My grandmother has been unwell. I flew down to Dallas to visit her last weekend – hence the skipped week here. I could have posted last week, since I was just away for a few days, but my gut knew I would be exhausted when I came back, which I was.
The morning after I returned home, I woke up and instinctively put on the bunny pendant that my grandmother and grandfather gave me as a little girl. I think I was around five years old when I received it from what I’ve been told. I never understood why I had it when I was growing up, because my little sister was obsessed with bunnies. I actually still don’t know why it’s mine.
The bunny was designed by a well-known New Orleans-based jewelry artist, Mignon Faget, and it was given out as a Krewe gift one year for Mardi Gras. A krewe is a dues-paying “club”, and it often involves a ball and sometimes a parade during Mardi Gras season in New Orleans. My grandfather had been part of a krewe, and received the gift of the bunny likely at a ball, and then passed it on to me.
For years, it was on a pale pink thin ribbon. Now it lives on a silver chain, and I occasionally wear it. Yet wearing it each day since I returned, I feel like I’m sending my grandmother strength and love, even if my mind is required elsewhere.
It’s not easy to see someone you love unwell. My grandmother danced me to sleep when I was little, paid for my piano lessons from kindergarten through high school, and bought me Limited Too chenille sweaters and plaid kilts at the height of the Clueless popularity when they were too expensive for my parents to afford. She taught me to love dressing up and that lemon juice and sunshine is all you need for some blonde highlights (which my mom did not appreciate).
I’m hoping there’s still time for me to learn more from her. For now, I’m sending her love and hope you’ll send her some well wishes too! And coincidentally, yesterday was Mardi Gras.
Do you have a favorite thing that keeps you connected and close to a family member or friend? I want to hear your story too! Share in the comments or tweet @ThisIWear.
Avi Loren Fox is the social entrepreneur and creative behind Wild Mantle, whose first product (the MANTLE) is a scarf-hoodie love child, which happens to be the perfect cozy antidote for this cold winter weather. With the recent launch of her Kickstarter campaign, Avi hopes to scale up production by enlisting the help of a B-Corp certified knitting facility in Colorado and using undyed alpaca wool yarn and recycled buttons. I interviewed Avi to learn more about her personal style, how she started her business and just how her style and values connect to her cozy accessory designs.
One of my favorite parts of the interview was learning about Avi’s own search to find more happiness and less stuff in her wardrobe while still finding plenty of ways to express herself. My other favorite part has to be the undeniable and overflowing love that Avi brings to her life and work.
Read on for Avi’s interview and how to support her (already nearly 50% funded!) Kickstarter campaign.
If someone looked into your closet, what might they learn about you?
I’m a minimalist who thrives on change. My closet is curated to contain my favorite staple tank tops and leggings mixed in with an ever-revolving collection of dresses, skirts and sweaters that I swap with friends and hunt down in thrift stores. I used to have way more clothes, but I got tired of sifting through things that weren’t quite right. So I got rid of more than half my wardrobe and have been 100% happier ever since.
Besides your favorite MANTLE, what piece in your wardrobe is your favorite to wear?
I have a pair of wood earrings handcrafted out of the heartwood of a Southern Yellow Pine (pictured). My beau carved them for me as a surprise, and I love this idea that they come from the heartwood of a tree – it’s so magical. When you hold them up to light, the wood glows naturally between the grain. They’ve replaced all my other earrings, and I wear them pretty much everyday.
What’s important to you when deciding what to wear each day?
I’ve learned that I’m only ever really truly satisfied with what I’m wearing when I listen to my intuition. I put my rational mind in the backseat and give my gut the steering wheel, and it’s so much fun! Sometimes this means I’m dressed in a really nice outfit even if I’m not going anywhere, or I discover a new combination that I never would have “thought” up. But it guarantees that I always feel good when I leave the house.
What sparked your interest in sustainability?
Looking back, I can find all sorts of clues throughout my life that point towards an interest in sustainability. But it was really Dr. Geoffrey Whitehall’s class in International Relations my freshman year at Hobart & William Smith Colleges. This class started a snowball effect in my life. I transferred to Temple University, majored in Environmental Studies, and became politically active when I founded an environmental organization in my hometown. While my sustainability interest was initially fear-based (i.e. we have to save the world from climate change and social inequality), it has shifted to become vision-based, focusing instead on how we can build a more beautiful world for everyone.
Did you ever think that interest would connect to fashion or making a product?
The MANTLE has been the most amazing surprise, like a lost puppy that wandered through my door one day. After I initially had the idea, it took a while for me to come to terms with the idea of making a product and “manufacturing,” because as a country we have an issue with making too much stuff. But it’s like Star Wars; you have to go in the Death Star to blow it up. So I’ve become invested in trying to figure out how I can enter our existing systems and restructure the foundation so that sustainable choices are available and made.
How do the values of the MANTLE – sustainability, empowerment, adventure – carry over into other parts of your life?
These values actually manifested in my life well before the MANTLE showed up. I have this vision of a lifestyle that lies at the intersection of these three values, and I’m on a mission to discover how to create that for myself and share it with the world. While I’m not perfect, when it comes to what I buy and how I live my life, I try to make choices that move our planet towards sustainability.
I’ve also been really intrigued by the concept of empowerment and how I could grow more as a person. A few years ago, my best friend brought me to an empowerment workshop led by Josie Maran, an amazing eco-preneur who has since become by big sister business mentor. The workshop helped me make big changes in my life, and I felt inspired to build the empowerment ethos into whatever I did next. In terms of adventure, I definitely embody that contradiction of cozy homemaker and spontaneous traveler. Over the years, I’ve given myself permission to balance and seek both sides of myself. I realize that sometimes the biggest adventures come from opening your eyes and appreciating what you have at home.
When you’re not working on your business, what are you up to?
Not working? Hehe, I’m pretty much always working. I even see mantles in my dreams. For real. In my dream last night, Jay-Z and I had the idea to make Beyoncé a golden MANTLE with a queen honeybee on it. But I’m a Libra and thrive on balance. On Saturday nights and Sundays, I try to unplug from the world and spend time with my beau. Other than that, I carve out time to see my girlfriends or swing by my parents’ house and usually have a few laughs. When I’m on my game, I also get my groove on at the gym three days a week, and whenever possible I sneak in some quiet notebook/dream time in coffee shops in the winter or the woods in the summer.
Thanks to Avi for answering all of these questions and sharing some of her beautiful photography! Ready to claim your own MANTLE and support this savvy woman entrepreneur? Support the Wild Mantle Kickstarter here and make sure to watch the beautiful video. Also, a special thanks to my eco co-warrior and fellow blogger Danielle Vermeer for introducing me to Avi!
Three trips later, and I’m back here with you. I thought I could squeeze in a post last week, but reality convinced me otherwise…but not until the last minute.
In truth, I knew I had these three trips for a while: personal, work, then personal again. And because of so many days out of my usual routine, I debated over whether to take the extra vacation day off or to let my visiting mom hang out with my brother while I did “work”. What finally helped me make my decision was a random piece of advice embarrassingly gleaned from a women’s magazine article on self-help books. The advice: if you are having trouble making a decision, use the 10-10-10 rule – if I make this decision, how will I feel 10 minutes from now? 10 months from now? 10 years from now?
Knowing that 10 years from now, I’d be glad I spent the day with my mom made the decision easy. So instead of sitting at my desk, I spent last Thursday at Wave Hill, a beautiful garden I knew she would enjoy. I spent the afternoon with my mom and brother, instagramming way too many photos of stunning flowers (and so many cactus!) and quizzing my mom on her floral knowledge. It was perfect.
While together, she surprised me with a belated Easter gift that had obviously been too precious to mail. It was one pair of tiny diamond earrings of two that she had recently re-made for my sister and me. Two of the diamonds were dubiously and naively bought from a coworker’s brother when my mom was in her early twenties, and the other two were a nearly identical set bought for her a few years later by my dad’s mother while on vacation in Vegas. I’m not sure which set (or whether a mix) of the two original sets I have, which makes them a little more mysterious.
Before my mom came up for a visit, I was thinking of the million things I wanted to do with her while she was here, mostly all the things I needed to ask her advice on in person (How do I repair this pair of pants? How would you arrange this furniture? Can you remind me again how to quilt? And how do I gain closure on a recent heartbreaking experience?). But while all of those were questions to be asked, there’s never enough time to get all of the answers. Time always runs out, and I have siblings I have to share her with.
But just like these earrings that were too priceless to mail, the time spent face to face is truly irreplaceable, especially those rare moments of silence that you just can’t share over the phone. The best time is not always the time spent talking but the time spent sharing the same air, seeing the same surroundings and hearing the same distant sounds.
In fact, like any of the beautiful things that my mom has passed on to me or that we’ve collected together, even in their perceived silence, they are speaking so loudly and clearly to me.
It turns out I’m not the only one wearing something from my mom. The Of A Kind ladies strike again and shared these spot-on stories by Leanne Shapton on women who wear things from their mothers. View it on NYTimes.com.
As a college student, I worked in a beautiful boutique in Washington, D.C. And as a college student, I was rarely able to afford the beautiful things we sold, even with an employee discount. Each item I bought usually was preceded by longing stares for weeks with crossed fingers in hopes that a customer wouldn’t buy the last one before my next pay day.
This scarf dates back to my time spent in the shop. I was still in my early stages of finding my passion for environmental issues, and anything that was labeled “eco” was an instant point of obsession. Not only was this scarf promoted as a “green” product, since bamboo grows quickly with no fertilizers or pesticides, but it had the luxurious shine and feel of silk. So I bought it, and I loved it.
During the following year as I researched alternative textile fibers for my thesis, I found that it is true that bamboo does quickly replenish itself and grow without the need for chemicals. However, I also discovered that the process of converting bamboo into a textile fiber was filled with chemicals to make it into what we know as rayon or viscose (Note: Rayon/Viscose can be made from a number of wood-based fibers). Could the good outweigh the bad in this case?
Actually, no. According to Patagonia’s fantastic guide to bamboo, “The solvent used for this process is carbon disulfide, a toxic chemical that is a known human reproductive hazard. It can endanger factory workers and pollute the environment via air emissions and wastewater. The recovery of this solvent in most viscose factories is around 50%, which means that the other half goes into the environment.” My scarf might have been made all the way in Nepal, but I certainly don’t want the Nepalese drinking water contaminated with these chemicals.
It quickly became clear that my scarf and a lot of the bamboo textiles appearing on the market at the time were by-products of green-washing. Or, at my more optimistic moments, I perhaps attributed it to just a long chain of unintentional ignorance that made its way down the chain to me, the consumer. But mostly I just felt swindled. How could I have so blindly trusted this fabric that had seemed almost too good to be true? This scarf was an imposter.
Yet I continue to keep this scarf around. It serves as a reminder that I have to keep asking questions. It reminds me that there are a lot of things that we just don’t know yet – as businesses, scientists, shoppers and just plain human beings. Luckily, we’re getting better information all the time, especially when we pursue it. And if this scarf did go through all those scary chemicals to become the silky fabric that keeps me warm, I have a responsibility to keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t cause any more trouble than it already has.
Lately, I’ve become really interested in what handmade even means these days, and I’m clearly not the only one. In these first few weeks of the year, “artisan” was named one of the “words for the dumpster” of 2013. And the concept of handmade became a hot topic this past fall when Etsy changed its seller rules to allow for outsourcing of production and hiring staff, as many Etsy success stories have outgrown the platform. This has led to some really fantastic conversations wondering if anything is truly handmade anymore and what that might mean (see NYTimes op-ed and this Rena Tom post).
But if you’re interested in engaging in slow fashion and supporting local makers, regardless of your definition of handmade, the perfect entry point is with winter accessories. And now that temperatures have continued to stay at face-freezing cold, it’s time to pull out the scarves, gloves, and hats.
So if you need it, here are a few of my favorite winter picks (clockwise from top left):