Thursday, April 08, 2021

The Light emitted by Urban Medley

 We are all searching for a better future for our planet and we know it is in our hands. There are activists chopping at the chair legs of big corporations. There are idealists striking out on their own. There are inventors trying out new ideas. They include logistical experts, scientists, school teachers, even some politicians. There are many of dots of light in the universe and I believe that when they finally coalesce a flood of light will shine onto a better path. 

One brave innovator is Shayonti Chatterji. She is making her contribution through her business acumen. She reached out to me because she thought there was synchronicity in our respective visions with respect to fashion and indigenous peoples. I have looked up her advertising on LinkedIn and her heartfelt messages promoting Urban Medley, “a curated platform for sustainable fashion”, which she initiated and founded. 


Urban Medley creates products specially for you, so that you can make sustainable fashion a part of your urban life. You stand out and give back. 
It is about sharing a style statement which proudly reflects tradition intercepted with modernity. It’s colorful, boundless, energetic and involves a lot of experimentation. Not bound by age, gender, race, colour and not even size, we choose accessories as our main focus point. We give you the opportunity to create your own style.


This is the face she shows to her consumers on her selling platform. Behind the storefront is her interface with the makers of her beautiful scarves and wraps back home in India. Her path is not an easy one to create or walk. She has a foot in two worlds and she is straddling the great divide as fairly as she can, using her entrepreneurship and her personal experience of both worlds. She has placed her limited resources in service of her ideals, so deep is her commitment. She is doing it for the makers, for the planet and for the future. And it will succeed if buyers are thoughtful, committed and enchanted – so she is educating them, too.


I’m feeling a bit emotional from the sincerity and integrity shown by Shayonti Chatterji; it is rather moving. It is so easy to become jaded when you hear someone on the TV express a desire for government not to become sidetracked by ‘green measures’ and you know what a hard, steep climb we have ahead of us before we achieve a regenerative economy. While writing this blog I have decided to purchase some gifts from Urban Medley’s on-line shop for friends and family. There is no better way to support my own ideals. Her initiative represents an important step on the path to achieving a world that sustains cultural and biological diversity.


Nevertheless, even Shayonti Chatterji’s best practices* cannot (yet) be sustainable to the extent of being regenerative. They constitute a buffer against the erosive power of big capital and big business in indigenous communities. They do keep artisans in their villages instead of being forced to throw their fate into the melee of big cities. They do foster pride and health. They do ensure that indigenous technical prowess, language, culture, heritage and connection with the land will continue. And where her best practices still can’t mitigate all the harm built into doing business (e.g. Chatterji has no recourse but to use current available modes of transport to get the products to the external market) she compensates for CO2 emissions by contributing to the development of an Indian forest


One day we will go knocking at her door to learn about her best practices: what worked and what did not? What is the next step? That proverbial path can only be made by walking on it, and few are brave enough to take that first step. Shayonti Chatterji is courageous and sincere. I wish her and Urban Medley every success. When those brave lights in the universe coalesce, hers will be among them and we will be grateful because they show us the way.

 Postscript 10 April

I have just received my order in the mail and I am blown away by the high quality of these gorgeous items. They are 'keepers for a lifetime'. Highly recommended. Exquisite to own and to give as gifts. 

* Shayonti Chatterji’s strategies:

1.     Work with designers who work with artisans so that they can obtain the income needed to have healthy families and live in dignity.

2.     Work with organic materials, including silk and cotton, using minimum water and no pesticides.

3.     Work ethically: fair pay, decent working conditions, support for artisans

4.     Remember that packaging also has to be earth friendly

5.     Offset CO2 emissions from transportation by contributing to Tree Nation.




Tuesday, April 06, 2021

A Double Gestation!

 Lasma br. Sitanggang, Ny. Damanik, Mak Sandi, has been busy with a great transition in her life. She has married and now she has two children. It has been a busy time for her and so she needed to place the matter of weaving on the back burner while she turned her attention to her role in her culture. Her son Sandi was born within a year after her marriage, so the changes that she went through were significant. 

About a year ago I learned that she was pregnant with a second son. And shortly afterwards, out of the blue, she sent me video clips of herself weaving a bulang. I just about fell off my chair! I hadn’t known that she had once again turned her focus to weaving! Being a perfectionist, she had been shy to divulge the news.


So she was having a double gestation! She was very anxious to get the cloth done first because she knew that after the birth there would be little time for weaving. It was slow going because her belly was swelling and because she was doing it entirely herself, although with her Mother’s expert guidance. “It is about counting and counting and counting,” she told me laughing. She had known that the bulang was complex numerically, but hadn’t realized quite the full extent of how extremely and meticulously arithmetic it was. “If you don’t get the count during warping right,” she said, “nothing after that works properly.” Each stage of weaving determines the success of the next stage, because each part of the cloth builds on the previous part. She is like her mother in being very careful and attentive to detail. I believe it shows in the cloth. I remember her father telling me that not everybody can weave a bulang. You have to have focus and precision and determination and patience. 


After the birth of her second son, I didn’t know whether to dare to ask her whether she had finished her bulang, but finally I did so with great trepidation. I knew that it would be hard on her if she hadn’t met her goal, and also how difficult it would be at a later stage for her to pick up where she had left off. To my surprise, pleasure and great relief, she didn’t hesitate for a moment and immediately sent me this video of her finished oeuvre. I was so proud of her the tears rolled down my cheeks.


Mak Sandi is critical of her work. I see skill and focus, while she sees every tiny error. Nevertheless, she is also ambitious. She wants to weave another and make it even better. What a steadfast and determined young woman. Congratulations, Mak Sandi. This is a major accomplishment. I think about how proud her late father would have been. He passed away during the gestation period and didn’t get to see either finished product. He had been the one to encourage his wife and his daughters to weave so that they would be proud keepers of their culture. 

Friday, March 05, 2021

Denier: A conversation with Sandra Niessen

Shonagh Marshall contacted me recently to ask me to do an interview with her. A New York based curator and writer for books and fashion publications, she was once, and for many years, the curator at Somerset House in London. She has also taught the history and theory of fashion photography and is currently honing her focus to fashion sustainability, already well into her second year of interviews with people to explore the topic and boost the conversation -- and the movement. She posts her interviews, contextualized and transcribed, on her web page, which she calls "Denier, A series of conversations about fashion's relationship to people, the planet and profit". I am honoured that my ideas have become the focus of her most recent conversation, posted yesterday (4 March 2020), entitled, simply, Denier: A conversation with Sandra Niessen.   

Today she had more news for me: "Our conversation will be included in the Fashion Act Now -- which I am a part of -- booth at Conscious Fashion Campaign Discover the SDGs Now event." Note that 'Fashion Act Now' is an exciting development to push sustainability in fashion:

"We want to drive a transformation of fashion from an industry and culture that  exploits our planet's resources, to one that regenerates the natural world and supports the wellbeing of all people.​"

And the 'Conscious Fashion Campaign Discover the SDGs Now' event is a superb context for that 'Fashion Act Now' initiative from Extinction Rebellion. 

"The Conscious Fashion Campaign, in collaboration with the United Nations Office for Partnerships, creates high-visibility fashion event partnerships to accelerate global industry engagement to advance the Decade of Action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. The campaign educates and mobilizes the fashion sector to action solutions for social, economic, and environmental change."

I am excited by Shonagh's energy and initiatives. The need for change is urgent. We can only accomplish it together. I am thrilled by the 'relay' that seems to be taking place, starting with my article for Fashion Theory, and subsequently my talk on the topic for State of Fashion. May this relay continue apace and have effect! 

In the back of my mind, always, is the weavers in Indonesia and their families who are suffering so terribly from poverty and a market that discriminates against them. I had to recognize the demoralizing limits of my capacity, as an anthropologist, to make the kind of significant change in North Sumatra that would assist them structurally. Their plight, and that of indigenous textile makers around the world, taught me that this can only happen at a global level. For them and for the well being of the planet as we know it and have learned to love it, we continue our struggle for a decolonial fashion that recognizes ethics and diversity. 

End the sacrifice zones!