Sabrina De Sousa, cofounder of Chinatown’s hip culinary enclave Dimes, wears many hats. Her long days see her running the restaurant, pitching in on the management of its Division Street market and adjoining to-go deli, and dashing among the establishments’ clientele. She aims to do this while maintaining a sense of comfort, and simultaneously “trying not to look so bummy,” she said.
“I can’t wear anything too delicate, I have to be willing to take risks [with the clothes I wear] because I constantly get dirty…I think Dimes is pretty casual, but you definitely have a very well-dressed crowd that goes in there.”
De Sousa, who founded Dimes with partner Alissa Wagner, gravitates toward clothes that are polished, but offer mobility and easy care. With little time for shopping, she finds most of her clothes on eBay — like the oversize quilted Sonia Rykiel snap cardigan she wore to meet WWD. Ditto that day’s handmade pearl drop earrings and $10 “Isabel Marant aesthetic” Mexican clogs.
De Sousa, who also develops and produces the Dimes natural apothecary line, helps run the enterprise with a constant eye toward aesthetics. The restaurant’s Memphis movement-inspired decor, which recently received the addition of a lone Adam Goodrum “Stitch” chair (also an eBay find), is largely De Sousa’s doing. Last year, her first-ever chair design was hawked out of the Dimes market, and sold out its limited production run. Next up, she will release a pepper mill design on May 16. A follow-up chair design is to be unveiled by fall.
WWD: What is important for you when you get dressed each morning?
Sabrina De Sousa: I never really wear heels to work. I try to keep it cool and keep my wardrobe a little interesting. If I wear a sneaker I’ll dress it up with a fun top and high-waisted pants. The way I dress isn’t super feminine, so I’ve been wearing a lot of ornate earrings to balance that a little bit — it’s turned into a bit of a trademark of mine.
WWD: Where do you source your accessories and clothing?
S.D.S.: I always like to find earrings at a thrift store, and also eBay. I like this woman on eBay who collects vintage beads and turns them into earrings. I really like the designs by Quarry jewelry, and then, you know I am a door-knocker hoop kind of girl. I’m usually just in a jean. A lot of them have been given to me, which is a really strange thing, because jeans are very specific for women. A close friend gave me two pairs of jeans that she got in Europe — she hunts them down in a thrift store, and they fit me so perfectly. Rachel Comey jeans, too, I wear all the time. They’re very comfortable with a wide leg that I can be really active in. Sonia Rykiel, for me, was like a winter search. I think they make the best sweaters. I’ll always keep an eye out to watch a bunch of things.
WWD: Have dress conventions changed at all for women in the restaurant workforce?
S.D.S.: I think you are slowly starting to see more personal style come out in the restaurant industry. Before it was very proper, there was a lot of restraint in the way people had to dress. Now, it’s very normal to see women wearing an earring. We’re not allowed to wear rings, the health department doesn’t like that, but they can add accessories into their hair or play with how they tie their hair back.
For a woman chef, it is still pretty uniform, what you can wear at the end of the day in a hot, very physical space — there are a lot of little factors. You need to be fully covered for safety.
I think servers and managers are now really loose in terms of how they are allowed to show personal style, which I really love. I think people, in general aren’t differentiating their workwear from their personalwear so much [anymore]. It’s cool — it is the real representation of each individual.
WWD: You say you often shop on eBay. Do you prefer that to a traditional retail store?
S.D.S.: I don’t have time ever to go shopping so I find myself shopping in bed on my computer on eBay — I’ll find a brand I really love, I have my go-to’s and I’ll just take it from there.
WWD: How do you incorporate your passion for design into your everyday life?
S.D.S.: My real passion is design — it’s really fun to incorporate all of these things within the restaurant or the Dimes brand. Why not see what else we can get away with? It forces the brand to open up to new realms. We’ll sell my pepper mill design at the market and we’ll use it at the restaurant. It works well, the symbiotic notion of how these things play out with each other. For me, it allows me to grow past just operating a restaurant in a more creative way.