Catch The Vision

‘Where there is no vision, people cast off restraint’ Proverbs 29:18

Vision has been at the forefront of my mind recently. Maybe it’s because it’s towards the start of the new year, in fact, I’m still in the midst of celebrating the Lunar New Year (celebrations officially last 15 days). However vision isn’t just for new beginnings, it can also help to realign us in the midst of doing something or when we feel we’ve lost focus. As Proverbs states, those without vision cast off restraint, and it can become so easy for us to give up on something we used to feel so strongly about, whether it be our purpose, a relationship, or a goal merely because we lost sight of why we began it in the first place.

 

It is key to write down your vision. And actually write it out with a physical pen and paper, the act of writing it manually sears it into your brain and makes it more memorable and real. I actually wrote out a vision for this space last year. Note that vision is not just about what is, in fact it is much more about what will be than what is right now. I wanted to share my vision for this space with you all, so that we can clearly see the aim and where we are heading towards. Sometimes you need to cast the vision, state the intention to those who are along the journey with you in order to connect and resonate with those who catch and support it, and can contribute to its community moving forward. Sharing a vision to begin with isn’t necessarily always right, some things are birthed in our hearts and in order to protect them, we need to be very choosy about who we share them with. Don’t cast your pearls before swine (another Proverb, it’s the book of wise sayings for a reason), in other words, don’t take what is too precious and valuable and put it in front of those who will not fully understand or appreciate it.

 

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Photo: Jennifer McGeever, January 2017

 

In its foetal stages, vision needs nourishment and care. One of the most powerful women in the Bible actually didn’t reveal key information about her background, as she had been advised not to do so (“Esther had not revealed her people or family background, because Mordecai had charged her not to reveal it.”
‭‭Esther‬ ‭2:10‬ ‭NKJV‬‬)

In fact, if she had revealed this information at the wrong time, her entire purpose would have been thrown off course. Revelation is God’s timing and domain: ‘It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, it is the glory of Kings to reveal it’ (Proverbs 25:2).

SS Vision Statement:

« This is a space for those who don’t see a division between intelligence and investment in style. Who know their taste but are equally informed about the human heart. A place for art and acquiring knowledge, a place where artificial separations are demolished, as SS stands for style with substance and understands that the creative is in every one and every walk of life. In that vein you will find essays on faith alongside articles on where to find the showrooms of the best independent jewellery designers in the world. Feminism alongside food, the best breakfast in Bali side-by-side with informed writing on the mixed race experience. As a 25 year old woman who has lived in both hemispheres and is educated, inquiring and aesthetically astute, I find it harder and harder to find a space and words that combine both style and real substance, that talks to me not only as a peer but as a human, not enticing me with clickbait or SEO-friendly headers but honesty and integrity. I have set out to create media that I want to read and that resonates with my peers who are changing the game in their respective fields.

Many of these pieces are like transcribed extensions of conversations I have had with incredible friends and acquaintances from all walks of life, social stratas and ethnic backgrounds. SS is authentic and representative not because diversity is trendy (*cough cough* every major fashion and beauty brand who is only now diversifying their nude range) or commercially viable, but because this is the world in which I have grown up and thrive within, the world as it should be, is and can become where it is lacking. Style with substance: let’s be men and women making strides to embody this. »

When it is right, casting and sharing vision can allow something to ascend to its next natural progression of growth. Everything growing needs to see the light of day at some point in order to evolve. Thank you for allowing this vision its space to breathe, sit and soar. I hope it resonates with you.

Always in love,

Jennifer McGeever

x

Women of Style & Substance: Jessica Lee

Jessica Season Lee, a name as beautiful and unique as the girl herself. I would say what first bonded us was art. We’ve both always loved to paint and draw naked people (formally known as life-drawing) and although we went to the same school, we were in different forms throughout our time there. If it wasn’t for our love to create, we may never have bonded the way that we did. We are both a little whimsical, and away with the fairies at times (disclaimer: we may both still believe in fairies). Our artistic tendencies brought us on art department trips together to Paris and New York (which was a school trip for the history books on the scale of hilarity and sheer number of things that went wrong) and solidified our bond.

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Jess snapped by me in Jaipur, India. Candidly beautiful

She is one of my absolute favourite women in the world, my travel buddy (adventures include burns from bad boys on motorbikes in Langkawi and getting trapped in a bear-roaming National Park after-dark), confidante and someone I can be 100% myself with without fear of judgement. She is my go-to gal for matters of the heart; I remember after one particularly bad break-up I got a handwritten card in the post from Jess with a Seneca greeting on the front: ‘Thank you for being’ it read. So beautiful and so quintessentially Jess (I still have that card on my wall today, it will forever be the right word at the right time in the right place). One facet of her character which I don’t think she even fully realises is her inner resilience and quiet strength; she is living testimony to the reality that kindness isn’t weak and that living with whimsy isn’t congruous with not understanding pain, she inspires me with her unassuming tenacity in both personal and professional spheres more than she will ever know. Soul twin, oriental sister, partner in trying to make voice notes cool (seriously y’all should try it), without further ado here’s Jessica Season Lee and a little insight into her captivating and oh-so-beautiful mind…

A post shared by Jennifer McGeever (@j_wenghan) on Mar 26, 2015 at 8:20am PDT

 

SS: What did you last Google? 

JL: I last googled ‘Sustainable Fashion Academy’. I want to enrol in a Sustainability Fundamentals course which will give me more of an insight into the sustainability challenges and opportunities we face within the fashion industry, and identify how I can improve processes within my own job. Working at a company that promotes fast fashion has really highlighted the importance of being environmentally and ecologically mindful – I feel somewhat responsible to ensure I am doing all I can to help and educate myself.

SS: Name one app you love that we might not know about: 

JL: I share a food blog called Galstronomy with two of my best friends so I’m on the hunt for good editing apps. I’ve recently discovered Foodie which specialises in filters catered to photos of all my food snaps.

 

SS: What is your happy place?

JL: My ultimate happy place is enjoying good food with good company – for me, it’s definitely the case that the way to my heart is through my stomach.

SS: What book are you currently reading or did you most recently finish? 

JL: I’ve just finished reading The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett which follows two people and three different versions of their future – both together and apart – as their love story takes on different incarnations. I would highly recommend this book – I love how it illuminates themes of fate, relationships and how impactful the choices we make can affect our lives and the lives of those around us [Ed note: This has just gone on my reading list.]

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SS: Who embodies style with substance for you?

JL: It won’t be a surprise to many that I think my mother is the ultimate embodiment of style with substance [Yes! Yvonne is the epitome of chic and all of our woman crushes ❤ ). She is chic, elegant and artistic with a distinct sense of style – her love for fashion has definitely filtered down to me. She is generous, brave, strong, a dreamy mother and completely beautiful inside and out – I’m so lucky to know her.

Jess
Actual twins no? The Lee ladies ❤ #TheUltimate, blessed to know you both

 

SS: What is one lesson that you’ve learnt in the past year?

JL: You have to go for what you want unashamedly. I have never been good at shouting about my achievements, nor am I vocal enough about telling people what I feel I deserve. Being new to the working world has been a huge learning curve for me where I haven’t always backed myself with conviction when it comes to things like promotions. I think women in general need to be better at this, and being brave and bold is something I’m trying to focus on – let’s close this gender pay gap! [Floored by all the wisdom here, amen, amen, amen! We are both huge fans of Lean In, the recent ’20 Percent Counts’ campaign they ran has loads of practical insight and wisdom on negotiating pay and the bottom line benefits for businesses in closing the gap, see more here.]

SS: Do you have a favourite podcast?

JL: There are so many good podcasts out there, but my favourites would probably be Desert Island Discs and Strangers. I am known as someone who asks endless questions because I want to know all the little things about the people I meet [lol YES this is such a J Lee trait that we all know and love, the most eternally inquisitive girl I know]. These podcasts provide unique insights into individuals and their stories which I find so interesting.

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‘Each episode is an empathy shot in your arm, featuring true stories about the people we meet, the connections we make, the heartbreaks we suffer, the kindnesses we encounter, and those frightful moments when we discover that WE aren’t even who we thought we were.’


SS: The first thing I do when I wake up is:

JL: I’ll hit the snooze button about three times and then check Instagram before getting up. In my dreams I’m the ultimate morning person who does sun salutations when I wake, has time to eat my breakfast at the dining room table and goes to the gym before work – sadly I’m more of a night owl than a lark.

SS: What is your guilty pleasure?

JL: Word play, cheese jokes, emojis and memes – they’re things that brings me so much joy but annoy the people around me endlessly… [Jess has a meme for every situation and will send them accordingly – classic example below – it’s a talent].

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Buzz buzz bitch @mybestiesays

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SS: If you could travel the world in a day, what pitstops would make and why?

JL: I would start the day with breakfast in the company of giraffes at the Giraffe Manor in Kenya [Omg this looks insanely magical], pop over to Japan for my favourite sushi and ramen with friends for lunch, and then visit my family in Singapore for dinner. Time in between would be spent sunbathing in the Maldives. Dreamy times.  

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Giraffe Manor, Nairobi, image by Travel For Senses

SS: Any final words of wisdom?

JL: Roald Dahl once wrote ‘watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it’. Where we live in a world of so much sadness and uncertainty, and where many of us end up stuck in the same old routine life, I think it’s really important to look out for the magic that surrounds us and take note of even the little things that bring joy.


Wow, couldn’t think of more perfect and adept words to end this interview with than the above. A lot of people don’t believe in miracles, but there is actually miraculous in the everyday, we are just too often distracted to see it. Thank you Jess, for reminding us to unravel the mysterious and the beautiful in the moments of each day.

Follow Jess @instagramjessica and Galstronomy @Galstronomy 

Women of Style & Substance: Alice Trow

Feature image: Jack Sain

 

Alice is a fireball of energy and light. It’s hard to describe unless you have met her in person, but she one of those rare people whose energy brings warmth to a room and radiates positivity. Funnily enough myself and a good friend who doesn’t know Alice very well but has met her a few times (via me) mentioned how incredible an aura she has just the other day. I think you will see what I mean via her words on this page.

As a general rule of thumb, I avoid saying what people ‘do’ in a 9-5 sense in this series as I think we tend to place too much value today upon the identity of someone through their doing rather than their inherent being. However, in this unique case, Alice’s passions and personal interests overflow so much into her work life that I couldn’t help but mention them. She is an incredible actress who I love watching in her element, an inspiring yogi (check out her classes at Blok, Frame and more via ClassPass where she unsurprisingly has rave reviews), part-time fairy (yes, wonderfully and seriously) and a full-time giver who sprinkles a little glitter and fairy dust wherever she goes. She inspires me as she is beating her own path and breaks every and any preconception you may have of how life and work should look and intertwine. She has the hardest work ethic of anyone I know and her energy is effervescent.

 

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Image by Naina Bajekal. Taken at the amazing art-deco era Bouillon Racine bar in Paris
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Alice and I in Paris, 2012 (I remember that spectacular skirt or hers made her the subject of a fashion blogger’s street style pics that day!)

 

We met through mutual friends way back when we were about 16 (!) and were also in some of the same dance classes, becoming sisters in a friendship that has endured, deepened and blessed my life in countless ways ever since. Crazy to think that it’s been almost a decade since our stars aligned, but she is most definitely someone who I know in my bones I was meant to meet, a kindred spirit, fellow fighter and a woman who has blossomed and flourished before my very eyes. She is someone I can enjoy getting my nails done with as much as I can sharing a bottle of wine and an intense DMC (deep, meaningful conversation). We’ve shared many adventures together and she’s graced me with her presence in my adopted homes of Paris and Singapore over the last few years. My love and respect for this woman are ever-growing; I hope the little and large things that shape her thinking below will resonate and inspire you. She is so generous and giving in every way, that I am truly privileged to be able to honour her in this small way.
SS: What did you last Google?
AT: The actress Emma Thompson. I was explaining how amazing she is to someone who knew little of her. She is definitely one of my idols. Infectiously adorable and powerful on and off screen/stage. She’s one intelligent woman, effortlessly beautiful and elegant. She’s managed to balance an incredible career with family life that I feel is in itself so impressive and inspirational.

 

 

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Emma Thompson, image courtesy of Hamilton Hodell

 

SS: What’s one app you love that we might not know about?
AT: I have so few apps. I’m an old fashioned girl and try and embrace the ‘less is more’ approach to most of my life, including my phone. I avoided all dating apps, for example, for numerous reasons but mainly because I didn’t want or need another reason to look at my phone! I would say though that I’m a fan of ‘Y plan’. It gives you great, alternative day or nighttime ideas on how to spend your time. It’s also great for date inspiration too, for when you meet people in the actual flesh right?!

 

SS: What is your happy place?
AT: Primrose Hill and Hampstead Heath have always been my happy places in London. So close but yet so far from all the hustle and bustle. I’m a born city girl but have a thirst for nature and need space to clear my head and simply breathe. Primrose Hill gives me a bit of both. A patch of serenity and space in what feels like a snow globe city.

 

 

SS: What book are you currently reading or did you most recently finish? Would you recommend it?
AT: The last book I bought but haven’t yet read is called ‘Assholes – A Theory’ by Aaron James. I bought it in America at the best bookshop I’ve ever been to – Powell’s in Portland. I was instantly drawn to it by the title and how there is a concept behind people’s behaviour that simply makes them assholes [Ed note: hilarious! Mental note, must visit this bookshop when in Oregon!] I was intrigued. I look forward to reading it. I’ve been studying a lot of yoga recently so my reading time has been taken up by that department [Ed note: Alice is always teaching me so much beautiful yoga knowledge from her learning and teaching. Most recently the sacred heart mudra which acts as a meditation by using a physical gesture to connect with your heart and consciousness.]

 

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SS: Who embodies style with substance for you?
AT: It would be a crime if I didn’t say Sarah Jessica Parker! Being the avid Sex and the City fan-since-birth that I am, it would be fundamentally wrong to not bow down to her on and off screen. She breaks the rules without trying to make a statement. It’s always done with grace and subtlety that I truly admire. You don’t have to be loud to be heard, you don’t have to push to make someone feel and I believe that is the same with fashion. When something grabs your attention for all the right reasons it doesn’t need to be abrasive or aggressive to get a message across. [Amen!!!] Her style is expressive but approachable. However not always affordable. The day I can easily afford 12 pairs of Manolo Blahniks will be a momentous day. [Yes, yes and yes again!]

 

 

SS: What is one lesson that you’ve learnt in the past year?
AT: Patience. Simple as that. Patience really is a virtue.

 

SS: Do you have a favourite podcast?
AT: Yes. Check out Greg Proops – ‘The smartest man in the world.’ I had the pleasure of watching him live in Portland at The Helium Comedy Club and he was both hilarious and fascinating. He’s a satirist and hands down gave me the best low-down of the US election I could have possibly wished for having been there at the exact time that sh!t was hitting the fan. He knows all the facts and is determined to spread them with laughter and anger running through his veins. A truly outstanding three hours were spent listening to the man hammer down on white supremacy, racism and misogyny.

 

SS: The first thing I do when I wake up is:
AT: Look outside.

 

SS: What is your guilty pleasure?
AT: Chocolate. I’m addicted. It’s a problem and I’m working on it. It’s all about control.

 

 

SS: If you could travel the world in a day, what pitstops would make and why?
AT: I would love to spend half a year ‘chasing the sun’. So I would start in Italy where I feel my heart belongs, in the summer (probably the Amalfi Coast) and continue eastbound through Asia and Indonesia. I’d have to spend Christmas on the beach in Australia and then find my way to the West Coast of America, drive all the way across until I find Manhattan and then back home. My yoga mat would be my companion.

 

SS: Any final words of wisdom?
AT: Have me as I am, or don’t have me at all—you are enough. That’s it.

 


I can’t think of a better thought to start the new year with (calendar and Lunar!) Wishing you all a blessed week wherever you are in the world, thank you Alice for sharing so honestly, hilariously and beautifully!

See Alice’s yoga blog and class schedule here. Follow her adventures on Instagram @alicetrow

Namaste,

Jenn

x

Women of Style & Substance: Wai Ling McGeever

Feature image: Taken in Dubai, 2008

She Who Made Me

If my journey could teach you anything…

When I first had inspiration for this series profiling everyday women who embody and walk in their own rhythm, with their own style and who own the substance that makes them who they are, I always knew that my mother was top of the list. This is a little tribute to her and therefore I felt nervous and delayed putting it out as I wanted to get it right and say all that I wanted to share.

She who made me was a hell of woman. She passed away 8 years ago, her anniversary being New Year’s Day, and to be quite honest, writing so openly about something and someone so close to my heart is not at all comfortable for me. However I strongly know that we can learn and aid each other in our journeys, and though I in no means claim any monopoly or expertise on grief, I do hope that my firsthand experience can help anyone who may be going through something of similar gravity. I am very much someone who believes in pushing myself out of my comfort zone, which has resulted in some hilarious, crazy decisions and pursuits (one being moving to Singapore and all the struggles and joy that came with that) and I live in the ‘why not? ‘ mode of being rather than the why.

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She Who Made Me: LOVE this photo, I've carried it around with me, framed, through different apartments, seasons and countries over the last eight years. If I can take you with me for a moment beyond the veil, I want to share the thousand words that this picture doesn't speak in the hopes that it will bring comfort and healing to those who need it. Whenever I see this moment captured, my spirit is simultaneously lifted and broken. My mum and me, taken on the last evening of our last holiday together in Dubai, 2008: One of the big things that this picture doesn't say is that at this point, my mum had undergone several gruelling rounds of chemo in an attempt to prolong her life. Dubai is a HOT country, and we were experiencing it in all its 50 degree mid-August glory, even for me as a healthy teenager, it was hard-going. How much more for my mother? I can't even imagine. She never complained, not once. The small thing this picture doesn't say is that we painted her nails together on the plane journey there, perhaps to the chagrin of other passengers, in a moment of celebration as she wanted to stop biting her nails as part of her bucket list. Love the resolve. A hilarious thing this picture doesn't say is that when we went on a very intense, sand dune jeep ride through the desert, one of us couldn't handle the motion and ended up being rather sick. Nope, it wasn't my mum but, as always (a running joke in our family) my dear father whose stomach cannot handle the smallest dip in a rollercoaster 😂 all this to say this woman's strength remained unparalleled even in these most deeply excavating physical and emotional moments, she never let us see her fear. In fact, in all purity, her greatest regret and sadness in her end days came from knowing she would not get to see us grow up. Here's a tribute to my mum (link in bio) the OG, who was always top of my list when the idea for "Women of Style & Substance" came about. I hope you enjoy the read and more importantly, can find hope and joy within the words if you are in need of it ♥️♥️♥️ always in love http://goo.gl/C1g0Qx @styleishsubstance #WomenOfStyleAndSubstance #8

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This year one of my personal resolutions is to live more authentically and be more open in my vulnerabilities, as scary as that is for someone who is by nature extremely private about the things that I really care about. In this day and age, it is difficult to keep things sacred, however, the past few months I have felt convicted to share a little about this amazing woman, her life and some of the many, many lessons she taught me, which are still ongoing in my day-to-day. In The Sisterhood’ book (which I know I talk about a LOT, but it’s one of those books which has really evolved my thinking) Bobbie speaks about having friends and people in your life that cause you to push yourself beyond your personal containment lines; I am grateful to have such friends, and most grateful to my Wonderful Counsellor, who prompts and nudges me from within regarding my convictions. I was pondering why in particular I felt so prompted at this 8 year mark to share a little, and then I funnily realised that in Chinese culture, the number 8 is THE number! It is the number of good fortune, prosperity and carries a whole host of wonderful (and superstitious) attributes. Anyway at this moment, it seems an auspicious and ordained time to share:

She who made me, made me in every sense of the word. She was extremely vital, and she birthed myself and my three brothers (it is crazy to think about that sometimes, that each of our lives came through a living, breathing woman). That is something I particularly struggled with in the earlier days of grief, being able to remember and recall my mum as her healthy, strong self, rather than the destruction and physical deterioration of the entire body that cancer brings about. It took me many years to be able to envisage my mum separate from her illness, and I do still dream about her in her latter states of being even now.

A little background about this wonderful woman: she was born and grew up in Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia in the mid 50s to Chinese parents. The Chinese population in Malaysia is vast, however historically there are a lot of racial and civil disputes in the country, and therefore her parents enabled her to move to the UK (Malaysia was a Commonwealth country) when she was still a teenager to live with her older siblings who were in tertiary education here at the time. It was extremely unsafe for Chinese people living in Malaysia at that point, and as the youngest of eight siblings, her parents thought it best to keep her away from the rioting and killings that were taking place. From what my mum told me, being a young Chinese girl in London, with a “strange” name and little knowledge of English norms in the 60s, was not the one. Racial bullying was prevalent and London wasn’t as diverse as it is now. She was an immigrant in every sense of the word, and that shaped her and our experiences growing up. She adopted a more British-sounding name for her teen and young adult years in London, Rowena, though hilariously I have never met someone called Rowena over my lifetime as of yet! I am glad that by the time myself and my brothers were in the picture, she walked in her given name and the glorious juxtaposition of that alongside a very Irish surname.

Mum as captured by dad in Egypt

She met my father when they were both working in the London Stock Exchange and she told me that she had known him for a while before they ever went out on their first date. She recalled that one of the reasons he stuck in her mind was that he often wore a – in her words – “really annoying” skinny, red belt which drove her a bit mad (my mum was quite the fashionista back in the day) and therefore made a lasting impression on her before they even spoke. They dated for approximately five years and travelled the world during that time, choosing to get married later than most couples of their generation. My dad has told me that she gave him, a London-born and bred boy, a thorough cultural education in all things Chinese, starting with his first ever dim sum in Chinatown on one of their first dates.

I was very much raised by a Chinese tiger mother, with every stereotype that that may embody. We are first generation kids, and she expected nothing short of the best from us (though this is something recently I have been learning to be kinder to myself about, but that’s a whole other story in itself). She forged me, tempered me to have steely resolve and rebuked me no end. One of the things I didn’t think about until recent years is that though I am the only girl amongst three brothers, I was never treated any differently when it came to what was expected of me in life and never made to feel less than. To be honest, I think most of the time they were so used to raising boys, that I was treated as very much “one of the boys”.

She made our moral fibre, our cultural framework, she ensured our standards were high and informed our opinions. She was very much involved in our formation not only physically, but emotionally, intellectually, culturally and spiritually. One thing in particular I have learnt since her passing is that grief can be crippling but it can also be propelling. What has kept me afloat in times of overwhelming pain is the knowledge that for myself and my brothers to give, bring and do anything but our best in every endeavour and encounter we have on this earth would be a severe detriment to her. And that most importantly her legacy is embodied in us. She taught us perseverance, embodied strength and she never indulged us. In short, she never stood for our bulls*&t!

There were most definitely arguments, tears and many a teenage and toddler tantrum. But it does all fade to insignificance when you realise what was significant, I pray that we learn to value those eternal things more than the ephemeral that we so often laud: “what is seen is temporary, what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18). Can we please pause on that for a second? Bar a plastic bag, almost everything on this earth begins to quickly decay without maintenance. I remember when I travelled to Madagascar, seeing the dilapidated buildings gone to ruin and a remnant of the French colonisation and having a stark realisation that even once magnificent, supposedly glorious things all fade to ruin on the scale of eternity and without maintenance in the passage of our time on this earth.

She was formidable in the truest sense of the word, most of my friends who met her would testify that she was not someone to be messed with, and may have personally witnessed her wrath on a few occasions lol! I  inherited her fire, slightly diluted, and we both share a fiercely stubborn streak, so as you can imagine, our relationship was at times ablaze, but always full of love. As I’ve grown up, I realise that in many ways we are very similar, hence why we sometimes clashed magnificently, as my brothers will gladly testify. It is good to remember and talk about those you’ve lost with people who knew them as intimately as you. It keeps their memory alive and prevents you from over-sentimentalising someone, forgetting the bad times, which to be honest are just as important, formative and occasionally hilarious as the good times. None of us are perfect, but it is our imperfections that make us 3D, human and relatable.

What I’ve learnt about death is that the clichés are so true, we bring nothing into this world and we take nothing out; her physical body is long gone but her presence is still very real. Maybe it sounds strange but I still literally, not figuratively, feel the palpable force of her love surrounding and buoying me at all times. Her love is so, so great. One tangible thing I remember is that she would always come and check on us sleeping in our rooms, way into our teenage years. Occasionally I would wake up to find her fussing over my PJs and I remember asking her why she always checked on us in the night. She told me that she couldn’t sleep well herself without knowing that all her babies were okay, I thought to myself how beautiful and poignant that was. That love unseen, that devotion, it actually surpasses and outlives your physical body.

I had a great conversation with my dear friend Saskia via Skype last year, and I remember she spoke directly to my soul. She basically said to me that for me as a woman, I am getting to know my mother even after her passing on a peer-to-peer level, as I live out many of the same rites of passage, beauties and struggles that come with being a female in this world. In many ways I had felt that over the years but had never heard it verbalised back to me before, and speaking with one of my mum’s close friends in Malaysia and her sisters over the last eight years has given colour and added depth to her life, having some knowledge of the years which we didn’t share has been a crucial part of me coming to terms with her passing. For many, getting to know your parents on a really human level only really begins in your late teens into adulthood, and for my mum and me those years were only just beginning when she was diagnosed. Having conversations with those who knew her growing up in a childhood, teen years and young adulthood has formed a unique kind of therapy for me as I get to know her more personally, through the eyes of others and can empathise and relate to their tales of heartbreak, friendship and the overarching theme of love that threaded through her life. Generational reality is something I’ve become very aware of, and in many ways we abide in our parents, and they in us. “David asked God for a permanent place for worship. But Solomon built it” (Acts 7:47). To me this passage speaks volumes about how our parents lives are sown in living sacrifice and we reap the fruit of them. This verse comes from the New Testament, and yet talks about the intertwined lives of the Old Testament that were still informing the present hundreds of years later, King David was Solomon’s father and his prayers were literally being built into reality by his son. The hope and promise in that astounds me.

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I will never pretend that the heartbreak doesn’t still exist, as quite honestly when you lose the person whose very blood runs through your veins (can we pause and think on that crazy reality for a second please?!), colouration inks your eyes and melanin in your skin deepens every time you catch the sun, you quickly realise that they are inherently within you. There are occasional surreal moments when I think on it too long, and the realisation still floors me, that I will never again see her in this life. Yet how beautiful is the knowledge that we can create and allow to be bestowed “a crown of beauty instead of ashes” (Isaiah 61:3) and that our lives are beyond ourselves. One perfect analogy for me is that of the Japanese philosophy of Kintsugi, where when pottery is broken, they join it again by soldering gold in the cracks. They see the cracks as part of the history of the object rather than something to be disguised, gilding it with gold rather than concealing it or seeing it as unworthy of repair. How beautiful are those who place gold in the cracks of brokenness?

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One reality I want to briefly touch upon is that in grief you mourn for the future memories as well as those you have. Incredible author PP Wong, who also happens to be the first ever British Chinese novelist to be published in the UK (shocking as it was in 2014!) wrote it so aptly in her (highly recommended) book “The Life of a Banana”:

“Then, I think of the future memories that should have been. Memories that I will never have. Things that should have happened but didn’t.

Mama explaining to me about my first period, Mama looking proud at my graduation, Mama smiling at my wedding, Mama crying and holding my first child.”

– The Life of A Banana, by PP Wong

For me, that last line kills me a little, my mum would always joke fondly about how she couldn’t wait to meet her grandkids and spoil them, she had such a heart for children, hence why my mad parents decided to have four of us (!) and I knew how much joy that would bring her and how much I now mourn her presence and wisdom for potential unborn children, nieces and nephews. We need to mourn those future things as well as the past in order to start to reap beauty from the ashes, I share this with you all not to depress but to elevate. To comfort anyone who may be in mourning but to also gently encourage those who are in a season of rejoicing. Please darling readers, I urge you to see past the cliché and genuinely live in your present happiness whilst not forgetting the eternal fruit. Don’t live half-heartedly, if you love and value someone, say it and more importantly show it. Life is extremely short, in fact, I realised recently that by next year, I’ll have lived half my mother’s lifetime. It’s a sobering realisation as it puts things in perspective. Her presence still informs me so deeply in her absence. I think especially as so-called “young people” my generation can undervalue those around them, and there is a false sense of us feeling immortal. Let’s place proper value on life both present and eternal, treasure those around you, put your phone down and talk to your best friend/significant other across the dinner table. Tell that person that’s been on your mind how you feel, pick up the phone and call that relative. Seriously now, let’s not think about what we lack but invest and take the time to treasure what we have. Our time on this earth is finite and temporal things are not guaranteed, yet it is possible to live in the tension between the right here, right now and being aware of the magnitude of history, generation and eternity that we operate within. 2017 for me will be a year of living more authentically than ever before. I’m quite happy to be known as someone who loved too much even if at times, it’s not reciprocated, but not content to be known as one who didn’t give wholeheartedly. Love outlasts us all, sows seeds for the next generation and on the scale of eternity, is the only thing that actually markedly makes a positive difference.

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In living memory of my mother, I invite those who wish to donate to the incredible place which housed her and us in the last days of her life here. A place filled with so much warmth, generosity and joy despite the sadness of all that takes place there. I’m forever indebted to the incredible staff and volunteers of the North London Hopsice, your smiles and humour brought light to our darkest days.

Always in love,

Jenn

x

Women of Style & Substance: Abiola Babarinde

Feature image: by Abolade Babarinde

 

I have many a celebrity girl crush, believe you me, however I equally have so many incredible women who are right beside me in the field, doing life with me, that I wholeheartedly celebrate every day. They champion and inspire me all the time, so I thought, why not celebrate the everyday women as well as the already celebrated? We start this little project/series with my right hand girl, Abiola Babarinde, her life, her spirit and her mind always inspire me, and honestly have since we first met when were 11 year old girls. There was just something about her, funnily enough, I vividly remember thinking before we had even spoken one word to each other “I want us to be friends” as I saw her across the room (romantic right? Side note: romance isn’t just for non-platonic relationships) from memory she was wearing a blue uniform and a preppy straw boater hat (maybe my mind embellished that last detail but I enjoy it).

Every friend represents a world in us, a world not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born – Anaïs Nin

 

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As Bobbie Houston put it so beautifully in her book ‘The Sisterhood‘ (which as it should happen Abiola gifted to me): “I strongly believe that heaven aligns our lives with certain people to inspire and help us in our calling”. She is always sharing exciting, life-breathing and insightful things with me to help me on my journey, whether it be an apt beyond belief Bible verse, a book or her own words of wisdom; so I thought I’d share the love, open the table, and ask her to share them with all of you. Thankfully, she agreed! Here goes…

 

SS: What did you last Google?
AB: I last Googled ‘What is a markdown [tech term]?’ I’m trying to build up my tech skills as I spend a lot of time writing and playing around with my website. Although after reading a bit about them, I’ve decided to leave the technical stuff to the developers and techies to deal with!
SS: What’s one app you love that we might not know about?
AB: I recently downloaded Bear on my Macbook and iPhone. It’s an app where you can organise your notes and articles in a simple and beautiful way. I write a lot of articles and random thoughts, so I found that as my content increased Google Docs got a bit onerous. I’ve only been using Bear for a few days so don’t quote me, but so far so good!
SS: What is your happy place?
AB: Simply being by myself with a good book or great podcast. That can be anywhere: in bed or on the train usually. The only thing that beats that is when I’m writing at my laptop and I’m totally ‘in the zone’, where I know what I’m producing is going to have some sort of impact. [Editor’s note, her website is amazing! Please see details below]

 

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A rare, sweet moment 😋

SS: What book are you currently reading or did you most recently finish? Would you recommend it?
AB: I’ve just started reading ‘Early Retirement Extreme’ by Jacob Lund Fisher. While I don’t really plan on retiring because I’m passionate about my work, I’m always looking to improve the way that I handle my money. So far I’m loving it because it’s not just a ‘how to’ guide with ‘hacks’, it’s way more philosophical and explores how we can shift our foundational attitudes to value creation. My opinion may change once I finish the book, but right now I think that it’s just what the doctor ordered. In his introduction, Fisher describes it as the following: “This book isn’t a travel journal, nor is it a set of map directions; it’s a book that teaches you to become a navigator”. Who wants to mindlessly follow a list when you can create your own well-informed journey?
SS: Who embodies style with substance for you? 
AB: Right now, it’s definitely Tracee Ellis Ross – her style only gets better with every year that goes by. Also, through social media she is really owning her own story, encouraging people to own their differences and speaking about issues which may have previously been taboo for celebrities. Best of all, she does it all in her funny, gracious and slightly eccentric Tracee way. It’s brilliant because it feels really authentic.

 

 

 

SS: What is one lesson that you’ve learnt this year?
AB: I’ve learned that even if you’re not seeing any progress, stick to your vision. When you feel ‘stuck’, take a step back and think, how can I change my attitude and perspective about this? I like to think that if I’m still in a certain position, there must be something beneficial that the universe wants me to learn or experience.

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SS: Do you have a favourite podcast?
AB: Podcasts are my thing right now, and I am loving Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed (the writer of Wild) and Steve Almond. Their discussions typically revolve around the nature of our relationships with our significant others, friends, families, ourselves and our work. I’ve shared it with a number of friends and the amount of crazy, deep conversations that come up as a result are unmatched. Thank you Sugars!

 

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SS: The first thing I do when I wake up is…
AB: My emails – usually looking for the latest Word for Today. I’m still working on building that perfect morning ritual, but now that I think about it, for at least the last 6 years reading my Word for Today has been pretty consistent.

 

SS: What is your guilty pleasure?
AB: Sweet and salty popcorn. Our bond is deep. [Ed note: Yup, the struggle is SO real!]
SS: If you could travel the world in a day, what pitstops would make and why?
AB: I’d try and go to at least one remote or coastal island off of every continent. Just to see what life is like there.
SS: Any final words of wisdom?
AB: “It’s worth the wait”. Life can be really frustrating sometimes, and rarely happens on the timing that we expect, so reminding myself of this keeps me sane.

 


 

Well, I think you’ll all agree with me that Abiola embodies the definition of style with substance, so honoured that she agreed to be our inaugural interviewee. Her inquisitive mind, generous spirit and simply her being I am personally grateful for, merci beaucoup Boo.

For more of Abiola’s beautiful thoughts please visit her blog Abiola.me and follow her (and a few besties’) foodie adventures on Instagram @galstronomy

Our Chosen Skin

Feature image: Bill Brandt photography, 1959

Something has been weighing heavy on my heart of late.

It’s been brewing for a few years now, though to honest, it shames me to say that it’s something I’ve only become more actively conscious about recently. However, it is most definitely a case of better late than never. Before I begin to elucidate, I want to frame this in reality, what I’m about to highlight is a grave humanitarian issue. The issue is within the framework of the fashion industry, or more specifically the garment-making industry. Yet please don’t be turned off or fooled into thinking this is only a problem “fashion folk” should be aware of and actively trying to change. Unfortunately, most of us who have purchasing power and agency in deciding what clothes we put on our back, whether it be in a physical store or in the comfort of our sweats whilst on our laptops, have bought into a dangerous facade that “fast fashion” companies in particular are taking advantage of.

 

Those of you with access to a Netflix subscription, I strongly urge you to watch ‘The True Cost’ which is a wide-spanning, docu-film about much of what this post touches upon. The issues are vast and encompass so many areas, communities and aspects of the supply chain, so in order to not depress and overwhelm you entirely, I am going to try and distill some the major issues into key points.

 

If we go back to basics, clothing is really—as Orsola de Castro so aptly puts it—“our chosen skin”. I love that phrase, as it highlights how incredibly intimate our relationship with the fabric we drape over our bodies really is. Let’s rewind to the 1960s, when in the US alone (which is one of the most vastly consumer-led nations in the world) 95% of clothes bought in the USA were also made in the USA. Fast forward to 2016 and whilst inflation continues to raise the retail price of clothing, the vast majority of production and manufacturing for high street brands has been more cheaply outsourced to countries such as Bangladesh and China where wages are not enough for local citizens to live on, working conditions are inhumane and the overall quality of clothing has decreased rapidly as a result of larger and larger orders being required within increasingly shorter deadlines. I only have to look at clothes from my mum’s wardrobe to realise the vast discrepancy between quality and price from the high street equivalent brands of her day (which are still in impeccable condition and were made locally) to my Zara turtleneck which began to unravel at the neckline within a few months of purchase. This is in no way a reflection of the countries in which these clothes are made in and of themselves – I know firsthand that workmanship in India and Indonesia can be as impeccable as leatherwork from the tanneries of Italy – the issue lies in the speed, vastly widened profit margins and interests of big businesses maligning production costs (synthetic materials are significantly cheaper than natural fibres), high volume of production and paying minimal regard to safety measures in the factories in which said clothes are being produced. The evidence and resources supporting these claims are so vast and alas this is not a thesis, but if you are interested in seeing my sources please see more at the end of this post.

 

What is the true cost of that T-shirt, even if it’s not cheap; where are those tremendous profit margins being reaped and what are they sowing?

One of the most shocking and sickening manifestations of the result of this toxic supply chain that many household names are unfortunately a part of was the disaster that occurred at the Rana Plaza complex in Bangladesh back in 2013. An 8-storey building housing garment factories collapsed, crushing and killing 1,130 people in all of 90 seconds. The most depressing aspect of this senseless tragedy is that the cracks in the building were obvious to all months prior, including the factory owners (38 of whom have been formally charged with murder) and yet no executive decision had been made to close the factory as the consensus was that they couldn’t afford to be out of business for the duration of repair work or whilst sourcing a new space to work. This pressure came from the executives placing mass orders for clothing at an increasingly breakneck speed from well known international conglomerates (Inditex owner of Zara, Pull & Bear, Massimo Dutti etc., Primark, Benneton, J.C Penney to name but a few) and the threat that if the chosen factory doesn’t produce the work, they are dispensable and the brand will find a cheaper manufacturer, willing to do the work for less either in another country, or a direct internal competitor. As someone who works in the fashion industry, and knows full well the amount of excess and commercial viability the industry possesses, these realities are heartbreaking and the reasoning behind them unconvincing. There is a better way of doing business and I am optimistic that the majority of my friends and family would not feel comfortable purchasing clothing which has been made with literal blood, sweat and generational tears behind it. As much as I like scoring a bargain as much as the next person, the human cost behind that £20 dress more than justifies me not buying into such a toxic business model anymore.

 

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Image via Reformation: a mid-range and pretty chic clothing brand founded upon principles of environmental, ethical and aesthetic goodness

For some commercial perspective, the fashion industry is currently worth 3 trillion dollars globally. Marketing is a very powerful thing, especially in fashion where aesthetics are at the forefront of everything no matter the price point. It is fantasy in many ways but at no juncture should fantasy come at the cost of human dignity, life and basic rights. The entire industry thrives on fantasy and beauty from high street to haute couture yet the vast difference between the two ends of the spectrum is that one pays fair wages to employees in their ateliers and has a much more transparent supply chain (though the environmental cost is still an issue) whilst the other thrives on consumer ignorance, murky practices in countries where they treat workers as sub-human and relies upon each buyer to keep voting with their wallet to maintain these practices and uphold them as acceptable. Here are some facts to put things in perspective on a global scale and proving that this is far from an esoteric issue:

 

– 1 in 6 people in the world currently work within the fashion industry
– 85% of people working in the garment-making sector of the industry are women and a vast majority of them have experienced physical and verbal abuse when trying to lobby for fairer working conditions or form unions
– There are 36 million garment factory workers in the world
– The fashion industry is the most labour-dependent industry in the world, essentially, if these workers were not producing clothes en masse for us to buy in H&M, Topshop and so on, those employed in more developed countries would be out of jobs, the boardroom would be making a lot less and overall profits would slump
– Just behind the oil industry, fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world (this one floored me in particular)

 

We all have agency when it comes to our chosen skin. The vast majority of those reading this will actively choose and decide what we clothe our bodies in. This isn’t in any way a lecture, we are all to varying extents unaware and uneducated regarding these issues. There are arguments and sources which try to push forward the idea that ultimately these jobs within sweatshops are better than no jobs at all and that big companies are providing an economic boost to developing countries. These points have elements of truth, but the whole story is that a fairer, living standard wage can and should be given to employees of any company, no matter the economic climate of the country in question and that human rights should never be compromised. Said companies that are making humongous profit margins are squeezing pennies and cents from the wages and making health and safety compromises which negatively impact those in the most vulnerable position in the supply chain.

 

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Shima and her daughter Nadia on ‘The True Cost’

 

One story featured on ‘The True Cost’ which really affected me was that of a 23 year old Bangladeshi woman named Shima Aktar. The film came out in 2015, so at the time there was but a year between us in age which made her story particularly poignant for me, she was a mother who only got to see her daughter twice a year as she worked in one of Dhaka’s garment factories (an unsafe place to be with a child due to the crazy heat and chemicals inside and she also had no one to look after her child when she was working in the city). She made the difficult choice to leave her daughter with her family back in her home village for the majority of the year, only getting to see her when she can afford to. She spoke about how she hoped for a better life for her daughter, one where her blood was not used for the profit of others and where she would be able to be educated in order to break out of the life cycle of poverty which she was born into; she had been so dignified and eloquent throughout the entirety of the documentary but at this point her voice broke and she was crying for her daughter’s destiny. Unfortunately without being paid a decent living wage, saving enough to give her daughter what she needs for a better life is almost an impossibility. Her story was not an anomaly but a norm for the women who make up the majority of the garment-making workforce. As a human, as a woman, as a feminist—these realities deeply depress me.

 

We cannot justify pure economic gain at the expense of human life and being complicit in modern day slavery.

Another devastating account was that of a local doctor in Kanpur in north India where the demand for cheap leather production has polluted the river Ganges to a fatal extent. The chemicals used to make leather were not being disposed of properly (cleaning water can be expensive and the equipment needed to do so had not been invested in by the companies commissioning the production of the leather) so they were running into the river that the surrounding community uses for agricultural purposes, to bathe and even to drink from. The doctor noted that the amount of skin diseases and illnesses related to the polluted water had risen dramatically and that many people were using their savings on medicine to treat diseases that were a direct result of the pollution. The question to ask is at what cost do we buy things cheaply? Ultimately, human economy is linked to that of the earth, especially in an industry that relies on physical resources. The A21 campaign, an anti-human trafficking charity founded by the amazing Christine Caine fights against modern day slavery (which is more prevalent now than any other time in human history, a shocking fact in itself); the fast-fashion sector of the industry is also a purveyor of modern day slavery and it is up to us whether we participate in its growth or revolution.

 

Disconcertingly, sometimes governments of the countries where cheap apparel production is prevalent are involved with maintaining low wages for the factory workers as they are desperate for the business of MNCs. One incident in Cambodia involving a peaceful protest for a monthly living wage equivalent to $160 USD (a standard set by the Cambodian government themselves) resulted in authorities inflicting violent treatment on the protestors and the loss of five lives. The reason governments sometimes actively work against the interests of their own citizens is that the threat of MNCs moving their business elsewhere is breathing down their necks and therefore in the toss up between overall economic growth and the livelihoods of female labourers, capital wins out over humanity. This is not a criticism of aforementioned governments but more a reflection on taking note of what we are governed by; let’s all reflect a little bit more, know the alternatives and question our own motives before buying into a system and companies that do not uphold or work for the good of what we value.

 

Think twice, be more curious, be more conscious.

On a personal level, I have made a decision not to invest my money or lend support to companies that make profit off the back of cheap female labour. I will not pretend that it will be without challenge, but I equally cannot be a proud part of a global sisterhood and call myself a feminist without following through with my actions. I may now live in London, but Cambodia, Bangladesh, India and China are not geographically far from Malaysia and Singapore where I just spent the last few years of my life. We are all neighbours and it’s a realisation that these issues are not far removed or an impossibility to combat that fuels the battle for change. The problem is great and the field is vast, however I do believe that we can all be the change we hope for. I love what Livia Firth, founder of Eco-Age and The Green Carpet Challenge (and yes, wife of Colin Firth) has to say about the matter: that we must be the architecture of the change we dream about. Change in reality begins with a psychological shift, being motivated by guilt is nowhere near as powerful or productive as being motivated by awareness and the realisation that we are empowered to vote with our wallets. Fashion is an art form and involves creative work, it should not incite life-threatening labour or desensitise us to human life being lost in the course of a working day (a recent fatal fire in an Indian garment factory reiterates the reality that these tragedies are not unusual). We can all be involved in asking questions of the brands we have bought into and ultimately as consumers we are the fuel the industry needs to continue to flourish, the power is very much in our hands. Myself and some good girlfriends have been thinking about what it means to be found in our field of life, our sphere of influence recently, and it has made me mediate more deeply on what we as individuals are sowing into literally with the money we spend, and in turn who/which companies and at what cost are those inordinate profit margins being reaped? On that note, the next chapter shall be about the positive steps and alternative companies, business models and psychology of consumption that we can be invested in.

 

For now, I’ll leave you with resources and companies that inspire and educate me on a daily basis! Let’s think twice, be more conscious and stay curious about where we invest ourselves, our time and so on.

All love, always

Jenn xxx

 

I love the Instagram account @fash_rev for illuminating the human face behind the brands that make our clothes. They get followers to ask #WhoMadeMyClothes? To make companies be more accountable and spotlight the hands behind your wardrobe.

The Fashion Revolution’s white paper is key (though lengthy) for those interested in the mechanics and factual evidence behind this post: http://fashionrevolution.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/FashRev_Whitepaper_Dec2015_screen.pdf

The True Cost documentary site (available to watch on Netflix): http://truecostmovie.com/

“The True Cost” on Netflix
https://www.netflix.com/title/80045667?s=i

Reporting on the Rana Plaza disaster: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/apr/23/rana-plaza-factory-collapse-history-cities-50-buildings

Forbes piece highlighting the companies involved in the Rana Plaza case: https://goo.gl/ZOs1JS and follow-up on companies that donated compensation to the affected families: https://cleanclothes.org/safety/ranaplaza/who-needs-to-pay-up

South China Morning Post report on the state of garment factory wages: http://www.scmp.com/magazines/post-magazine/article/1970431/true-cost-your-cheap-clothes-slave-wages-bangladesh-factory

Reporting on the Cambodian factory workers strike: http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/3/11/cambodian-garment-workers-rise-up-and-face-a-crackdown.html

Global fashion industry stats: https://fashionunited.com/global-fashion-industry-statistics

Story Time: The Python Skin Bag

Let me tell you a story…


Most of us like stories. Personally, I love them, they give people, places and posessions context; they dig a little deeper, open up new worlds and give you a chance to learn and experience the richness that makes up the intricately interwoven tapestry that is our lives. Some people are enraptured by history, others love movies, all of these essentially encompass stories, be they fictional or not. This story takes us from Lagos, to London, onto Rajasthan in India, a quick pitstop at Warwick university (love you alma mater) and then to Kuala Lumpur, not necessarily in that order and with a few return trips in between. The everyday stories I enjoy encountering are often heard and told through objects. This isn’t a story about materialism, in fact the object itself is immaterial, it merely acts as a portal to the opening chapter that hooks you in.

This story takes us from Lagos, to London, onto Rajasthan in India, a quick pitstop at Warwick university (love you alma mater) and then to Kuala Lumpur, not necessarily in that order and with a few return trips in between.

This tale concerns a python skin bag. Said bag, amongst a few others from the same collection, had been gifted to my late-mother by her sister back in the 70s. My mum had used one of these bags till the bitter end (like mother, like daughter) as evidenced by the much-loved, battered beauty I found in her wardrobe one day (this hoarding behaviour is unfortunately a Chong family trait, sigh).

Myself, many decades later, discovered this collection and immediately fell in love with its timelessness, its versatility, its oblique quality, the mere fact that many of these bags were in pristine condition after close to 40 years spoke to that. I love that in the same way that my mum had worn and loved and woven that battered bag into her life, I was now giving them a new lease of life, incorporating them into my everyday, carting around my essentials, giving them a tale or many to tell.

This bag has come everywhere with me: from my first internship with a legendary shoe couturier who educated me on their value and was hilariously shocked at my 17-year old self nonchalantly swinging it around on the tube,  to more places a python skin bag should probably never go (namely my university student club, the opposite of sophistication, eek)!

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Bedtime at the wedding in India on the last night of celebrations. Each night we would come home to a beautiful present from our hosts, the cutest!

In the midst of this small little bag traversing continents and clubs it began to accumlate stories and start conversations that wove people together within the fabric of life’s ebb and flow. I was in India for a wedding and travelling with one of my best friends when our guide took us to an incredible pashmina shop containing every colour, texture and style imaginable.

The owner knew his stuff and taught us about the craft and composition of an authentic, well made pashmina, which of course, the fashion-geek in me was absolutely loving. Suddenly he noticed the little python skin bag I was carrying and conversation turned to its origins and craftsmanship. Having found mutual bonding ground (namely our obsesssion for fabric, materials etc.) we started having a real conversation which went beyond small talk. It was amazing to be able to bond with this lovely Kashmiri guy, sipping chai tea in the Northern region of India. He opened up to us about the long distance relationship he was in with his fiancé who was still living in Kashmir which then led us to speak about all the apps anyone with a smartphone in a long distance relationship knows all too well! It was so funny to find intimate talking points with someone who had relatable experiences from a completely different walk of life (I was also in an LDR at the time). The bag had bridged the conversation, one of many it had started over the course of our adventures together.

Every colour, texture and style imaginable…

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The colours of our hotel wardrobe in Udaipur: borrowed, pre-loved, scoured from a vintage store rail and kindly donated by dear friends and family.

Fast forward to one summer later and a full circle incident occurred when I was in Malaysia with some of my family. It was back in Kuala Lumpur eating mangosteens around my auntie’s kitchen table when the bag was finally seen again by its gifter. This was the same aunt who had bought the bags for my mum back in the 70s, and they originated from Lagos, Nigeria where she and her family were living and working at the time. She laughed as she recognised the bag which had literally crossed continents and decades to reach that moment resting on her kitchen table and I guess could only have imagined the path it must have taken to get there. Its prescence opened up conversations about life in Lagos, my cousin’s childhood as they then moved to Hong Kong and their eventual settling back in Kuala Lumpur. Who would have known that so much history, love, movement and family intricacies could be contained within this small, crossbody bag? All these stories provoked by that one object, crafted with care and attention.

Through a nostalgic lens, that coat you love, the bracelet you inherited from your grandmother, the shoes you wore on your 21st birthday are not just objects, they contain life. To get a little philosophical (literally) Heidegger wrote about the ‘fourfold’ and how objects can often contain mini worlds and microcosmic universes as when you use something manmade you imbue it with life. The perfect balance of dwelling within the fourfold which refers to the earth, the sky (the beyond or the future), mortals and the divinities is found by being aware of all four; in other words the past and present, the future, our humanity and finally the divine, whatever that may mean to you. Treasuring craft, provoking memory and encompassing both the living and eternal is what that python skin bag did (and may continue to do if I pass it onto my unborn daughter)!

If this story was to have a moral, which it doesn’t need to have, it would be to invest wisely. In this day and age, not many items that we buy would be able to tell a story four decades later and beyond. So maybe this story is in some ways about anti-materialism, slow fashion (as opposed to fast) and how something can only tell a story if it was made to last and withstand the passage of time. Heirloom items and generational dressing inherently require excellent quality. More on this in chapter two…

Bisous for now,

Jenn x

 

 

P.S: I am not an advocate for the use of exotic skins in fashion, however my brief philosophy with vintage fur/skins is that if they’re not being used in the modern day then any suffering was entirely futile.