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The Style Idle Interviews Textile Designer and Artist Jamilla Okubo for OkayAfrica

Hello! A few weeks ago,  Jamilla Okubo, an amazing young talent agreed to an interview and the good folks at OkayAfrica published it, so follow the link below t go check it out!  

*All images in this post is the property of Jamilla Okubo and was reprinted with her permission.  To find more of her art, please visit her website, http://vivaillajams.tumblr.com/. 

Fashion Blogging While Feminist – Interview with Emily Yakashiro from The Closet Feminist

 

As a feminist fashion blogger and woman of colour, I am always on the hunt for kindred spirits across the blogosphere. I love reading the work of amazing writers, who love and blog about fashion without sacrificing their politics. So imagine my delight when I came across self-declared feminist and fashion writer Emily Yakashiro and her gorgeous blog, The Closet Feminist. Yakashiro’s work has inspired me to write more about the intersections of fashion and feminism, and she was kind enough to agree to an interview. I hope you enjoy reading our conversation as much as I enjoyed having it.

Style Idle:  In your own words, who are you, what do you do and how did you become interested in fashion?

Emily Yakashiro: I’m the founder and editor of The Closet Feminist.ca which launched in December 2012. It’s a collective site that anyone is welcome to come write for. In terms of me personally, I’m 23 , almost  24 [note: this interview was conducted July 2013], and I’m a feminist, obviously, and I’m a mixed race third generation Canadian. I [also] graduated from UBC in 2012, with my Bachelors of Arts, and I have a background in anti-violence work.

Fashion has always been a big deal for me. I used to read a lot when I was a child and I still do. One of the things I really loved growing up was reading about what my favourite characters were wearing.  Like Anne Shirley and Anne of Green Gables and her whole obsession with puff sleeves, and even Claudia Kishi [of] the Babysitters Club [and her] creative and artsy outfits. The characters were huge role models for me. In the last few years, I’ve been really interested in folks like Frida Kahlo and Anaïs Nin, who are, again, two incredibly strong and inspiring women who place a lot of emphasis on clothing and wardrobe. All of these women, real, fictional, of all classes, nationalities and backgrounds have really inspired me.

SI: How would you describe your aesthetic?

EY:I think when it comes to actually getting dressed, something about fashion that has always preoccupied me, that has always kind of been  shaping my interest in personal style, is how I can use clothes to mediate my identity as a woman who is mixed race.

SI:  How  do you use fashion to mediate your identity as a mixed race woman?

EY: One thing that I always think about is Fred Wah who uses this really compelling metaphor of mixed race identity. He says that mixed race people are both the “target and the gun,” (or at least I think that’s the quote, though I could be totally wrong). The kind of violence implied in that statement is always in the in the back of my mind […] As someone who is mixed, I have a lot of privilege because I am ¼ Irish and Scottish and ¾ Japanese, but I also experience oppression because I look Asian, because I am Japanese, and I deal with both of these things in my outfits. I really do ultimately feel that fashion and what I wear is [one of ] the most powerful means of expression and tools for communication that I have. And for someone of my identity and being feminist, there are few places I think where my voice is truly heard and welcomed, so with fashion I can just kind of occupy that space and speak my truth just by wearing whatever I have on that day.

SI: What is feminism and femininity to you and how is your work informed by your understanding of both?

EY: I don’t really know. I’m worried that I don’t have a really good understanding of what femininity is.  I’m kind of worried that maybe it’s a more loaded term than what maybe I understand, you know? Like “radical” can be a really loaded term and I’m worried that femininity is too.

SI: Why do you think that “femininity” is such a loaded term?

EY: In terms of femininity, my thinking kind of goes to the idea of “girly feminism.”  A huge celebrity that has come to the forefront on this is Zooey Deschanel and her recent coming out as a feminist in Glamour a few months ago. [In the interview Deschanel] asks [paraphrasing] “Why can’t I be really femme and wear vintage clothing and a feminist? And how come when I ascribe to this aesthetic, people still question my involvement with feminism and feminist politics?” And I found it really compelling because it’s a good question [and] because it’s important to remember that feminism looks like many different things for many different people. This has been one of my motivations for starting, “This is What a Feminist Looks Like,” on my website. I got in touch with a few people and got a picture of them with a quote talking about feminism.  I’ve seen other bloggers talking about [feminism] as well about how femininity and girly-ness somehow waters down or invalidates their identities and experiences as feminists, which I find really interesting.

SI: Why do think there is this weird tension between feminism and femininity within feminist communities? And how do you see resistance to the idea that feminists can’t love fashion or be girly playing out online?

 EY: In terms of bloggers resisting or taking up [the idea of loving fashion is somehow anti-feminist] as a topic, “saying look I’m a feminist” and that’s just been what I’ve into lately.  It doesn’t always have to be this really serious in depth conversation, and sometimes it’s just like, “Oh yeah by the way I’m a feminist,” which I think is really neat too.  And I think this tension is [there] for a lot a reasons. I think that feminism for so long has been under attack for not having valid concerns, and a way [to fight back has been] to adopt a kind of authority by taking on a sometimes exclusionary academic way of thinking.  Like, I’ve been reading books on fashion and personal style from the UBC library, and [the authors have ] a super academic take on fashion, and argue that fashion is serious and it’s interesting that we need this kind of academic background  to make fashion seem like a serious thing. [We already know that fashion] is a serious thing and we know that because [of] real world issues like slut-shaming and what people are wearing if they’re survivors of sexual assault , you know, that kind of a thing.  And I think as this movement has been learning and growing, fashion has definitely been recognized as more of a viable tool to talk about feminism, which is what I try to do on my website.

 SI: Do you think the dismissal of fashion in feminism is reflective of a general social dismissal of all things feminine? In other words, do you think feminism’s resistance fashion is a kind of internalized misogyny?

EY: I don’t know if this is all that relevant, but one thing that has got me thinking right now is this TedTalk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and it’s called the “Danger of a Single Story.” I saw that years ago and I found this idea of “a single story,” really interesting. Like everyone else, I fell victim to this idea of what powerful looks like, and what well respected looks like, [and they] were never embodied in a person who looks like me, or even like most women, and so I think that misogyny kind of comes from that idea of a single story.  So, it’s like if feminism wants to be respected, and prestigious it has to look a certain way. So I wonder if this kind of misogyny comes from the  growing pains of  breaking down a single story [of what powerful looks like]. But this is all kind of me just thinking out loud.

SI: How did you come up with the idea of the “Closet Feminist” ?

EY: The Closet Feminist is supposed to be a cute, double entendre, ‘cause it’s obviously about clothes and personal style hence the “the closet” and then feminist, because I really wanted feminist or feminism to be in the title of the blog. I think it’s really important to be out loud and proud and unapologetically feminist. And this idea of being a closet feminist which is kind of a problematic in and of itself and so it’s just a kind of cute and fun way of bringing up the topic. But I have had the most hilarious reactions to the name.  A lot of it has been good, but one woman I was interviewing for the blog and at the end she asked me in a very, very serious way “Why are you calling it the Closet Feminist?” in this like really ominous tone, and I was like “oh my god, I have offended her” and it’s just this whole disastrous thing. But yeah, it’s just supposed to be this like cute name.

I had my own personal style blog way off in the corners of the [internet] for years, and sometime during my first year of university, and [so did] one of my best friends Lydia Okello , [who] also [has] a fashion blog called Style is Style. We have been friends since high school and we have always been obsessed with fashion magazines, like we can refer to a fashion spread from like 3 years ago and we had an obsessive attention to detail.  So we both started blogs and both blogs got popular and [after a while] we just wanted something fun and cool ‘cause we really loved style.  As we’ve gotten older our blogs have taken on a much more  political tone, just [as a result of]  our experiences moving [of] out and living in the city [and ] understanding what our clothes mean for our identities,  [as] women of colour, Canadians, and feminists. What I was realizing more and more was that fashion needs feminism and fashion can be feminist, and I thought that it was maybe just time to connect the dots from a Canadian feminist perspective and just have it out there for people to contribute to and for free.

SI: Why do you think that fashion needs feminism?

EY: I think fashion needs feminism because there’s just so much going on, like there is so much cultural appropriation and fashion and class, like designer labels, [which brings up the question of] who has access to these kinds of things. Also [feminism allows us to explore] how women are using fashion and why it is important to us. [For example, fashion can help women of colour] locate and communicate our identities when maybe we don’t have access to other channels to have that expression.  So that’s why I think fashion needs feminism.  I mean if you open any magazine  you see the same thing over and over again, it’s editorials with tall, white, thin models, it’s very rarely [that] we see women of colour, fat women, more androgynous folks. And going back to Adichie’s TedTalk, with The Closet feminist, I wanted to put a different story out there about personal style and feminism that was more than like, “this coat is awesome.”

SI: What role do you see bloggers playing in exploring or realizing the feminist potential in fashion writing?

EY: I actually did an article a long time ago, [it was] actually the first article for The Closet Feminist, about this topic. I really do think that fashion blogs are actually quite remarkable and revolutionary. Even if folks aren’t taking on those labels or think of  themselves [in those terms], I think that it is. If you look at all the fashion bloggers who are making a living and they’re famous and they are there and having their voices heard, like Rumi Neely of Fashion Toast, who is also mixed race and a huge role model of mine, and all these other bloggers out there.  It’s interesting because they’re taking up space, making their own media and while people might write it off as them being vain or  shallow, or that they just care about clothes, it’s not  about that, it’s about putting yourself and your experiences out there, and I think that’s really interesting and really powerful.  And so many communities have sprung around fashion blogging, like there are all these online things like Polyvore and IFB, and Chictopia, where mostly women are talking and communicating about something. You see a lot of, “we like this dress” and “we like these shoes” or whatever, but the conversations eventually do come to a point where we’re talking about something else here. I think there is something going on that’s really interesting, where these blogs have become a medium for exploring your identity and putting this vision of yourself out there that’s not what you see in fashion magazines.  You’re taking it [images from fashion magazines] and are like “I don’t care, I’m going to talk about fashion and put pictures out there on the internet” and I think that’s very powerful, it’s reclaiming space.

SI: Do you think fashion bloggers use their aesthetic as a catalyst to have other conversations around women, their bodies and their ability to take up space depending on how she’s situated socially?

EY: Totally! I hear a lot of bloggers echoing… not even echoing because, they said it first Deschanel’s sentiments, like Courtney of A Bevy Of did a post on feminism and her personal style which is very femme. And Kaelah of Little Chief Honeybee [now The Clueless Girl’s Guide], on her blog, she wears like a lot of dresses and cardigans, again very femme style and she has done a couple of posts about feminism too. Also, a lot of bloggers have kind of hinted at feminism like Elizabeth of Delightfully Tacky, but I don’t know if she has  actually [used the word] feminism, and Rebecca of the Clothes Horse, she’s had a lot of pretty radical posts, but again, I don’t think she’s ever said the “feminist” or “feminism.” [All of these bloggers are asking in some way] “How come I’m wearing these dresses people aren’t taking me seriously?” And so it’s kind of like going back to the whole [idea of reclaiming power], it’s, forget you I’m not going to [change how I look to be taken more seriously] because I have [my blog]. They’re [the bloggers] all taking up space at any rate.

Image source: theclosetfeminist.ca 

Check This Out: Interview with Lourens Gebhardt aka “Loux the Vintage Guru”

I have an interview up on Afropunk with Gebhardt, an up and coming Namibian designer and vintage enthusiast,who has been getting attention lately from the fashion world.  Follow the link to check it out!

http://www.afropunk.com/profiles/blogs/interview-meet-namibian-designer-stylist-loux-the-vintage-guru

 

Photo credits – Harness Hamese and Lukas Amakali

Guest Post: “Kantamanto Market: In Accra, a premier destination for secondhand trade,” by Victoria Okoye

This post was written by Victoria Okoye.  Okoye uses media, communications and community engagement as tools to document community development challenges, inform and shape interventions. She has spent the past five years working in Ghana and Nigeria  in a number of sectors: water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH); urban transportation/land use; arts/cultural development; and urban economic development. If you would like to read more on Okoye’s work and check out her photography please visit her blog African Urbanism.  You can find the original post here.

*All content, including all photographs, was reprinted with the permission of the author.

 

For more than 30 years now, the trading in Accra’s Kantamanto Market has contributed and linked in to the urban center’s economic productivity and vibrancy. Located near the Makola Market area, Kantamanto is its own market, separate and distinct from Makola. It’s home to more than 30,00 traders, who sell most commonly secondhand clothing, but also spare parts, household decorations.

Two vendors, Boadi and Yaw Intim, sell used and new football shoes at Kantamanto Market in Accra.

The most immediate sounds of Kantamanto are the sellers working to attract their customers. “One, one cedi, belts, one, one cedi,” calls out a woman in a high-pitched voice, her feet and calves submerged in a colorful, knee-high pile of skinny belts. A seller hoists a wide bucket of water satchets over her head, weaving through the traffic of early morning customers. “Pure water!” she calls. There’s the booming volume of local highlife music piercing the air as music vendors sell their pirated CDs and DVDs; there’s the haggle between customer and vendor as they negotiate selling prices. Occasionally, there are also the fervent pastors, who stake out their makeshift church spaces, blasting their religious dogmas via megaphone in local Twi or Ga to anyone who can hear.

The market appears like a maze at first; rows and rows of sellers staking out their spaces and selling their wares. There’s the indoor, covered market, the outside market spreading onto nearby walkways, and the vendors with stores in cemented structures. Just like a traditional department store in the West, Kantamanto too has its own sense of order, with specific sections of the market. Here, vendors specialize (selling a specific type of item), but they also agglomerate in clusters to draw the greatest traffic of potential customers. There’s the expansive women’s clothing section, welcoming you at the entrance near Merchant Bank, where vendors’ stalls teem with piles of clothes, some heaped up together, the most colorful or attractive flaunted on hangers overhead: Some vendors here sell ladies’ shirts; others ladies’ skirts; others, ladies’ dresses or suits. Women’s belts, and nail polish. Beyond, deeper into the market, there’s the men’s section, where you can buy T-shirts, jeans, suits, and more. There’s the shoe section, there’s furniture dressings (bedsheets, curtains, towels), the electronics section (where CDs and DVDs are sold). There’s the shoe section, where one can find anything from Adidas and Birkenstocks (some real, some fake), to Tom’s and Nike trainers, new and used sandals. Inside, most of the stalls are numbered; outside, sellers have overtaken pathways and sidewalks, littering both with goods for sale.

OKOYEVictoria_AfricanUrbanism_ACCRA_Kantamanto shoes for sale

OKOYEVictoria_AfricanUrbanism_ACCRA_Kantamanto toys for sale

 

The economic importance and potential of Kantamanto

Day in and day out, with Sunday as the only off day, the vendors are here early – many at dawn or even before the sun itself is quite up, with customers not far behind. This market, filled with “informal” traders, holds significant economic importance – for the traders who make a living here, as well as for the reverberating incomes it provides thanks to its local economic linkages. Despite the occasional threats of eviction and in some cases, actual force, the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) has allowed these sellers to work here and for the area to thrive – tacitly approving their and the market’s existence when it hasn’t interfered with its city development plans.

The secondhand clothes originate from places like Europe and Asia, especially Korea and China, as castaway, donated clothing. In his writings and photography of Kantamanto, Nana Kofi Acquah says that locally, when the importation of used clothes, cars and other items began in the 60s and 70s, it was called “broni we wu” (“the white person has died”), built around the conception that no one in their right mind would willingly give away such nice articles, so the people must have died, and that’s how they arrived in Ghana. These days at Kantamanto, distributors — who source the clothes abroad and resell them locally — sell the clothes in bulk packages to local vendors at the market, who in turn sell it to their customers. One distributor says he comes to Kantamanto Mondays and Thursdays to sell the bulk packages of clothing; each is about three feet by two feet in size, wrapped and tied with plastic string.

OKOYEVictoria_AfricanUrbanism_ACCRA_Kantamanto storage

OKOYEVictoria_AfricanUrbanism_ACCRA_Kantamanto clothing packages

The earliest customers have their pick of the clothes, and they can also negotiate the best prices with the vendors. From no-name brands to well-known ones like H&M and French Connection ladies’ shirts, to Chanel purses and Tom’s shoes, it seems Kantamanto is one huge thrift store, where the gold is there for those who come early and search for it.

Boadi and Yaw Intim work together, on a spot outside the market, a pedestrianized walkway where they sell men’s football shoes, both used and new. The area here is known to vendors as “June July.” The nicer, but used, shoes come from Europe and the US, Boadi says. He also has the lower-end shoes, which he says come from China by way of Togo. Distributors collect the shoes in locations there, and distribute it to places like Kantamanto, he says, and shipments come on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Boadi used to have a stall for many years inside of Kantamanto, but said he attracts more traffic outside, where he’s been for three years now. “You now, it’s not easy to get a place – that’s a shop – inside,” he says. “It’s easier outside.” He also says he gets more customer traffic in his new location.

But Kantamanto isn’t just a market itself, where customers come as end users. It’s also a stop along the distribution chain for clothing retail in the city – just as many stores around the city may source their items at Makola, it is well known that many “boutique” clothing shops who operate in the city also come to Kantamanto, where they select and purchase items for resale, marking up the prices in their own stores.

Local Organizing Efforts, and Challenges

The Kantamanto Traders Association is the local organizing body for the more than 30,000 traders who sell at the market. In recent years, it’s been the tool for appealing to government bodies to protest threats to ejection of the traders, especially given the Accra Metropolitan Assembly and the Ghana Railway Development Authority’s interventions in 2011 to refurbish the railway line that cuts near the market.

“Most of us have [for] over 30 years depended on trading for our daily income at Kantamanto,” said Samuel Amoah, Kantamanto Traders Association Chairman during a press conference to appeal to government agencies. “We agree to the expansion and modernisation of the railway system, but the ejection exercise will put about 30,000 traders out of business,” he said.

The railway line with a station at Kantamanto Market was refurbished in 2011 and 2012, and dozens of vendors who did commerce here were ejected to make way for development.

The expansion was done, and dozens of vendors were ejected to make way for the railway that now runs from Kantamanto through Dzorwulu and onto Tema. Reuters journalist Claire MacDougall wrote in 2011 that the ejection took place despite the fact that the market traders and the association had signed a 50-year lease with the railway agency in 2008 and termination required six months’ notice. The vendors received 10 days’ notice instead.

In Ghana, where land is most often owned by communities and administered by chiefs and traditional leaders, squatters are virtually unable to make claims on the land based on tenure, which gives the state the legal force to evict them.

“Accra has over 40 markets and they are not full,” he [Accra Mayor Alfred Vanderpuije] said. “They can do business there.”

– “West Africa’s new hub pushes out the urban poor to pave the way for development,” by Claire MacDougall

More Photos from Kantamanto Market:

 

Coming Soon- Feminist Fashion Blogging, Vintage Design from Namibia and Wearable Technology

Helloo!  It’s been awhile, I know, but I have  great new projects lined up for April, and The Street Idle  is undergoing a complete redesign.

The first of the projects I’m really excited about is an interview with  feminist fashion blogger Emily Yakashiro, founder of the fantastic blog the Closet Feminist. In the interview we talk about how she approaches fashion through a feminist framework  and some of the challenges  that come with that.

The second  is another interview, but with Namibian vintage enthusiast, tailor and personal style blogger Lourens Gebhardt,  aka Loux the Vintage Guru, about the Namibian vintage fashion.  So stay tuned!

In the meantime, please check out the Vega Edge project by designer  Angella Mackey and OCADU’s The Social Body Lab (Heads up! Street Idle interviewee  Hillary Predko is a team member!). The Vega Edge is a wearable and adjustable bike light that is designed  for both convenience and style, and is less vulnerable to theft than standard bike lights because you can wear it on your clothes like an accessory.

Right now there is a Kickstarter campaign that is raising money for the first batch of these ingenious bike lights, so please contribute if you can. To learn more about the project and the design teams involved, check out the campaign website and watch the video below.