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 

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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:

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

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The Street Idle is on Instagram

instagramThe Street Idle is On Instagram!  Follow me at thestreetidle.

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On Worn Out Things – Clothing, Affect and the Difficulties of Letting Stuff Go

The trench in question - I'm not the best photographer but now you know what it looks like.

The trench in question – I’m not the best photographer but now you know what it looks like.

One of my favourite items of clothes is coat that is too worn out to wear in public. It is a beige  trench coat that I bought about 6 years ago  on sale for $50.  I was in the third or second year of my undergrad  and was living on my own for the fist time in Montreal.  It was late Spring, on a nice day, and  I was  bored so I decided to take a walk a long Rue St.  Catherines  to burn off some pent up energy.  I ended up in a shop and started browsing with no intention of buying anything when I noticed this coat. What drew me to it was its shape  and the material. It felt like it was made out of a rough cotton fabric  which, when laid out on the on the floor and unfastened , was cut in an almost perfect square.  The coat does not have any buttons, but fastens at the waist with a roughly tied cord rope with knotted ends and the rope detail is repeated around the lapels .  After seeing and inspecting the coat for some time, I put it back down on the rack where I had picked it up, left the store and continued my walk.  This is how I shop.  Having had been only sporadically employed for the past two years, it was difficult for me to bring myself to buy anything that expensive without having to sleep on it first. $50 for me a the time would have been the rough equivalent of a week’s worth of groceries, but for the rest of the  day, no matter what was on my mind,  my thoughts would eventually drift back to that coat.  By the next day I decided I would go back to that store and try it on at least, and after 10  minutes of staring at myself in the mirror with the coat on I decided that there was room in my budget for it.

It can feel silly to write about the first time you come across an article of clothing, and when I read similar pieces in magazines or blogs that I admire, I must admit that, despite empathizing with the writer, I wince. The way clothes , especially luxury brands, are talked about in fashion magazines, blogs and websites, tend to ignore how clothes make us feel – literally. Clothes can rearticulate or confuse elements about yourself that you would like the world to know or keep private.  Sometimes  clothes can also communicate a shared history, or possible futures or a desire to form certain kinds of relationships with specific peoples or groups, but clothes aren’t just what they symbolize visually (though that’s very important). Clothes can raise your level of consciousness in other, more haptic  ways as well. Because of how we engage with clothes, they can never fully be abstracted the physical aspects of their daily contexts. How we experience clothes (and by extent fashion) is just as dependent on how they actually feel against our skin as how they look.

My trench coat, which was more of a cape with sleeves than anything else, did not make sense to me as something I wanted or felt like I needed to own until  I put it on. It wasn’t the fit of the coat  that sold me, but the slightly rough feeling of the heavy cotton, and the ropes around my waist and at the back of my neck. It wasn’t even that it was comfortable, though it was,  it was how the fabric moved against my skin when I moved in it. It made me feel aware of myself in my surroundings in a way that was slightly different, but noticeable after I had put it on.  Because of this feeling,  I navigated public space  differently than before. The coat forced me to pay more attention to each of my movements. When it was cold, for example, I became hyper aware of just how cold I was because the feeling of the fabric against my skin would dull a bit and so  the coat would force me to realize that my skin had numbed somewhat.  How the coat felt on me made me wonder how the clothes on the people around me felt to them as well.  I wondered  how their clothes may have influenced how they went about their days.  The constant brushing of the fabric against my skin forced me to pay more attention to where I was and what I was doing in each new environment . Going to university in Montreal had been a bit disorienting for me.  I moved through hallways, classrooms, and streets like I was made of  smoke.  I winded through people, places, and objects and sometimes  did not  notice who or what exactly I had passed by.  Wearing this coat compelled me to make note of these things by reminding me that I was , for a few minutes anyways, a part of that physical environment  each time it brushed up against my skin.

I stopped wearing the coat about a year ago , because I had worn it out. There are many wholes and tears, and the rope around  the waist has begun to fray in some places. Even though I no longer feel that it is fit to wear in public, I cannot bring myself to throw it away. The material isn’t what it once was either. The cloth has become softer with wear and constant washing ( I really like doing laundry -  my friends tell me that I always smell like a load that has just come out of the dryer).  As a result, I do not feel the same sensation when the fabric rubs up against  my skin as I did before, but  I think the memory of that feeling keeps me from getting rid of it.   How clothes feel still sometimes help me situate myself day to day . The memory of the feeling of the rough cotton on my skin was reassuring  to some extent  and I think I hang onto that coat because it.

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Side Projects …

I’m a contributor to Toronto based blog, The Ethnic Aisle, and this week I’ve had the great opportunity to write for their “Death” issue. If you want to read something from me that’s not about clothes, please check out my piece called , On Death and Mourning from a Distance.

Intelligent Designs – Interview with Designer and Maker Hillary Predko, Part 2

This post is the second post in a mini-series dedicated to how clothes can help shape the way we interact with space. In part two of my interview with Hillary Predko, we discuss the importance of collaboration and how  important it was to her while she was working on her backpack design project, Passaic Design. AND, we  ambitiously try to untangle the complicated relationship  between fashion, design, technology and over-production. Predko is based in Toronto and calls herself a maker. She is a member of Site 3, a maker based collective and besides being an artist and designer, she teaches elements of her craft in workshops held throughout the city.

Street Idle: Do you see yourself as more of a designer or a maker of things?

Hillary Predko: That’s an interesting question. If I were to identify in any way I like the term maker.  I’m a member of a maker space, Site 3, which is at Bloor and Ossington. Everyone’s working in really different mediums: from machinist, to fashion designers, to carpenters. I feel like there is an overlapping ethos where we’re helping each other quite a bit. We’re sharing our ideas and are really interested in the investigation the processes of getting to an end product. There is really something that is DIY and entrepreneurial [about that] that I really identify with. I think it’s a lot of fun.

SI: Is there something about textiles that you find particularly useful in getting your ideas across? 

HP: I think for me, it comes back to this idea of making things that are unapologetically feminine.

SI: Do you mind if we discuss that concept a little more? Why is it important to you to create items that are unapologetically feminine?

HP: I do believe that often times when women are striving for equality often they are leaving behind traditionally female spheres and moving into the world of business, finance, things like that. [That is] a totally legitimate choice, but I’ve never identified with those ideas or practices a lot in my life and I think it’s important to give weight and celebrate things that are viewed as extremely feminine.

 SI: Do you think that there’s something about this moment we’re living in that makes it important to remember to elevate to those traditionally feminine practices or ways of creating?

HP: I don’t think this is a product of our time, but what I’m interested in doing is bringing some of these technological innovations to the sphere of fashion design.  I think that it’s [clothing design] not necessarily moving as quickly as the digitization of finance [for example].  So you have some really interesting ways of tracking data that comes through the stock market, but there are not as many innovative ways of looking at clothing and body adornment [through technology]. I feel like I want to help further that.

SI: So you’re kind of merging two fields that have been traditionally seen as antagonistic, technology and clothes despite the two being intimately connected. 

HP: I think my work is more in opposition to mass production than to hand work. I still do a tremendous amount of work by hand, like I would consider myself a crafts person in very many ways. Everything I make has a lot of hand finishing; it’s somewhat automated, but not nearly as automated as it could be. But I think that fashion has gone too far into the realm of absolute mass production, over-production and this is all based on people jumping the gun and having to have the next trendy object. Where if we were to go back to something that is more related to hand production, but not 100 percent, then people aren’t going to be producing as many things and more things can be made without being shipped across the entire world.

SI: Why did you choose to do backpacks for your senior thesis project?

HP: It seemed like both conceptually and materially there were questions I was interested in working out and an idea that I could run for a year with (and I definitely did). I think there are still more things I would be interested in finding out.

Predko's backpacks being displayed at OCADU's 2013 Grad Exhibition

Predko’s backpacks being displayed at OCADU’s 2013 Grad Exhibition

SI: What were some of the questions you were trying to figure out while working on this project what did some of that detail entail?

HP: I was interested in making something that had a kind of an old school look with the canvass and leather, but was innovative in the techniques it used and the fit and function.  Like I have some old bags that are really heavy, but I was working with some newer textiles that were covered in the process. There is a lot of neoprene in the padding for example. I was also interested in learning about how leather works. The leather is all laser etched and then it’s treated with an oil, it’s dyed, it’s finished. It took  many months to figure out the additional processes. I had to add on to the leather to start from something that was really hard and unprocessed to get to something that was malleable and beautiful.  I also developed ways of waterproofing the canvass through waxing , well I didn’t develop them, it’s a really old technique, but I tweaked it and adapted and made it my own and found my own combinations of wax.  In terms of the conceptual reasons why I wanted to do this, this was definitely really about this idea of one off production and having something that is customizable so there is a browser based software package that I developed with a web designer where you can add an image that would be digitally printed [onto the backpack]. And theoretically, how it would work is that you would be able to choose what would be etched on to the straps and which images are printed onto the bags. 

An etched leather backpack strap designed by Predko

An etched leather backpack strap designed by Predko

SI: What’s preventing your backpack project from working out the way you had originally planned?

HP: What’s preventing it is a couple of hundred hours of  working on the website and having enough money to pay a web developer. I’ll see how it goes for the next little while – I definitely want to change it to a full-fledged business.  But the app is live on the internet, passaicdesign.com and you can actually choose and put stuff on a backpack and it’s pretty fun.

SI: This project, in a lot of ways, is a collaboration with the customer. How do you see this approach to design addressing the problem of over-consumption ?

 HP: I do believe that people will keep an object longer and pay more money for it if they have a hand in it’s creation – if it’s personal to them. For my thesis, I produced three bags, one of them has a photograph of my grandmother when she was a little girl. I went to her house in Ottawa and I scanned  a bunch  of photos from all of the pictures she has from growing up. I chose one that I thought was beautiful  and this is now become, you know, a bag that’s really quite meaningful to me.  Another bag I made,  has a photo of me in Tofino , British Columbia on it. That was one of the best days of my life. I designed the rest of the textile but these are all photographs  [holding up the bag] of a long, long road trip to British Columbia from Ontario.  We took a Greyhound bus in November and it is one of the weirdest and most insane things I have ever done.  My friend and I bought an unlimited bus pass to travel across Canada, it was called a, “discovery” pass, and it was really crazy and impulsive and fantastic and I made it all the way to the ocean. Now it’s commemorated on this object in a way that I will have for a long time and it really means a lot to me.  And the last bag I made, speaking of collaboration, was made in exchange for the site’s web design by [web] developer, Kate Murphy(https://kate.io/). It’s an image of a ghost ship in Greece, by Chris Kotsiopoulos. I emailed him and he gave us permission to use the photo. The straps are etched with an astrological atlas from 1815, that’s in the public domain. 

Predko backpack with  photo print of a Greek ship photographed by Chris Kotsiopoulos

Predko backpack with photo print of a Greek ship photographed by Chris Kotsiopoulos

SI: What role do you see technology playing in fashion in the future?  Do you see more innovation in technology being used to tackle the issue of over-production?

HP: I believe that if more small designers and people who care about this stuff don’t put a concerted effort to really disrupt the fashion industry, than large companies with entrenched interest in large profits and low quality will continue to rule the industry whether or not they’re making technological advances. I can easily see a company like Forever 21 having enough money to make a very effective delivery system where you could tweak and design something that was then slapped together in a sweatshop in China.  But, I think that changing technologies give us normal people the opportunity to stick a wrench in the mechanisms of powers that be. We’ve seen that a lot in the music industry, the music industry is totally blowing apart right now and lord knows where it’s going to end up [but] it’s a really exciting moment in a lot ways, and a lot of artists are able to leave labels and make money on their own. I would like to see fashion designers, jewellery designers, accessories designers, shoe designers find ways to break apart entrenched interests in the fashion industry in the same way. Like Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy, LVMH, they continue to make billions and billions and billions of dollars a year and they continue to cut costs and making products a little worse and pushing designers to just produce astronomical amounts of work doing six shows a year.  I don’t think it’s that interesting if the same people are pulling the strings.  So I like to believe that by finding newer more interesting  business models giving people what they truly want, small designers can start gobbling up people’s market  shares, because we need to wear clothing and why not wear something’s that nice.

SI: I imagine that a laser cutter is not cheap.  What are some of the barriers to adopting technology in fashion for smaller designers?

SI: It’s not incredibly affordable to purchase a laser cutter, no.  But  I don’t own one, I’m a member of a space where I can share time  on one and if I was to want to start a business and have my own laser cutter it would be a $5000  investment. [But] instead of paying a machine shop to produce $5000 worth of tool and dye sets, which can only make one product, the flexibility in design means that a large investment will produce more return than traditional  factory technologies would have afforded. It’s a lower barrier to entry but it’s not rock bottom.

 SI: Do you think clothing produced by these new technologies will have an impact on the relationship  that women who chose to wear them will have with their bodies?

HP: There’s a company called Constrvct and they will take your measurements and design a garment based around those measurements. You upload a file and it will print [the measurements] on to a dress, shirt, whatever, and you’ll get this garment that is tailored entirely to your shape without going to a tailor. It seems like a very different experience.  I have never ordered anything from them myself, but I think that allows for more body acceptance in a way that you’re putting in your own measurements and not trying to fit into a standardize sizing.  So if you have a hip to waist ratio that isn’t something that H&M thinks is correct, you can still access clothing that is really flattering and wonderful and fits you well. And I think the branding that kind of company is more likely to show a greater diversity of body types.  So I think there is definitely the potential to have a greater level of body acceptance and less prescriptive, normative design practices.

 SI: So do you see us going back to a pre-industrial age, ironically, through technology, where clothes are made on an individual basis instead of on this mass produced level?

HP: I think it’s going to be hard as a culture to accept that the level of production that we’re currently functioning at is clocking in at a level higher than our planet can sustain, but I do think that we’re going to need to accept a lower rate of production in fashion, in automotive production, across the board.  All our goods are being produced at a rate that is unsustainable and to scale that back I think we need to design and produce according to need or at a reasonable level of need. People don’t need to buy thirteen outfits a year.

SI: How do you see yourself moving forward now with the new skills that you gained through these projects?  How do you see technology taking you further to where you want to go?

 HP: So, I have been teaching a lot since I’ve graduated.  I’ve been working with a company called, Hot Pot Factory, (http://hotpopfactory.com/) teaching 3D printing classes. I was lucky enough a couple of weeks ago to volunteer and teach at a camp called Girls Learn Code (http://girlslearningcode.com/) which was really, really cool, Me and some of my friends are trying to plan a conference about women and making. Otherwise, I’ve been really interested in teaching and sharing these skills that I’ve been gaining and continuing to design and create objects and hopefully design and market them. I seem to like the making part more than the selling part, [but] I’ll get to that eventually.

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Leather, Lace and Fanny Packs – Interview with Designer and Maker Hillary Predko, Part 1

This post is a continuation of a series of posts loosely dedicated to exploring how clothes can help shape the way we interact with space. I came across Hillary Predko’s work, first through OCAD’s grad exhibition (that school is getting a lot of love from me lately), but did not ask her for an interview until months later. This is part one of what is a two part interview in which Predko was nice enough to agree to talk to me about her work, leather and personal fabrication. Predko is based in Toronto and calls herself a maker. She is a member of Site 3, a maker based collective and besides being an artist and designer, she teaches elements of her craft in workshops held throughout the city.

Street Idle: How did you get into design and creating?

Hillary Predko: I was pretty young when I started sewing. My dad actually taught me how to sew, he sews and knits and he taught me the basics when I was younger. My grandmother came to stay for a weekend when I was around twelve, and she taught me to sew from scratch. We went the store and got some fabric and a pattern, and in about four hours straight I just did everything. I got really obsessed [with sewing]. And that was kind of the beginning of being obsessive about getting projects done.  I’m just always thinking in three dimensions and that comes really easy to me compared to, I don’t know, [something] more abstract [like the] written word or painting. Building three dimensional objects is something that I’ve always just found really satisfying to do.

Leather utility belt by Hillary Predko

SI: Why do you find building three dimensional objects so satisfying?

 HP: It’s nice to have something that exists in the real world. And it’s also something I just always found certain proclivity towards.  If I tried something [like creating 3D projects], it works more often than if I tried baking.  That doesn’t work for me really well at all.

SI: So you feel more at ease in that medium?

HP: Yeah.

SI: What led you to explore personal fabrication and how was your earlier work, like your, “Laced Up Leather,” belt project, was informed by that concept?

HP: The belt project I produced for a class and it was called “Wearable Technology” and the class was pretty focused on embedding electronics in clothing. I was more interested in using fabrication tools. I experimented with the laser cutter because its something that I thought sounded really remarkable.  I liked the idea of being able to get rather complicated work rather quickly, so I went with the idea of using lace because I feel like lace exemplifies the difficulty of handwork in many ways. Handmade lace is really expensive because it is such a laborious project to create. Its interesting to contrast this with the laser cutter; once you design something you can replicate near infinitely. I think has this sort of interesting tension between the design and the product because the personal effort involved in putting that level of decoration is really minimized by using this technology. I also like the tension between something that is extremely decorative, but also utilitarian.

SI: What is it about the, “tension between the extremely decorative and utilitarian,” that inspires or is appealing to you?

HP: I don’t know.  I feel like it almost has this riot grrl ethos, of being sort of unapologetically female, which I really like.  I like the idea of being the badass tank girl chick who is not trying to not be a girl, but who is totally awesome in that femininity. And sometimes if you’re tank girl you need a belt to go through the desert cause it’s hard to carry a purse on your tank.

SI: Could you elaborate a little more on the design and creation process that went into creation of the “utility belt”?

HP: A laser cutter is a CNC machine, which [stands for] Computer Numerical Control. You draw an image in a vector program, I used illustrator, and then the file will be uploaded into the machine and it will trace out the outline.  And what I thought was really interesting with that is that, well for one thing, I was using leather and for leather you don’t need to finish the edges so I fit all the pieces into a 18 by 24 inch rectangle. There’s only about 2 to 4 inches of waste out of the entire layout, so everything would be stacked and sewn together to create the three dimensional object from a really tightly utilized two dimensional space.

SI: What were some of the challenges working with a laser cutter?

HP: Laser cutters make leather smell really bad.  It is cow flesh and it smells like burning flesh.

SI: Why did you decide to work with leather specifically? What is it about the material that you find so interesting to work with?

HP: Leather is one of those materials that we have not been able to engineer anything synthetic that is nearly as good as the natural material.  It is just really, really, beautiful and I have learned more about it since beginning this work.  At first I felt kind of badly because it is an animal product and [that] makes me feel a little freaked out, but there’s a huge amount hide produced just because of this [beef] industry.  So if this leather isn’t getting used then it’s going to waste.  So it’s more like an industrial by-product. It’s not like fur where there is an industry that exists exclusively for fur, leather is something that exists because we have a meat industry. People obviously do want to end that, but it’s something that I think is interesting. [Also leather] ages really nicely, like a leather bag twenty years from now is going to look so much better than the day it was made.

SI: In your artist statement you mentioned that you wanted to in this project spread your ideology and I was wondering what that ideology was?

HP: I think that our society creates far too many consumer goods. There’s a huge volume of goods. There are a huge warehouses, globally that store massive volumes of goods. And with the ability to make something that is customizable and made locally, and made on demand, we can produce things that are higher quality , will last longer, and don’t need to be disposed of in the same way. I think if our culture is going to survive we have to move past having these super trend based cycles of fashion. I think that having beautiful functional objects that we wear is important, we need to shield ourselves from the elements, but the way that it is working right now, I don’t think it is very effective for peoples’ wallets, for the globe.  Just I don’t think it’s very good.

SI: Going back to your artist statement I found it really interesting that you wrote, “Women are culturally discouraged from engaging in technological discourse.” How, in your opinion, does technology mediated design encourages women to engage and participate in that discourse?

HP: One machine that I use fairly frequently in my day to day life is an 85 year old industrial sewing machine. An industrial sewing machine that was made 85 years ago is basically identical to one that’s made today.  I feel as though traditionally female realms, [which] are often in a private realm, related to domesticity aren’t encouraged to innovate. The fashion industry is obviously taken out of the home, but I think that by combining something that is traditionally female and also innovative and cutting edge is a good way to create a discourse around moving forward with how we think about, well in this case fashion, how we think about clothing, how we think about adornment. I think it’s important to value these realms [traditionally female] as highly as automotive engineering [for example].  I think the way we think about what we wear is as important as the way we think about how we move, but it’s not necessarily weighted equally in our culture.

SI: While we’re on the topic of movement, I want to bring up another quote from your artist statement.  You wrote, “I want to design lacy utility belts for two reasons, women are encouraged to carry useless purses that limit mobility and dexterity.” How do you feel fashion mediated by technology can help change the ways that women navigate spaces and how they perceive themselves in those spaces?

HP: I wore this belt very frequently, and one thing that this was designed for is riding my bike. It has a spot to hold a u-lock so that it doesn’t hit my leg while I’m cycling. If you have ever tried cycling with a purse it is nearly impossible. It is really hard. Your leg hits it and you have to go quite a bit slower and I think by the way that this [the belt] interacts with my body, I am more mobile.  I am able to navigate space more effectively and to me that’s a huge boon.  Backpacks and utility belts, to me, are some things that lend themselves to, I don’t know, a greater level of bodily movement. I feel like there’s something about having a shoulder bag – I feel like there is something very limiting about that range of movement.

hillwithbike

SI:  Do you mind discussing a little bit more why you decided to create a fanny pack utility belt?

HP: My partner, when I first met him, was a bike courier and I had never really spent time around bike couriers at all, but they have really great backpacks.  So I started looking at the bags that him and his friends had and [had noticed] that the design choices that were made are so hyper-functional, because there is so much obsession to detail, like there is so much attention given to the details and I just found that really fascinating to the point that I wanted to try my hand at it. And I mean, obviously, what I created was very different than something that someone would use as a courier. I would not encourage my design to be used by a courier, I don’t think that it would really make their work day any easier.  But,  just looking at how things were weighted  and how straps were placed for comfort and to access things more quickly, it was really interesting and I just like the hyper-functionality of the backpack.

SI: Do you think that functionality and practicality is something that is missing from women’s fashion?   And do you feel that technology offers a way of addressing that lack in women’s clothing right now?

HP: I think that pockets are generally lacking from women’s clothes.  And I could imagine a really great online interface where you could choose where to put pockets on a dress, or add additional pockets.

SI: Going back to design, you have sited Diana Eng as an influence on work.  What is it about her designs that speak to you so strongly?

HP: I think her work is very beautiful and I think she also provides a good model of a small scale design practice that is quite personal. Looking at her work online you can really get a sense of how she’s working and the way she’s reaching out to customers. She’s a really good personality a long with having the technology involved in her design practice and I think that’s something really encouraging to see. I just think her work is really beautiful and well executed.

SI: You had originally designed you project to be copied. Why did you intentionally decide to design something that could be copied, especially since stealing intellectual property is such a taboo and hot topic in fashion right now?

HP: I think better things will always come from collaboration than trying to protect your intellectual property- within in a certain threshold. I think when you’re small and you’re starting out the more you share your ideas the more you’ll get back.  There’s an essay I like by an author that I admire, Cory Doctorow, it’s called, “Think like a Dandelion,” and he talks about [how] in the age of the internet it does not cost a lot to reproduce an idea.  He’s an author so his ideas are words, [and] clearly there’s more involved in reproducing an object, but we have this idea that ideas are often like human children.  You put so much time into them and you want to protect them, but really they’re more like dandelion seeds and the way that a dandelion propagates is to spread hundreds of thousands of seeds. Many will die on the sidewalk, but some will plant a new plant. I think that’s a really poetic and beautiful idea, that if you just put your work out there it will take root. You never know, but [an idea] is likely to be a lot more interesting, inspiring and ultimately rewarding [if spread] than if you were to be very closed fisted with it. Obviously, I’m not doing anything patentable.   If I was an engineer who created a new type of motor maybe I would think  about this differently, but I think by viewing an object most fashion designers , if they are skilled enough,  could reproduce it, so I’m just helping someone cut a couple of hours [or] a couple of weeks of work.

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Utility belt pattern by Hillary Predko

*All images are the property of Hillary Predko  and were posted with the artist’s permission

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