My apartment is small. The amount of garments hanging on racks in multiple rooms makes it look as if I’ve been living in an exclusive boutique rather than a home. Since the moment everything stopped, I’ve been forced to confront this every day as well as the economic vulnerability of my new occupation. There will not be money coming in the way it did last year. The clothes are in my face, tickling my nostrils at the very moment I’m feeling a need to take deep and cleansing breaths.
I can’t imagine a world without beautiful garments. It would be like a painter not being able to have paint or a photographer without a camera. It’s always been the way I express who I am, how I rebel, how I make a statement and tell the world who I am. But what has become so very clear now, if it was not before, is that our(my) relationship with clothing will need to change. I will need to move beyond the surface aesthetic and find out the values that really make them beautiful. What values are embedded in the filaments of their textiles that are respectful of the earth and those who make them? That is enough to take a chance on, to collect as an asset, to know it will be something that when I leave my wardrobe to my granddaughter she will love, wear and appreciate it and leave it to hers. In the pieces I have that can be endlessly reimagined? That will not be thrown away.
As an influencer, I’ve flirted with “sustainability” in a way that in hindsight seems so shallow, hollow and dishonest and as some readers have pointed out, in ways that still encourage people to buy more clothes while deep inside I know the answer is to buy less. I wasn’t in it enough. When I began this blog, before “sustainability” was a thing, I was more authentic on the topic because all of my clothes came from vintage and consignment shops. My time away from you writing a book proposal was a reckoning with myself and what I had become. As I went on my realness became corrupted. I always returned to “sustainability” from time to time and my lame attempts were a way to remind me of what should matter but I was too busy and moving too fast to let it in. I needed to stop and ask my exhausted self, “What is it that you are trying to sustain?”
One of the silver linings I find during the “Time During Corona Virus” is that not only am I making do with less but also that I’m wanting to. In the space of having less, there is much more room for imagination and creativity to find a way into your daily routine. Sleeping more means the hornet’s nest of neurons in your brain from too much stimulation has a chance to clean up and clear out like the yard cleanings that pick up the remaining debris from fall and winter. There is a reckoning with what is really important and we are now at the heavy, solid base of that pyramid of basic needs. All are being threatened. The integrity of our physical bodies, our need for food, how we think of the word shelter and the yearning for a connected, tactile human touch of those we cannot be with. And bizarrely, even toilet paper. While we have been in a prolonged process of destroying the purity of the air we breathe, it now contains droplets that are destroying us. Living in cities that are hotbeds of pollution means if we contract the virus it will put us a risk of having a more serious case. It hangs around on all the things we buy.
But in the spring there are also new plantings in tilled empty gardens that are open to new possibilities. Outside my window nature is still moving forward, greening and blooming in spite of it all. It seems right now that this turning of the earth and renewal is actually going to have to occur for us in our homes, minds and, hearts. By the time we will come out it will already be summer. Forced to slow down and having been given the small consolation prize of more time in the midst of horrifying loss, the cracks in the infrastructure of who we have become as a global society are in sharp relief. Many were and are falling through them. Many of us who have the privilege of being safe enough to think and reflect have come away with a new sense of what is important and what needs to change. For me, as my young neighbor’s text or knock on my door to see if I need anything, my favorite local restaurant is delivering meals to the hospital three blocks away and the designers who are helping me get and give masks to social workers, I see all the possibilities of small. All the possibilities of local, the possibilities of community-based and all the innovation that is coming from craft, reinvention and reuse. I see the re-building happening from the bottom up, not the top down. It is my local neighborhood that is providing “social welfare” right now, they are the ones protecting me from risks and insecurities. These are the assets that need to be preserved and strengthened as we move forward. Mr. Big has failed us.
In conversations on my Instagram, there are so many women who like me, are feeling ambivalent about their relationship with their clothes right now. It seems superficial in light of what is happening but for some of us what we wear is a second language. It is the way we tell the world who we are and what we wish to be. Yet despite all the magic I imbue my garments with at the end of the day they are a material object. An object that also provides a tactile touch. An object that lies close to your vulnerable physical body. An object that in the making has caused so much harm to the earth in the “Time Before Corona”. We see it in the broken supply chains that are not just cancelled orders but for many who work in factories in Bangladesh and other faraway places it means no food and work. Those who buy them and sell them in your favorite stores are laid off. Those who make beautiful pictures of them and style them are still. And those like me who tell you stories about them are no longer paid for our stories. What allows me to still love a garment is that I loved them before I was paid, and that in the “Time After Corona” the decisions we make about fashion can profoundly change the world for the good. The fashion system has been brought to its knees and how it gets up is in our hands. What I chose to wear can become an activist instrument, one that shows not only who I am but is also embellished with my values. There is a quiet dignity in our decisions.
So how do we continue to use clothing as our form of creative expression in ways that promote social well-being and human and ecological flourishing? That embrace the values of a small, local, and community-based social welfare?
Please do weigh in this is going to be an on-going conversation and I need to access your brilliance!