want to share my art in a way that is both healthy for me to create and healthy for the people hearing it. So, I want to create art that impacts people, but does that through love and healing versus an outpouring of feelings.
Salty Mars: Correct me if I’m wrong, but it must be a very vulnerable place to be in where you’re just sharing so much of yourself with near strangers.
Nisha: Yeah. Some days I don’t know what parts I’m selling and what parts I’m keeping to myself. And when your art is very personal and when people want that, sometimes I feel like people are buying parts of me. And there are days when I go home, and I feel like I have nothing left to give. Sometimes it’s hard and like, we live in a capitalist world and so everything that you produce functions as a part of capitalism. You know? And so, like, do I have to constantly be selling myself in order to have the money to be able to create more art? Is it a self-perpetuating cycle? You have to remember why you started writing or why you started performing and go back to those reasons ‘cause there are some days where it’s very clear that what you’re doing is not necessarily everything you wanted to do with your work.
Salty Mars: That’s a good lesson for anybody.
Nisha: I’m super fortunate that I get to learn these lessons now instead of forty years down the road when I’m burnt out and feeling suicidal as the lead singer of a band that I love. You know? It’s just the ways that artists treat themselves I think are super unhealthy sometimes. And so, figuring out a balance early is going to be what makes or breaks it for me as a successful artist that gives a lot of love to the community.
Salty Mars: Obviously, you chose The Nook for a reason. Is there a reason in particular?
Nisha: The Nook is the home of Breath In Poetry. And so, because Breath In Poetry is my life and my community, I approached The Nook and I was like, “Hey, do you wanna do this thing that could possibly fail and be a giant waste of time and money together?” and they were like, “Yes! Let’s try and do the thing!”
Salty Mars: And obviously you had to learn how to apply for grants and all that stuff, too. How has that learning process been?
Nisha: I basically decided to leave my job as a political advisor and immediately—like, literally, within 12 or 24 hours I was researching what the next step was. Like, you have to have a timeline and I was like, “Okay. Here are some ideas for how I can work artistically.” And I saw that people were doing residencies, so in my head it was like, “Artists do residencies. How do I get a residency?” And I figured out that with the timelines, I can’t qualify for a lot of residencies ‘cause I don’t have enough of a background formally in art education and stuff like that. So, I was like, “How do I make a residency if I can’t be a part of one that’s existing?” And so, I found the resources and I applied for grants and found a granting program that worked and a deadline that worked. And then you just do the work. You sit down, and you do the work.
Salty Mars: You map it out. Yeah. And that’s honestly such a credit to your ambition and your vision. Like, the fact that you realized like, “Hey! I’m at the end of this,” and then shortly thereafter you were like, “I need to find a way to make this other dream a reality.” Like, kudos.
Nisha: Thank you.
Salty Mars: Such a hustler, hey?
Nisha: I don’t know how to live if I don’t hustle, to be honest. (laughs)