Bittersweet Protest: Industry of All Nations

A wise and dear friend once said, ‘You’re always more careful to choose who you trust’.

And indeed, particularly in the realm of sustainable fashion, ethical fashion, responsible innovation, or whatever you’d like to call it, this statement is more pertinent than ever.

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In May of 2018 I joined a small team of young people with the intention of understanding how a clothing company positioning itself in the sustainable apparel and home-goods sector operates, whilst making some money in exchange for my labor.

I trusted the company enough to devote my time, and go for the ride; but as with any marketing strategy with arguably enigmatic slogans such as, ‘It’s not what we do but how we do it’ or ‘We bring productions back to the original makers’ (what does this really mean and what constitutes an original maker?), there is potential for such statements to blind the public in a state of well-meaning confusion, especially when a significant majority of today’s shoppers in the sustainable fashion realm are among the type decked out in their certified Fair-Trade boho-chic garments and prayer beads they bought from some old woman in Bali; shoppers so eager to buy anything that uses helping brown people in both rural and urban communities in the Global South as their main evangelistic marketing strategy.

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An ‘original maker’ in Tamil Nadu posing with a finished product.

As a young man with long hair, I was a ‘bro’ and ‘dude’ at the company. I had the privilege of being treated as a ‘bro’ at the company. I was invited to speak at sustainable fashion conferences, flown to LA, and given responsibilities to help edit content on the new company website. In my short time at IOAN, I was given more opportunities than my equally if not more able and brilliant co-workers who happened to be female, and had been working at the company for more than double the amount of time I had been there. Leadership at Industry of All Nations (IOAN) was, and remains to be, sexist.

I am not one to bad-mouth other people, but there is a clear line between hostile bad-mouthing and constructive criticisms grounded in evidence.

IOAN leadership is very much ego-driven. The company brands itself as design based entity helping to solve many of the world’s environmental and socio-political issues, without addressing its own problems. Throughout my time at IOAN, my colleagues and I would openly express our frustrations: Polyester (plastic) thread used in IOAN clothing, not knowing how much suppliers in India are paid to make a t-shirt, and being told not to deposit our humble pay checks when we received them on more than 5 occasions, for there not being enough money in the company account and that our checks will bounce if deposited when received. At the same time, we knew the company was quietly building IOAN branded homes in Argentina and Joshua Tree, and that our  San Francisco store alone was making at least $30,000 dollars in revenue on average per month.

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Example of an IOAN Private Housing Project in Argentina

 

Yes, of course companies go through troubled periods where certain things need to be tweaked and adjusted, but such troubles should not break California’s legal requirements of paying your staff on time, let alone giving them a day off.

IOAN operates off manipulating young, energetic, naive individuals, who believe that by working for IOAN, they are part of a family helping create a more sustainable future, even if they aren’t paid on time, aren’t paid 100 overtime hours , and even if they have to take thousands of dollars out of their own pocket to pay sweater suppliers, because company finances are not managed properly.

Upon realising that my own values of transparency, integrity, and wholehearted communication, most importantly within the space of sustainability, were not values that IOAN shared, I gracefully exited the company in November of 2018, whilst with a Sharpie pen at hand on the San Francisco shop’s cardboard store walls (that were going to soon be replaced anyways), made a few immediate adjustments of my own, because even though the boss said we would make changes to such slogans, he was taking too long: ‘Industry of All Nations brings productions back to original makers THE PEOPLE!’. (I also added a much needed apostrophe and word ‘only’ plus a comma to ‘Its not what we do but how we do it’, becoming, ‘It’s not only what we do, but how we do it’. The final product is ‘what’ actually sells and keeps a business running, and quite frankly, how IOAN is doing things isn’t actually true to its projected brand image.

As an aside, I was constantly encouraged by the IOAN boss that being a ‘rebel’ was a good thing, and was told by the boss himself that that he had ‘complete trust’ in me for how the store should look. Of course, being a terrible communicator, IOAN boss tells my female colleague and dear friend that I should be fired for writing on our cardboard walls that we replaced that same day anyways.

As another aside, a boss that bad-mouths his current employees to his other current employees is no leader whatsoever, but a child.

Shortly after I exited, our then head of operations, the only woman who actually really put in the work to keep the company professionally organised and operational despite being the only woman at the bro-dominant head quarters, also exited, without the boss even batting an eye. She was soon replaced by another ‘bro’.

What led me to write this post however, was the sheer injustice of my dear friend and female colleague being manipulated to work 5 months straight as an hourly employee at the IOAN San Francisco store, being paid $20 an hour, with not a single full day off except for New Year’s and Christmas day when the store was actually closed. She would show up to work with body pains, being diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and just sucked it up, under the pressure of needing to earn money to pay rent on time. She would have to sneakily vomit in the garbage can underneath the shop counter whilst customer’s were in the fitting rooms- yet as soon as her head came up, you wouldn’t even know she was feeling ill from fatigue and fibromyalgia pains unless you actually knew her. She’s a soldier for sure.

Yet, even under California law, she was not offered paid sick leave after her 90 days of being a full time employee, nor a day of rest at least once a work week, nor was she paid overtime.

These are serious offences breaking California Labor Law. And for a company that holds itself up by telling the world it’s helping make the world a better place? I cannot allow such a dishonest representation of what ‘sustainable fashion’ means. Never advertise what you’re not actually doing.

I posted a message directed to Industry of All Nation’s Instagram account, which is managed by IOAN’s boss.

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I tried viewing the IOAN Instagram profile the same day after posting my sentiments onto my Instagram story, and it seems that I was blocked.

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That says a lot.

The people and leaders that open up to you, that openly accept and are aware of their own short-comings, the people that are brutally honest with themselves- these are the people you know you can trust. Please be careful, and speak up when it feels the most uncomfortable.

 

Why the clothes on your back don’t really have anything to do with ‘sustainability’.

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After working at a clothing company that constantly prides itself on being ‘sustainable’ as its main appeal, I’ve realised:

You can’t sell sustainability. Sustainability cannot be objectified. Sustainability is a mentality, a culture, a way of being. 

The sentiment brings me back to a conversation I had with my master’s thesis supervisor, Kate Fletcher, on the importance of being present, noticing and taking delight from one’s surroundings.

She shared the following anecdote with me:

‘I realised that what I felt which was much more vital to the success of fashion going forward, or more generally to sustainability, wasn’t that my children understood where clothes were being made (as was the mantra of Fashion Revolution), but actually that they, fully dressed in whatever clothes they were wearing, were able to fully engage with the world…

And in that moment, that day, when that [Fashion Revolution day] was happening, we just went in our old, most tattiest gear, nothing that would be considered a ‘look’, and we just made a den in the woods, and hung-out, and looked at the moss, and we just were being, we weren’t doing anything’.

Sustainability isn’t something you can attach to a product, it’s how you think about and interact with the product, from its design, to its manufacturing, consumption, and evolution into new life.

Sustainability cannot be judged or expressed solely by people’s clothing on their own, but rather by the person’s craft of use.

We cannot say Joey is ‘less sustainable’ than Sheila only because Joey is wearing a t-shirt printed with plastisol butterflies that he received as a gift from a friend, and Sheila is wearing a 100% naturally dyed organic hemp shirt.

Let’s say Joey has sustainability engrained in him and Sheila doesn’t. So even though Joey got this plastisol printed shirt as a gift from a friend (thank goodness it’s organic cotton, though) that he’s wearing anyways, because he still loves the shirt— he’s just going to be careful about washing the shirt to ensure the plastisol bits don’t fall off, and that when the time comes for the shirt to go into its next evolution, Joey won’t just put it in landfill.

For Sheila on the other hand, ‘sustainability’ is more trendy than anything else. After posting on social media about her ‘oh so sustainable’ shirt, she then gets ready to make her next purchase of a jacket made of recycled water bottles, because she was told it’s ‘sustainable’, and hasn’t heard about micro-plastics yet. Sheila doesn’t really know anything about sustainability, she’s just trying to make herself feel and look like she’s helping the planet because it seems ‘cool’ and boosts her ego (even though the planet doesn’t need any help, and would be better off if Sheila and all her friends just left!)

In this example, Joey represents true sustainability as engrained behaviour, and Sheila represents market manufactured sustainability as ego-driven consumption.

Sustainability is not about ‘saving the world’ or constantly making it seem that you’re helping poor starving brown people in the Global South by having them make your clothes and paying them ‘fair wages’, and patting yourself on the back, ‘to feel good’.

Sustainability is about knowing how to save yourself by reconnecting to an inner nature unadulterated by consumerism, an inner self that is able to read and understand the language of Earth’s forces, an inner self that is aware of ego.

People truly tuned in to this inner self are able to read the signs of Earth’s nature, as many peoples of animistic and traditional cultures do. People truly tuned in to sustainability do not compare who or what is ‘more or less sustainable’. People aware of ego do not compare at all. True sustainability is not driven by ego. It just is.

 

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What is ‘sustainability’ without cultural integrity?

‘Sustainability’. The word often conjures up images of  solar panels, clothes made of recycled water bottles, or ‘plastic’ made of sweet potatoes. Lots of talk about scientific innovations, but what about speculation into social, cultural innovations? Particularly in the realm of fashion & sustainability, giving cultural integrity a focus is paramount for conversations within this sector to develop into realistic and earnest action.

What is culture, and what is integrity?

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines culture as, ‘The arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.’ In a more nuanced way, as culture is manifest within the spoken or unspoken experience of every human being, culture has been defined in my earlier work on cultural policy as: ‘The collective thoughts that form a fabric through which we view and interact with our world. Culture exists at different levels, that of the individual’s experience, or differing group sizes that share a culture. Culture cannot be consumed nor produced, but only influenced or experienced at different levels. Culture can therefore not be commoditised.’

Integrity, a word with arguably less ambiguous boundaries, is defined by the OED as ‘The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.’

When compounded, cultural integrity means respecting the different social histories and contexts represented by different peoples and their cultural artefacts.

What I find most interesting in today’s conversations regarding sustainability, is that many ‘innovations’ actually have roots in ancient, pre-capitalistic, cultures. Cultures that were ultimately eroded by capitalism, but are now finding their way back to today’s main stage conversations.

Take mycelium (mushroom) leather for example: Today there are a number of start-ups such as Bolt Threads creating a semantic field around the material, as very new and innovative, when in fact, according to the work of friend and colleague Irene-Marie Seelig, mushroom leather was found to have been first used and discovered by Eastern-European peoples before the 14th century.

Cultures that have existed as distinguishable groups for far longer than today’s ‘modern’ capitalistic culture (an era that spans less than two centuries) are indeed much more likely to hold answers to sustainability. It is indeed a pity that the modern capitalistic cultural regime took over and did not have the integrity to respect the Earthly-limit respecting cultures that it brutally eroded! On the bright side, all is not lost, and a strong number of capable peoples from around the globe are bringing back ancient and traditional knowledge for sustainability that largely capitalistic cultures have diminished.

Point in case, acknowledging cultural integrity as well as environmental integrity is vital for sustainability in the fashion industry to become an omnipresent reality in this era. Sustainable Fashion cannot only be about wearing recycled water bottles (that will end up emitting micro-plastics anyways), or commoditising small villages of people making folk products as a mere marketing ploy. There has to be integrity, and a clear respect for culture, not ignorant appropriation of culture. To question and to know something’s history, who made it, and why it exists; to question behaviour, and one’s own behaviour, is vital for this era’s paradigm shift into sustainability.

 

 

What does reality mean today anyways?

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Today I read an article ‘Why reality is too strange for satire’ on the BBC.  It was very fitting for what I wanted to write.

Being a physical and mental traveller, I often have episodes where my grasp of reality shifts. Having recently moved back to the Philippines, perhaps aided by a bout of jet-lag, not to mention what has been set out by the spectacle of the news recently, I have had another strong episode of shifting reality (we could also attribute Mercury retrograde and me being a sun sign ruled by Mercury).

Like a number of conceptual artists who’ve performed songs like ‘Dream Awake’ , I’ve been recently very confused between the dream world and the world awake. Perhaps it’s because I feel so happy to be alive that my awake life often is just like a dream, whilst nightmares do appear every now and then, they don’t bother me as I can often quite easily analyse their causes, i.e. self generated anxiety.

Like having a totem from the film Inception to to grips with whether one is in the dream or awake world, when such episodes of shifting reality occur often sparked by unthinkable events like Donald Trump becoming president, I have my own little totem in the form of a tattoo. Only I know and remember what it really felt like when it was etched into my skin with a needle. 

Easily visible on my forearm, it’s an Ancient Greek concept revitalised in the 20th century by Martin Heidegger. Pronounced ‘aletheia’, it means truth, that which is unhidden, and reality.

In this most recent episode of shifting reality, I got back to grips with my own reality in realising that reality is not paying complete attention to whatever news you read and see on the screen, and having a handle on how those images may be affecting your daily actions. Knowing that those images of Trump becoming president are not my reality, or the reality. It’s just news. A manifestation of our collective consciousness. And when is there not news in today’s world? Front news headline: ‘Two leaves fell from a tree today in Central Park’. Also a manifestation of our collective consciousness. To be sane in today’s world polluted not only with industrial chemicals in rives and plastic, but also images and noise in our heads, reality begins once you look at and act in the world clearly presented around you through your own very two eyes and not from a screen, like when you go for a walk and look into the smiling (or crying) face of a baby in a pram. If you do happen to go on a walk and see Donald Trump do say hello. This has just been an electronic transmission to go on a walk and see the world through your own two eyes.

 

 

Why do I choose to go vegan?

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It’s hard being vegan. Even for someone like me. I ate cheese yesterday, but didn’t realise I ordered it, but I ate it anyways, because it was in front of me, and I was weak. I ate feta and cream at brunch today. There is regret. It takes a lot of effort to be yourself in today’s world. I didn’t forget to thank and pray for the cows and goats though. You can only pray so much however and if you aren’t taking any action the praying probably isn’t coming from the heart.

So it’s ‘Veganuary’, as disgusting as that may sound to some… But hey! The Animal Agriculture Industry is the number one contributor to green house gases and human induced Climate Change.  And if, unlike Trump, you hopefully believe that climate change is real, like me and many others, you’ll decide to go vegan, at least a couple times a week, if not everyday.

Choosing to go vegan however hasn’t just been an ethical issue; being vegan has provided a number of quality of life benefits (aside from making me less anxious and more hopeful that Climate Change will slow down if more people go vegan):

-clear skin

-higher energy levels

-lower food bills (in theory, as meat becomes less and less subsidized, and more vegetables and other crops are planted to feed people and not livestock).

But where do you get your protein from?

When people say that plants have feelings too… Plants don’t show the clear feelings of fear and pain that cows, pigs, chicken, and fish do. Plants don’t quite run away. Plants were designed to be harvested. Humans designed ways to hunt and kill, by choice. Have you ever seen or read about a man killing a deer, antelope or cow just with their teeth? Nope humans aren’t lions.

The milk of other animals was meant for the babies of those animals, not for humans! 

And if you think that the dairy industry in Europe is humane, small dairy farms seem to be quickly disappearing

And unless you really know where your eggs came from…  Don’t eat them.

At the end of the day, since all animals and animal products originate from plants, instead of inefficiently going through animals for nutrients, why not just go straight to plants? Well maybe because more land in the USA, for example, is used for Animal Agriculture rather than edible plant agriculture, so fresh veg is generally more expensive than it ought to be…

Anyways less talk, and more action! Go vegan and plant more vegetables.

#TAKETOTHESTREETS

American Citizens to the land of America please continue taking to the streets and continue protesting the backwards electoral college until change happens. Urban streets weren’t just invented for cars. They were built as a free place where people can express themselves.

Don’t just let it pass. Hillary is still winning the popular vote; Trump ironically said himself that the electoral college is a disaster. His family didn’t seem look too happy on stage to announce his said victory; not to mention his son’s expressive faces during Trump’s electoral victory speech.

The constitution is a work in progress. The United States of America is a work in progress. It is the duty of every citizen to contribute to this work, by gracefully expressing our sentiments.

I could not be happier to see thousands of citizens taking to the streets to express their outrage at the electoral system, and its ability to allow a narcissistic product of the media that does not understand that his past public actions throughout only the past year, cannot be erased, and will only enable those who do not have the critical strength to make their own moral compasses, but instead to only be driven by false media. Only two days later we are seeing crimes of bigotry, undeniably enabled; by the electorate college system and the hollow, money-driven, superficial, individual it elected.

As the Miss Universe pageant taught us last year; the first announced ‘winner’ isn’t always.

 

#TAKETOTHESTREETS [with grace]

#DONTSTOP

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Thought Fractals

When you focus on something through your instruments, it expands in ways beyond the initial perception.

When I focus on asparagus, the more I am able to feel its density and texture, etc. Aside from its physical properties, the mind then connects to memories and pulls up the most potent asparagus associations: off-putting odours of urine, images of wine country, and past intimate relationships.

Focused relationships in particular, and their following associations, have taught me many things in our fractal, interconnected world: from knowing to use your ring finger for its gentleness to apply eye cream, to learning a new language.

The next time you have a worthy thought or see something interesting, focus on it, and enjoy where it takes you.