I love carbs, stripes, Bob Dylan, and dry shampoo. I also love standing up for human rights in the garment industry and helping women in the west love their bodies so that they can live a simplified, uncomplicated, and generous life.
I’ve struggled for years to combine my love of art and health in a way that makes sense. I feel like I have to choose between one or the other. But I really don’t. This is just a very sophisticated form of procrastination and self-sabotage.
The older I get, the more suffering I see in the world, and the more I feel the brevity of life, the more comfortable I feel stepping out into risky territory.
Life is risky no matter what so I might as well face my fears. Whichever way you slice it, to live is to risk.
I’m getting more comfortable with the idea that I don’t need things to make sense. “Clarity comes from action, not thought.” I don’t need permission from anyone to experiment with ideas. I don’t need my value to be tied to success. And I don’t need to worry about what others will think.
Parker Palmer said “Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.”
Basically, what he’s saying is follow the clues, follow the hints, and paths. Your life is readable. What would you read from the story of your life? What are hints and clues you can pick up on?
My appreciation of style began at an early age. My mom let me choose every outfit and as a result I created some fairly avant-garde toddler styles. In high school I fully immersed myself in the indie punk rock scene and started using lipstick for eyeshadow (something that is now making a huge comeback). I collected art magazines, fashion magazines, music magazines. I started thrifting and trying out new styles of dressing.
I never really fit in. Rather, I fit out. And in hindsight, this was a good thing. It shaped me into the person I am today and led me down a path less traveled.
By grace, I attended university at the prestigious School of the Art Institute of Chicago from 2003-2007 where I received my Bachelor of fine Arts. It’s totally beyond me how I got into that school; miracle of miracles. My focus was in photography, fiber and material studies, shoemaking, and performance art. At 19 I landed a job at the haute couture concept store, Robin Richman. Robin was a teacher at the school. Getting to work with her even for a short season was life altering.
Her aesthetic is magic. Nothing else like it.
Working for her sparked an intense love of clothing as an art form. Not fashion or style, but art. Her store taught me to look at dressing in a unique way and also taught me to understand the relationship between the creator and the consumer.
These clothes were not easy to obtain. The price point was what you would expect for haute couture. But this didn’t bother me. I had begun to learn about the massive gap between the quality of a garment made by an artist versus that made by a corporation.
And let me tell you, the chasm is wide.
After graduation, I became the retail Buyer for the midwest flagship Whole Foods Market where I worked with over 50 ethical clothing and accessories brands. This was pivotal for me. Because of the way Whole Foods is structured, I was expected to immerse myself not only in the field of supplements and body care but also food, healthy eating, retail, merchandising, and buying.
It was here that my love of health, beauty, and style commingled and grew up together. I absolutely adored getting to help people understand probiotics and vitamins as well as pointing them to fair trade goods made by women in Uganda, Guatemala, and Thailand. I simply adored it.
After moving to Knoxville, Tennessee in 2010 I took the first job I could find. Little did I know it would also have a life changing impact on me. I was hired as a shop girl for an upscale consignment shop called Reruns. Because of Nanci and her store, I made lifelong best friends. Practically every friend I have in Knoxville is in some way connected to working at Reruns.
It’s impossible for me to know how many women I styled over the course of 5 years. But whatever the number is, I learned that I love to serve. I’m in my happiest place when I’m serving, connecting, listening, encouraging, and guiding.
During this time I styled print and TV shoots, launched my own vintage clothing boutique on Etsy, and was hired by customers to clean out their closets.
Even though I loved doing all this, I still couldn’t get wellness out of my mind and heart. I believed that I could make a career out of my wellness knowledge and so I made a judgement call to lay down my art and style in favor of health coaching.
I don’t know why we do this, but I find that many creative people will shut off their first love in order to pursue a more “respectable” career. Steven Pressfield calls this a “shadow career”. Maybe that’s what I was doing. Maybe not. Either way, I felt like a part of me was missing by ignoring art and style.
Yet, nothing is wasted in God’s economy. What seems incongruent to us is perfectly congruent to God. He can use any detail and tidbit of life to make his point. And his point is always to bring light into the world. Goodness. Because goodness is what makes people notice God. The time I took away from art and style was not a waste.
For nearly 13 years I’ve worked in the fashion and retail industry. But I’ve never seen it that way. I’ve always down played my pull towards aesthetics, style, art, and beauty chalking it up to things girls my age are into. But it isn’t really about that at all.
I’ve dismissed my talents and skills, and have judged my own career path too harshly, trying to redeem myself or define myself.
“What good does clothing do anyone?” “It’s materialism. Focusing on health is more noble.”
But that’s not for me to decide. Sure these things can be true. But now we’re living in a time where fast fashion, style, the food industry, and health are all intersecting.
The way you do one thing is the way you do everything. And I’ve always stood by authenticity, quality, justice, and wholeness.
So whether it’s justice for those in the food industry or justice for those in the clothing industry, it’s all the same to me. Authentic is authentic.
Our addiction to poor quality clothing is just as bad as our addiction to poor quality food. And in both cases, this addiction doesn’t just affect us, it affects the entire world. Right now, 27 million people are enslaved; trafficked to become sex slaves or free labor.
We must pay attention to where our food and our clothing are coming from.
Now more than ever, I’ve decided it’s time to lay aside my insecurities about what kind of job I should have and take a stand. I don’t think anyone else cares what I call myself (health coach, writer, stylist, activist). I think what matters is what I do.
In my book, Simple Is The Cure, I talk about ethical and sustainable fashion and how to clean out your closet. But I kind of left it at a surface level.
Now, I can see that there is a real need for what I have to offer. A real need to go deeper into the subject. Second hand clothing is a real way in which people can make a difference. It’s a subject, believe it or not, that has far reaching global implications.
What we do now as Westerners, in food and clothing, will make a lasting global impact. What we choose to buy and consume will decide the outcome of that impact. Redeeming or destructive?
All along I’ve been honing these skills and refining my craft. When you weave all the elements together it makes a clear picture. I hadn’t traveled far enough yet to be able to look back and see it. I had to take a step back, distance myself from it to be able to bring it all into focus.
I had been coaching and encouraging women every single time they came into the shop for clothing. I have a unique ability to connect with pretty much anyone, make them feel at ease, encourage them to love their bodies, and see how beautiful and valuable they are right now. I was building my coaching skills, pointing women to healthy living resources, rescuing clothing from landfills, building up women, making connections, refining my voice and practicing my craft.
It’s something I take totally for granted.
It’s time for me to step out. Not for aesthetics sake. Not for the sake of loving clothing or being fascinated by art. But for the sake of the all the people who suffer at the expense of our addiction to fast fashion. For the sake of all the young girls who are tormented by comparing themselves to the industry standard of beauty.
Dressing myself has always been a way for me to heal my wounds, cover my wounds, and grow into the woman I’ve always wanted to become. Dressing, for me, is about who I am at the core of my being and the life I dream of living; it’s never merely about thread, fabric, cut, color, or label.
In the end, I want to showcase the solutions our generation has to offer.
There have never been more makers devoted to creating, producing, and sourcing ethically. And I want to share the immense treasure trove of resources I’ve gathered not only for health and wellness, but for beauty, home, and style so that you can be informed and make the best possible choice for you and your family. We can change the way the industry works, we can make them stand up and take notice. We have that power and we should wield it. I should say that we also have a responsibility. As the wealthiest, most privileged, and most connected generation of people in history, we have a responsibility to advocate for our brothers and sisters who are not seen and not heard. We can have both massive beauty and massive impact if we so choose. Let’s choose.