Monday, 11 March 2013

Heroes




Hey Good Looking!

Almost an entire year has passed since I got to spend some live action time with my good friend Angie Johnson. She very kindly hosted my roommate and I on our first (and hopefully not last) trip to Montreal, Canada! I met Angie (like I have many of my close friends), through my soul-layering-sister Susie I believe during a party in the FW11 (10?) shows. She's a talented and genuinely beautiful person inside and out, which is reflected in the company she founded and runs, Norwegian Wood.





A true modern woman, she is part of the new breed of internet entrepreneurs who are injecting some sorely needed personality, in an industry lacking it. What I find most admirable is her sense that personality in fashion should not come with an insane price tag (high end designers) whilst still respecting the values of the suppliers and manufacturers who make her dream a reality (unlike ummm... almost everyone?). Her Etsy store has been a well-documented success story, which in a world of corporate fashion and outsourcing is incredibly refreshing. I decided to send her a few questions to dig a little deeper:

1. You're an inspiration as someone who decided to own their own work. What was the catalyst for becoming an entrepreneur, in a world full of mega-corporations?
Well, I feel like growing up in a small town, from a young age I was surrounded by a lot of small businesses and very few corporations. It just didn't seem that crazy to have your own small business, which in the end was how things were EVERYWHERE 100 or so years ago, right? It's only been in the last 100 years that the idea of working for yourself became "crazy". So I guess I grew up with the idea that it wasn't such a big deal, and it just grew from there. I started my first business at age 16 when my mom said "hey you really have too many clothes, you should start selling some of the clothing you make, you wouldn't have to babysit so much then" and I haven't really stopped since then. I definitely had a stint (8 years I guess) working for larger companies, but that was an incredible and invaluable time, I learned a lot, which enabled me to run my own business in a smart way. 

2. How do you hope to impact the world with Norwegian Wood and what are the main values of the line?
Wow, so much pressure! I guess just by offering something special and a little out of the ordinary at a price point that many people can afford I'm hoping to encourage people to have a bit more fun with the way they dress. Keeping the price point affordable is important to me though. It would be very easy to slip into my own little world of super intricate handwork and technique, which would result in some pretty elaborate and fun clothing, but it would be so difficult to produce and make a living off of that it would not be sustainable as a business. The clothing would be so expensive, and then only people with a large disposable income would be able to enjoy it. And that's not really the point of what I'm trying to do. The  main point of the line is really to offer slightly off-kilter options to the average person. Mainstream high-street fashion is so homogenized lately...or so it seems to me. The internet has made it easier for people to find new things, but it's also made trends more "worldwide" so we see these big overarching trends across many brands. As a small company I have the freedom to find my own balance of being on trend and being in my own little world.

3. Manufacturing locally in Montreal is a very admirable part of N. W. I love how small designers like yourself are having an impact on the remnants of the manufacturing industry of Montreal (the 3rd largest apparel manufacturing cities in North America?). What are some of the main challenges and what can designers in LA and New York learn from your experience?
 The main challenges for me are:
- finding consistent, reliable and UNIQUE sources for my supplies (ie fabrics, trims, jewelry supplies, etc) This is an ongoing thing that is just part of the job I think. Sometimes I rest on my laurels too much and don't seek out new sources as much as I should though...that's a lesson for MYSELF!
- finding reliable and high quality manufacturing. I do a lot of the work myself in-house, however when I get a large order I definitely need help. I've found that building real relationships with my contractors is the key to success in this area. Treating them with respect, being willing to pay them a fair price for their work and not pushing for unreasonable deadlines. Basically just trying to make the experience a pleasant and professional one for everyone involved.

4. Montreal seems to have a big DIY culture and spirit of independence, I'm sure partly due to Quebec's stance of remaining staunchly francophone. As an English speaking entrepreneur has this culture influenced your line, both in terms of design and business decisions?
I think this is a mindset I already had deeply ingrained in my, again from growing up in a rural setting. I didn't have a lot of cultural/artistic resources available to me, so if I wanted to learn something or create something I had to figure it out myself. So I was on that path early on, and I think that's one of the things that DREW me to Montreal in the first place...a meeting of DIY values.  

5. One of the main attractions of Etsy in a world of little transparency is the true and direct impact a buyer has on a seller. It feels so beautifully personal and quaint for the internet age. How do you envision websites like Etsy etc, to keep evolving into more and more personal shopping experiences? What would you like to see more from this medium?
Well, I'm just in love with Etsy, and I think they have done so many amazing things for small business, and as someone whose been selling on the site for over 4 years I really see how much they've evolved and grown over that time. I would love for them to bulk up our "profile" section a bit more (ie. adding blog/instagram/video capabilities), even though they DID just improve that section. I just think unless you're really familiar with Etsy you may not even see that the profile area exists. I wish some of those things were more apparent upon first glance.

6. What keeps you going and what is you're favourite thing about what you do?
What keeps me going is that I can't imagine doing anything else, and have felt that way since I was a kid. I just love creating things, and fabric (and now jewelry) seems to be the easiest path for me to express myself. My favorite thing about what I do now that I have my own company is being able to make all the decisions, from what colour palette I want to work with to what model I use in the shoot. I really hate being told what to do.  

7. If you could take an inspiration trip anywhere, where would you go?
Probably Japan, since I've never been before...but only if you come with me Brandon! 

Thank you Angie, I love you. I will look forward to our Japanese inspiration trip!

B



Images from Norwegian Woods new Spring/Summer 2013 collection

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Vinyl Collared Workers UNITE!




[Vintage peacoat, Vintage flannel, Vintage denim western skirt, Vintage pleated schoolgirl skirt (underneath), Norwegian Wood collars (x2), Nike Sky High x Liberty Dunks, Japanese lightning ghost tabi socks, Paul Smith shearling mittens, Beacons Closet sunglasses]

Wax and I shot this in Fort Greene Park, last year in the fall, evidence of the hurricane still very present. I edited the photos to seem more like they're from the 70's where Angie of Norwegian Wood got her inspiration for the Fall collection from.  Vinyl sofa covers YES!

I had been dreaming of wearing Norwegian Wood for a lonnnnnng time and when I saw she had created the ideal, accessible accessory I went IN! The vinyl collar is the perfect combination of OTT almost Baroque trim and futuristic clear vinyl. What's more, Angie sent me two for even more layering potentialz! FTW!

Thanks Angie for the extra collar <3. Interview to come next week!

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Virabhadrasana - Warrior Pose


Hey You!

I'm afraid this will be a bit of a heavy post, but one I feel the need to extricate from myself. I have attempted to explain my reasons for wearing skirts in previous posts and found it difficult to articulate. It has taken some fairly horrifying news stories and editorials for me to come to a clearer understanding of this decision. Five days of the week for eight hours a day I wear a uniform (a very lovely expensive uniform thanks to a certain music lover (seriously the work playlist changes every couple of weeks and I think I fall in love with Hedi as a person with each new one)), the rest of that time I mostly feel comfortable in myself when I am wearing skirts and layering. Recently my good friend Izzy, asked if I had more skirts then pants, I honestly didn’t know… I have noticed that more often then not I wear skirts instead of pants. This is not because I dislike trousers, but it’s just what I instinctually (and sometimes groggily at 8am) gravitate towards. What with a heteronormative uniform and a conservative work neighbourhood (Midtown: yuck!), I sometimes feel at war and my clothing choices are my weapons. Upon realizing these feelings I was horrified… Of course I have worn skirts before I started my current job, but I had started to allow the environment around me to dictate, at least partially, what I wear.

However I am not sure why this is such a terrible circumstance. In my previous posts (skirting the issue) I described feeling that a male wearing a skirt is simply not a big issue and therefore not worth exploring. I still stand by this point. Working in a more conservative and touristy part of NYC, I understand that, whilst to me it is not a big deal, it is to others… I have previously discussed my viewpoint that gender is nothing more then a social construct. Unfortunately it is a construct with truly devastating consequences.

I was raised in a household of women, I have more close female friends then I have close male friends. Even when I was a young child in Hong Kong I played with the girls in my class and didn’t relate much to the boys. The girls played with toys whilst the boys rough-housed. Why anyone would rather fight than play with toys is beyond me, but apparently it came naturally to these kids. I was never raised to believe that violence was something to respect or a way to solve an issue, yet somehow to this very day, young children, I fear mostly males, are taught that we live in a “top dog” society rather than a society of liberty for all.

If we hypothetically leveled the playing field in the rearing of children and say that 10% of males and females are naturally violent we can explore societal reactions to these children. Being dominating and violent is considered a male trait, therefore children are taught to shun the female who is violent and praise the male. What this does is make being a physically dominating male something to aim towards in order to become more masculine. Consequently this 10% of violent males will, like a disease, cause more boys to behave this way. The opposite occurs with the girls where society will make that 10% shrink as the girls learn that it's not appropriate for them, not as people, but as females to behave this way. 

In my experience as someone who has won a genetic lottery and was born into this world in a position of privilege, I have never felt powerful as an individual. I have always had my beliefs and convictions which I have steadfastly held onto and fought for (and even at times valiantly seceded when my beliefs were proven wrong), but until recently I had never realized the extent of what it means to be a sensitive male in a "mans world".

I would like to say that clearly not all men are domineering, violent and anti-women. There are many more allies in men for the fight for true gender equality then I believe first meets the eye. AND not all of them are people who identify as queerStraight men are and have been opening their eyes to gender violence and authoritarianism too. This being said, I cannot say that I do not every single day: encounter men (and women who must have a sense of Stockholm Syndrome by supporting these men) who believe they have the right because of their natural born chromosomal makeup, to rule over the supposed weaker sex.

The media that we consume is almost always anti-feminist. Look at the microcosm of news culture in the United States. Almost every woman in order to be merely listened to by viewers and taken seriously by their coworkers has a full face of makeup, hair blown out, plastic surgery etc. Now look at the men, how much time in comparison are they spending on their outward appearance to "speak to the nation"? The simple fact is, men when arguing a point only have to fight on one front: that topics front. Women fight on two fronts: to be taken seriously by a masculine society and whatever it is they happen to being talking about. The more one opens their eyes to gender bias the more one can see it in the smallest details of society.

Whilst it is painful to admit we clearly do not live in a just society based on individuals true rights, at least we can teach children what society should be as well? This brings me to the article written by Rebecca Solnit recently in the Huffington Post.
“We have far more than 87,000 rapes in this country every year, but each of them is invariably portrayed as an isolated incident.  We have dots so close they’re splatters melting into a stain, but hardly anyone connects them, or names that stain. In India they did. They said that this is a civil rights issue, it’s a human rights issue, it’s everyone’s problem, it’s not isolated, and it’s never going to be acceptable again. It has to change. It’s your job to change it, and mine, and ours.”
The article is full of startling figures and stories which I could (but will not), quote ad nausea. Please take the time to read it, it’s very well written and hopefully it will be eye opening to you. The reality that we live in: is one where there IS an underlying war on women. Of course not all men choose to participate but it is there and it is real. Gender on one hand is one of the most tricky social constructs we have created. It is more complicated because of the it is one of the largest categorical boxes society uses to describe a human being. Personally I have never identified as female, and although I may wear women's clothing, I am doing so as me, not as a male in women's clothing, not as a transvestite (although categorically speaking I must be), not as a drag queen but as me.

Since I can remember I have been concerned with injustice and fairness. Part of the reason why I feel comfortable wearing skirts and other non-heteronormative articles of clothing is because it is a weapon. I now understand this. The reactions I get from wearing a skirt, are in fact fantastic. By showing these items irrelevance to my gender, I expose the unimportance of gender. I may not have ever felt very powerful but I can say the first time I put on a skirt I felt empowered as a male.

As a white male in society, I automatically inherent a lot of privileges that far too many people do not have (identifying as a male who’s preference is members of the same sex of course takes away many of these…). Even if I believe this physical shell to be irrelevant to who I truly am, I can use myself as a vessel to stand up for those who cannot and to join this fight with my sisters. I do not believe anyone has the natural right to exert authority over a group of individuals. Women should not need to fight extra for survival because this global society treats them as inferior and objects.

[source: http://www.mid-day.com/news/2012/dec/221212-Delhi-gangrape-Protests-turn-violent-as-police-resorts-to-tear-gas-baton-charge.htm]
What is so interesting about a skirt is that for many it is actually a symbol of rape culture. When someone is forced into a situation they have not consented to, authority figures blame the victim for what has happened to them. Why were you out late at night? Why were you drinking? Most of all a startling number of (often male) authority figures blame what a person wears for what has happened to them. A skirt is easy access, apparently nobody can blame a man for having un-consenting sex with a woman if she's wearing a skirt, particularly if it is short. Men can't apologize for their naturally violent urges, but women should apologize for their choice to wear a skirt, because you know, they aren't wearing chastity belts and being virginal maidens. Apparently women are not allowed to be sexual at all, in fact a woman has to apologize if she flirts with a male. Oh and her choice of clothing is apparently an act of flirtation for the world to perceive as fuck me?!

There are many reasons for doing many things, this is one of many reasons why I choose to wear the clothes that I do. We males cannot allow others of the same sex to continue believing that they have the right to control a woman; whether it is their bodies or their rights. I leave you with this image of the beautiful Jyoti Singh Pandey who was gang raped and assaulted at the end of the last year and sadly died of her horrific injuries. Her death should not be in vain, we need to stand up for those around us and never let this happen again. If we as a species cannot stand united even by the most basic divider as gender, how will we deal with even more difficult issues like climate change and the impending collapse of the health care system as antibiotics increasingly are losing their requisite effects.

Jyoti Singh Pandey 1989-2012
Love

B

PS: I realize how heavy this post is. I can never do this subject justice and I do hope to not offend anyone with its content. I believe that a dialogue must be opened, lack of communication is one of the main reasons why there is so much strife in the world and if my paltry voice (of white male privilege...) can open a single persons eyes then everything is worth it. This is very much a subject I am deeply concerned about and I truly do not mean any disrespect to women or victims of rape. Especially by discussing it alongside such a superficial subject as my choice to wear a skirt but to me these things are linked.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Dream Stratagem



Hello Beautiful!

My dear and talented friend Amber Doe has been invited by the Arteles Creative Centre to be part of its March residency program! 2013 is definitely going to be her year to shine (or at least everyone else to see her bright star). I have known Amber for most of my New York life, meeting her just over four years ago. Amber has been an integral part in forming the way I see the world and how I react towards it. She's an incredibly talented artist who explores many issues I believe important to help evolve human thought: "gender, religion, identity, home, mysticism and the natural world."

Please check out her Indiegogo video and campaign, and have a listen to the Spotify playlist I made for her. Expect exciting things :)


Love

B
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