We recently had the opportunity to connect with Christopher Dibble, photographer, and weaver based in Portland, OR. In conversation with Stephanie Sun. 

Applications are now *open* for our 2021 New Traditions Festival and close on July 30th.

S: What does the phrase ‘New Traditions’ mean to you?

C: ‘New traditions’ is a phrase that people use so often, but actually having to sit down and think about what it actually means to me was kind of fun. 

I think the phrase ‘new traditions’ can be a little bit of a paradox, but that’s one of the reasons why I like it. It leaves a lot of room for interpretation and having space to interpret that is important. It makes me think a lot about 2020 and all the holidays that I celebrated throughout 2020 that I normally spend with family. Each one involved ‘new traditions,’ because it was just my husband and I. During the pandemic, it was difficult to hold onto traditions – old traditions – which for me involve a lot of family and friends and food and gathering. So the new traditions that I explored in 2020 were a way that I could connect to the past while also thinking about the future.

New traditions are important, because old traditions can turn into habits or obligations and they can lose their significance rather easily. Not that old traditions are worth giving up – I have a lot of old traditions that I really enjoy. But the new traditions give a lot of flexibility and that keeps things interesting. 

S: You touch on a relatable point when you talk about how the context of living in a pandemic has forced this consideration of new traditions. Questioning what traditions we’re holding onto is something that many of us are having to really reevaluate, how we celebrate things, how we behave in different ways. It’s a universal reconsidering of all these traditions that we carry forward. 

C: What I find really interesting is the idea of traditions being rituals or things that are performed yearly. In general when speaking with other people about traditions, it’s about these events that happen on certain dates. But there is a lot of tradition also in craft and textiles. When you look up what ‘tradition’ means, it is a lot about teaching and passing things down. For me that was really eye-opening, recognizing that there’s a lot of tradition apart from holidays and celebrations. 

S: Thinking about traditions in regard to the arts and to craft, for me, it brings up the idea that there’s a way that things have always been done and how they ‘should be done.’

C: Absolutely, and this idea of breaking rules, when can I break rules…My career is in photography and it’s what I’ve been doing for 15 years. I was always so happy that I went to school for it, because I was really able to learn all of the rules, learn all of the traditions of photography. With a strong understanding of those traditions, then I’m able to break them, or experiment with them or change them to create these new traditions. 

S: It speaks to what we’ve all heard some variation of, that you have to learn the rules of whatever you’re doing before it’s acceptable for you to break them. It gets to the idea that everything new and experimental comes from a place that’s grounded in this historic knowledge and these traditions, and we’re just moving them forward in these different ways. 

C: That’s why it’s so interesting. I’m all for experimentation before knowing all of the rules – I think that’s also an important exploration. But it is nice to know the traditions and know the specific ways of doing something, so that you can use that information to figure out how to achieve the outcome you want to achieve. 

S: Even across different fields and industries, we’re all encouraged to start out at a certain point, to build this universal basis of knowledge, which allows us to connect from the outset.

C: Allowing us to be connected is something that’s so important with tradition. I feel that there can be a connection between me and a photographer who is taking portraiture one hundred years ago or when I’m weaving there is a connection between me and a weaver from a century ago, but also there’s a connection between me and my friend now who’s a weaver.

That connectedness is really interesting. And just as important as being connected and having similarities as other people, is the importance of having differences from other people and celebrating that as well. Through tradition, we can figure out our similarities and our differences, which is exciting.

S: It makes me wonder about how your creative practice has changed or transformed during the pandemic. And if the connection points that you’re talking about, the connections that we can find through similarities as well as the differences, have maybe been exacerbated during the pandemic? 

C: Well, I think so. I know a good deal of people personally who have been trying new things, learning new traditions because of the pandemic. If the pandemic hadn’t been around, then they wouldn’t be playing with ceramics or trying weaving or whatever. The pandemic has definitely pushed that. 

In terms of how my creative practice has grown or transformed…with photography it was totally put on hold. When the shutdown happened, all of the projects were paused. It picked up later on, just with a lot of protocols and new traditions. When I do a photoshoot now, there are waivers to be signed and everybody’s wearing masks. It’s a skeleton crew, me and the designer maybe, so there’s all sorts of new traditions there. 

With weaving, the pandemic has given me a lot more time to explore and experiment with weaving and just play around because I had more time to do that. It allowed me to put my creativity to other projects, like the film that I produced about contemporary Diné weavers, and allowed me time to begin Makers Union PDX and PDX Window Shop where we’re working with local makers to try and sell their goods and donate a portion to Black Resilience Fund. So it hasn’t changed my drive at all, but the drive has been dispersed into several different areas. I really enjoyed having that variety. 

S: It’s great to hear you talk about the different ways in which your practice has diversified. I’m curious to learn more about Makers Union and Window Shop, because they feel like they really speak to the moment and are so well suited to living in a pandemic and finding ways to support small businesses and artists. From a business or entrepreneurial side, they seem like a really smart pivot to be able to operate in this context.

C: Makers Union PDX started a year ago. It started with my friend MC Lemay, a builder of MC Lemay Designs. She’s a total badass builder who welds and cuts steel and does awesome stuff. MC reached out to me, saying “I want to do something, I want to help and I want to help the maker community.” She knew that I had done a lot of pop-ups and exhibitions through Stockpiler. We started talking about that and we hooked up with another friend of ours, Jubal Prevatte, of Carpentry PDX, who is this incredible builder who built a ton of restaurants and bars in town. And he had the exact same idea which he had been thinking about even before the pandemic. 

So the three of us got together and we formed Makers Union PDX, which is an online marketplace where we host makers throughout Portland and we sell their goods through this marketplace. 85% goes directly to the artists and 15% goes to a charity – the charity that we’ve been working with is Black Resilience Fund. That was a really great way that we could help build community and help support makers who either didn’t have their day job anymore or weren’t able to go to markets anymore. We just wanted to figure out a way that we could all come together and support each other, so we started Makers Union PDX.

When the holidays and 2020 came around, we started thinking about ways that we could do more. In-person markets and pop-ups still weren’t happening, and boutiques were open, but there weren’t a lot of people out and about shopping. At the same time, there were a lot of window spaces becoming vacant throughout the city. When we were thinking about doing pop-ups, I started reaching out to several boutiques and asking what they were doing for the holidays. I spoke with the owner of Woonwinkel, an awesome little shop downtown, and she was going to do these curated displays of Woonwinkel products in the vacant windows on her street and I thought that was a really incredible idea. We started talking about doing the same thing in different areas throughout Portland. We started talking to the makers from the Makers Union site and one of the makers, Sarah Lonnquist from Olander Earthworks, suggested we connect with Meghan Sinnott over at PortlandMade because she was talking about the exact same concept. 

So we reached out to Megan and ended up combining our forces and kicking this thing off, making it bigger than it could be if we were doing it on our own. And it’s been a really amazing project. At first we did three windows in November and we’ve done three windows in 2021. And we have four windows coming up, which is really great. We’ve been meeting a lot of new makers, half of the windows are BIPOC makers. There’s no fees to the artists and Window Shop doesn’t take a percentage. It’s a lot of looking for donations, for support from the building owners and local organizations. It’s definitely a labor of love and something that we’re all still really excited about. 

We teamed up with two designers, Shana McCullough and Elise Klein. They’re taking on the creative and art director role, respectively, curating windows and whatnot. 

S: It sounds like you’ve tapped into this way of building new traditions and new opportunities while also creating accessibility and community support and advocacy. It’s so many great things rolled into one.

C: Yeah, it’s a new way of online shopping. We’re putting QR codes onto the windows to encourage passersby to scan the QR code and they can shop directly – they can do literal window shopping in a way, which is something new – as opposed to being at home and going to an online store. This is a new way of looking at buying online: you’re seeing the actual product and you can go and buy it on the sidewalk. 

S: There’s something really generous about it. It’s not just you coming up with this new way for yourself to operate in this context, it’s also something that you’re sharing and encouraging communities to be a part of.

C: Yeah, that’s been a super important component, especially through the pandemic. I think promoting community in any way that we can is important. 

S: I’m thinking about how tradition fits into your creative communities. You’re part of the photography community, textiles, weaving, entrepreneurship… How do those work together for you? And how do you see traditions and traditional ways of doing things weaving throughout those? 

C: I definitely have my fingers in a lot of pies, I really enjoy being around people and working with people. Thinking about old traditions, with weaving it’s performing the same tasks that have been practiced for centuries. Same thing with photography – like what we were talking about before – how I’m able to have this connection with people who have done the same tasks and motions and practices before me.

With creating new traditions, I like the idea of gently disrupting the status quo. With photography, I enjoy prompting people to stop and think about an image.

S: I was thinking about your photography practice, with portraiture and interior design and how that might’ve changed during the pandemic. We’ve all been wearing masks for over a year now and also the majority of us have been spending so much more time at home than we used to. We’re much more deeply embedded in our living spaces, and I wonder if those factors have impacted how you approach photography or if that’s changing how you’re thinking about it.

C:  Yeah, it’s really interesting because portraiture is what I started with when I started photography and then I transitioned into interiors. Those are two areas that don’t necessarily go with each other: one is dealing with humans and expressions and how light falls on the face and creating a story in a single image, and the next is shooting a space and inanimate objects and things that are not going to talk and react to me. That’s been a really fun and interesting way to work, because I want to bring the way that I photograph people into how I photograph spaces. 

I’ve had several portrait shoots during the pandemic and what I’ve found interesting is everybody wants to shoot without a mask. I enjoy making a point to photograph people from a very safe distance, outside, while I’m double-masked, but I want to photograph them with their masks on as well, because to me, photography is a recording of history and that is important to me.

I want to capture these images of people wearing masks; that’s been a way that the pandemic has affected my work as well, going back to new traditions of wearing a mask. 

S: I think it’s interesting that you’ve emphasized taking portraits with masks, especially thinking about how much more social weight seeing peoples’ faces carries right now.

C: I’m invested in this idea of the importance of seeing people’s entire faces. It’s what we – people who are all over a certain age – have always seen. That’s how we recognize people and it’s been a really interesting thing to experience and witness.

S: It’s like finding a balance between normalizing the way that we see each other now while still holding on to these traditions, these old ways that we’ve always relied upon for getting to know each other. 

C: Yes, exactly. What I find fascinating as a photographer and want to explore more is how can I create a portrait of someone with a mask and still have that image be impactful and not just tell a story about the time that we’re living in, but tell a story about that person. It’s an interesting challenge. 

S: The last question that I’d love to touch upon ties back into what we’ve talked about already. What are some new traditions that you’ve learned or incorporated into your life personally and creatively, entrepreneurially that you would want to share with others? 

C: There are so many new traditions that I’ve had to learn and incorporate and embrace. 

With photography it’s all about new ways of working with people. I love producing imagery, but for me, one of the biggest joys of photography was being on set, the camaraderie, the collaboration, seeing friends that I only work with. That’s definitely been something that I’ve had to learn, incorporate, and embrace, because in the beginning it was like all the joy was taken out of photography, because it was just me and one other person and we’re trying to get the job done as quickly as possible so that we can not be in a house for hours and hours on end. But through shooting more and really thinking about it, there is still so much joy there. It just took a little bit to think about and get to. 

It can be difficult and lonesome, but if you think about it, you can turn it around – I can think, wow, it is actually amazing that I can produce this work on my own. It’s something that I can feel proud about.

I recently had a book come out called ‘Modern Americana’ that I did with a designer, Max Humphrey, and a co-writer, Chase Reynolds Ewold. The fact that we were able to produce something like 75 images over the summer of 2020 is mind blowing to me.

This is something I want to share with others – try and look at the adversity that you’re facing and see if there is a way to pivot that. 

Pivot, that’s been the word of the pandemic, hasn’t it? Maybe you can pivot it and look at things from a different way that makes you feel really good and really proud. That’s something that I would share, looking at obstacles in a different way and turning them into something positive. 

Don’t we all need that? Don’t we all need some positivity and levity in our lives right now? And sometimes we have to find that within ourselves.

S: One hundred percent. I think a lot of the new traditions that we’ve been forced into logistically – wearing masks, having to adjust how we do our work, how we see our friends and our family – are just new traditions that we’ve, by necessity, been needing to pivot to. But what you’re talking about is so important, the mental and emotional reframing, reevaluating and pivoting and creating our own new traditions about how we’re approaching these things.

C: Totally, and when you mentioned how we see our families, I was realizing a new tradition that my husband and I have been doing is twice a week we do a Zoom call with my mom and my sister and we chat for 15 or 20 minutes. And then we all watch a TV program together, which is something we would never think to do before the pandemic. Because of that, we have spent more virtual time with my sister and my mom than we ever would have before. It’s definitely something that we’ll continue to do even when we can see each other. That’s been a really great new tradition that we formed.

S: Yeah, that’s wonderful, and it’s exactly those new ways of connecting that we’re building which feel like some of the most hopeful pieces that we can hold on to moving forward. 

C: Totally. And that will be something that’s really interesting moving forward. When the world opens up a little bit more, what will we take, what traditions, what new traditions will then become old traditions or just don’t happen anymore? For me, I kind of love the idea of when I get on a plane, when I go on a flight putting on a mask and instead of loading up on Emergen-C and getting sick after a flight. I think it’ll be interesting to see what carries over post-pandemic. 

 

We recently had the opportunity to connect with Christine Miller, conceptual artist and curator based in Portland, OR. In conversation with Stephanie Sun, Christine discussed her recent show at Disjecta PDX, dismantling traditions, working with and expanding upon flag iconography, and the importance of prioritizing self-care.

Interview:

S: Hi, I’m so happy to chat with you again! I’ve been looking forward to this – actually I have plans to go see your show at Disjecta this weekend. 

C: Oh fun, that’s exciting. Yeah, I’m so happy hearing people say they’re going and the great feedback and stuff like that. Thank you for checking it out. 

S: To start off, I’m curious what the phrase “New Traditions,” and the ideas of ‘traditions’ or ‘traditional’ mean to you?

C: I was chatting with my friend about this recently – she’s from a Caribbean background – and she was saying how she was talking to her family about certain things that they did, certain traditions. And she was saying ‘well, we need to look at these traditions differently because how did some of these traditions start?’ And a lot of traditions, especially in certain cultures, started with colonization and either taking certain things, ideologies from European backgrounds, or just certain things that were traditionally acceptable or that were done but rooted in something else. So when I think of a tradition, I think it’s related to systems in a sense, and the way things just ‘are’.

It’s even something about jobs – statements like “ traditionally we hire someone who is from this race, or this background or traditionally we need an artist cover letter or X, Y, and Z for whatever opportunity.” So I think new traditions are really questioning why certain traditions are there in the first place. I’m not saying that all traditions are bad, there are certain ones I do like and I think are rooted in something nice. 

But I think creating new traditions is about seeing why you do certain traditions in the first place, and if they really do resonate with who a person is and, if not, then breaking traditions and doing something different. 

S: It sounds like you’re thinking about new traditions as a way of reconsidering, not just accepting the way things are done because that’s how they’ve always been done.

C: Yeah that’s right. Even people are saying ‘dismantle and abolish the police’. You know, it’s the police system that was rooted in catching runaway slaves. And seeing how that system and that tradition was rooted in slavery and how it still has a lot of values that were rooted in what it was created for. Talking about dismantling certain traditions and certain systems, when you think of it in terms of reform, it’s just really putting a Band-Aid on certain things. But creating the traditions and creating these systems is breaking down old ones and building new ones. A new foundation. 

S: That makes a lot of sense. You brought up the example of police reform and that’s something that’s ever-present and really ties into a lot of the recent challenges that we’ve been facing as a society.

I think many people are seeing these opportunities for rethinking how things have ‘always been’. I’m curious how you think about traditions, cultural traditions or societal traditions or craft traditions, in your own creative process and in the work that you make. 

C: So before everything happened, a lot of my words dealt with Jim Crow memorabilia. It was propaganda that was created to make black people look less than human, another tool of dehumanizing them and perpetuating this narrative that ‘black people are lazy’ or ‘black people are X, Y, Z,’ and it was just all made-up bullshit. They made these grotesque characters and it’s about white supremacy, which at its core believes whiteness is supreme and everything about it – from beauty standards to smartness to everything – is thinking that white people, because of their skin, were supreme over anyone else. 

I would use a lot of that imagery to bring it to light. I think a lot of people sometimes have this idea of ‘Obama is president, racism is over…’ but a lot of these things still exist. And it’s not like this imagery or things like that went away. The physical thing never went away. And then also certain things within it never went away in people’s minds. So hearing people say ‘darker skinned people shouldn’t wear lipstick’ or even the whole thing with Gucci and Prada doing this big lips character and stuff like that – that still is rooted in traditional imagery of what blackness looks like. And a lot of that white supremacy especially shows itself in colorism. 

Even though colorism is specific among a specific group of people, you still see how the effects of that mindset, of that tradition, plague people’s lives. So I wanted to bring that to light.

With the flag project, I kind of changed it. I had been thinking about it for a while and when I was asked to be part of the show, the curator and I were talking about using some of that old imagery and I was like, ‘honestly, I do not have the mental space for and I just need to do something else.’ A lot of work I do is a response to the times and things that I’m processing. With all the Trump people that came to town and being plagued by seeing that flag over and over and over and over again, I wanted to do a personal project, specifically with the Pan African flag, and do research on the history of Black Nationalism and Black Liberation and look at what that mind frame was about.

I turned 30 last year and I wanted to make 30 flags. And I’m going to continue. But having this relationship with this flag that was created in  1920, going back to the roots of what this flag was created for – it was really a symbol and an iconography of Black freedom and Black Liberation from this country. There was something about making it by hand that I really wanted to do and use different tactile materials. I have a background in apparel and I really wanted to not use the traditional flag materials – which I realize now are used for a reason; using this thin nylon and polyester and with polyester, the ink goes through the material, and then you’re able to hang it horizontally and vertically. Huge shoutout to Brittany Vega, she helped me a lot with research for flag making.

I just wanted to break the rules and do something that felt unique to me and make my own story of what Black Nationalism and Black Liberation and Black culture was. I was breaking tradition by using a different material. It made me really think about the American flag. The American flag is so revered, but it wasn’t created at a time period for me or my ancestors, to represent our freedom. I did more digging about a woman named Grace Windsor, who was an indentured servant to Betsy Ross and Betsy Ross’s white friend. She was a slave woman who helped create the American Flag, sewing it by hand and doing a lot of the work, and people don’t know her name. I was thinking about them as I created these Pan African Black Liberation flags. 

S: That’s a great explanation, thank you. I’m curious if the word ‘subversion’ fits into how you’re thinking about using flags as a medium. Flags are anthems in a sense – the one that comes to mind right now is the Confederate flag that we’re seeing all these different groups using and advocating with, in the Capitol, etc.. And I’m wondering if there’s something in your work about subverting what flags are being used to speak for right now or a reclaiming of narrative?

C: I think it’s more of a polysemic view than subversion. Especially with the American flag, when President Obama got in office and people were waving the flag, then seeing it when the Civil Rights movement happened and they were marching with the American flag and, at the same time, the Klan was using the American flag, too. And then there was a picture of a white man trying to stab a Black protester with an American flag and then these pickup trucks coming in for rallies have like eighty American flags but they’re Trump flags. I think it’s just separating from that flag completely. 

This project really was a self-care project – by separating from that flag completely and using the Black Liberation flag as my basis – that is my new red, white and blue. I stopped wearing red, white, and blue on the Fourth of July for a while, I always wear all black or something else. But having this newfound identity…I mean, the identity was always there, but having a personal symbol, that’s more so what this work was.

S: When you describe your most recent project as a self-care project, that makes me even more interested in the material processes of your practice. Self-care is something that is so important, especially in the midst of a pandemic, in the midst of all of this unrest, to make the space for working on something that really speaks to your emotional and mental health. 

C: Yeah, a hundred percent. The material aspect was really important. At first, I wanted to make these gigantic flags from different materials. I was thinking about these gigantic Trump flags that I kept seeing and the feeling I’d get in the pit of my stomach. And then when I made the gigantic flag, I was just so underwhelmed. I made a huge denim one and a huge felt one, and I was about to make a huge leather one. And then I was like, ‘this doesn’t look good’. When I first started it, I felt like my energy was really just saying a big ‘F*** you’ to these Trump flags, just trying to match their energy. But when I started making them smaller, swatch-like, that’s when the relationship really started to unfold and felt like I was making my own stories. Sometimes the material came first, sometimes the story came first. It was generally a lot of questioning: ‘What do I like, what am I interested in? What do I want to see mixed together? What do you normally not see traditionally mixed together? Well, what is the story like afterward?’

S: I wonder, with your recent work with these flags, and your continuing work in the direction that you’re going now, do you think that the way in which you’re working through those ideas and approaching materiality is something that you want to be continuing forward? Do you see that changing or evolving in any way? 

C: Not for now. I just generally loved doing a project and it was a lot of fun. I want to challenge myself to do something for a while before switching it up, so, yeah, I’m going to keep going with it for a while. 

Also with this element of crafts, I just really want to do something fun. I think when people hear words like ‘Black Power’ and ‘Black Liberation’ and ‘Black Nationalism’, they get so scared. And yeah it’s a serious topic because we shouldn’t have been enslaved or prejudiced against to begin with, but it’s generally about Black people unifying themselves, having control of things that involve their own people – and truly progressing. The Black Panther Party started with the original name of the Black Panther Party of Self-Defense. Black Power is a term of defense drawn from being in so many situations and spaces in America where every single piece of power was taken away. 

Using the different materials is breaking away from the tradition of what a flag always was. I tried to use traditional elements like the grommet and the header, I definitely wanted to add that. The materials were to tell stories of Blackness and also comment on how we’re not a monolith – Black Liberation and Black Freedom look different for everyone. I also wanted to comment on how people try to mass-produce Black culture so much. There were a number of different layers for why these materials came in. 

S: Hearing you talk about the decision making in the craft process of producing the flags, it sounds like you found a balance between working with the traditions and histories of flag making and then breaking away to help the work communicate the concepts and ideas that you were interested in talking about. 

C: Yes, exactly. 

S: So thinking about the textile community as a whole, extrapolating beyond your most recent work with learning about flags and how flags are produced, how do you think tradition fits into the textile community or the textile industry? 

C: There’s this incredible artist, her name is Bisa Butler, who makes these decorative quilts using African materials. They’re bright and they’re vibrant. It’s a new way of life portraiture and it’s just gorgeous, I can’t even explain it. Her work might not have been looked upon as the traditional quilt, and, again, that’s what White supremacy is – if you look up quilts on Google, actually, I kind of want to do it now… the first few pictures that pop up are little old white ladies and, you know, going to JoAnne’s and all this other stuff.

But, you know, women who were enslaved would make freedom quilts and show ways to freedom. There were and are Black quiltmakers. The woman who I just mentioned, Butler, is a quilter herself – she might not seem like a traditional quilter, but she is and she’s killing it. And her stuff is incredible. It’s about Black people telling their own stories and those stories being on the forefront and as coveted as much as anyone else’s. Being seen and using different material. I love Sonya Clarke’s work. She’s been using a lot of materials and making flags and all this other stuff for a while. 

S: I read an article from last year in The New York Times, ‘The Radical Quilting of Rosie Lee Tompkins’. It was about this African-American quilter, Effie Mae Martin Howard, and this man who discovered her work and then ended up having this huge collection of all of her pieces, which he bequeathed to the Berkeley Art Museum. It reminds me of what you’re talking about right now, with these legacies of really prolific quilters who in their time were not given the attention or respect or appreciation for their work. They were overlooked because they were African-American or their quilts didn’t fit into traditional quilting styles, and then you’ve got the bias of quilting, in general, being a ‘craft’ and not necessarily a ‘high art’. 

C: Yes, right. It’s like what is ‘high art’? Even thinking about the term ‘high art’ – are textiles and material art traditionally thought about as ‘high art’? I had that conversation with my friend when I saw my pieces up with all those materials. I had a moment when I was like, ‘does this belong in here?’ And she said that if you believe it does, it should. The curator, Lucy Cotter, was incredible to work with, she believes in the work enough to bring it in there, too. So, you know, I’m still fighting certain things and still trying to work through feelings like imposter syndrome or, ‘does this belong in X, Y and Z’? But it does. 

Who gets to decide what traditionally is ‘high art’? And who belongs in it most importantly?

S: Exactly. Maybe we can end by talking about if there are any new traditions, new practices, that you’ve learned or incorporated into your life or into your work that you’d want to share with others? 

C: The self-care piece. I was thinking about doing it a long time ago, and, you know, I could’ve easily continued with this work that I’ve been doing – I just had a friend pass me all these Klan KKK documents that I still haven’t even touched because I don’t have the bandwidth for it right now. But when she first asked me to be part of the show, I was like ‘I’m going to do this, ‘I’m going to do that,’ ‘I’m going to look into those documents…’ And then I thought, wait a minute, I can’t, I can barely even move right now. 

It comes down to this: really doing things from a place within and sticking to that and putting your heart and where you are at center, versus what impact you think there might be. I feel like that is really important – I know that might not be the traditional answer, but I never thought I would have gotten the responses and just the amount of love and feedback that I’ve got from this project. I really did it for myself. 

S: That’s a powerful message to be sharing, not only in the context of this past year that we’ve all had and the many different ways in which we’re all suffering but also in the general conversation about what it means to be an artist, too, about living that constant grind and having productivity be the way in which a lot of us are pushed to evaluate and judge our work. I think focusing on that self-care piece is a radical message.

C: Yeah, thank you. Thank you.

Photos by Caleb Sayan

 

We recently had the opportunity to connect with artist Lauren Prado and discuss her take on the theme of New Traditions, how her creative practice has shifted during our global pandemic, and more. Lauren works with a variety of textiles in her practice, exploring and challenging representations of the digital images and products which flood our online feeds.

We’re excited to share that conversation here.

What does the phrase “New Traditions” mean to you? 

Taking a custom or practice and making it fit into your lifestyle. My grandmother taught me the basics of sewing as a child, a skill she believed should be passed down. I learned how to sew buttons and fix a hem but I took that knowledge she handed down to me and used it as a tool for personal expression. No longer just a practice for tailoring clothes, but for making my junior high backpack look cool with hand-sewn patches! I took our family’s tradition of teaching women to sew and made it fit my life in a new way. 

How has your creative practice changed/grown/transformed during this time of global social and cultural upheaval? 

During these unprecedented times, I have found myself unable to finance a studio space large enough to continue making large-scale rugs. I have turned my sights back to hand sewing and have been creating smaller work for the time being. Forcing myself to continue to use my hands daily instead of being constantly glued to a screen. This past year has been very stressful and truthfully that has made feeling creative very difficult for me personally. 

How do you think about traditions in your creative process/work? 

I have always been taught that one should learn the rules and then learn how to break them. In my first fabrics art class, the professor told me right away that I needed to learn the basic rules before I started to stray away from the rules. I laughed, but of course I followed her advice. Who would have thought that the advice would stick with me to this day! Just like traditions that were taught to me, I had to learn them as they were before making them fit my mold. 

I also think about the intersection of repetition and learning and how it truly is the core of tradition. This crossroads seems to have parallels with my art-making process of sewing and rug making. Constantly making tedious, repetitious, laborious actions are at the center of my art practice. Is it because a function of tradition is the process of repetition itself? 

Are there traditions that you are influenced by or intentionally draw from for your work? Traditions that you break from? 

When in the realm of textile work, I understand how rugs fit into the traditional sphere of livable, usable, utilitarian objects made of yarn but I also see a strong break from these traditional functions and space with my personal work. I make rugs that are starkly white, a color that brings about the fear of stains for most people. My rugs are the complete opposite of what you would look for in a utilitarian house rug. I have recently even tried to shift from the traditional shape of a rectangle rug and have begun cutting them to fit what I am representing on the rug itself.

Are there new traditions that you’ve learned/ incorporated/ embraced and want to share with others? 

When I started working with a tufting gun, I found it so difficult to find artists who were willing to share their knowledge with me. I tried to message people who I saw online making rugs, asking questions that ranged from tips on how to use the tufting gun to what kind of fabric they were using. Ultimately many of these people acted like gatekeepers of information and refused to open the doors to new hands. 

It’s ironic that these textile artists refused to share their knowledge when their medium itself is based on passing down information generation to generation. It felt like they wanted to keep these skills locked away, keeping it as an exclusive tradition that only the elite could have access to. I found this to be very off-putting! I told myself that once I was proficient in the practice I would share my insight with all and any who were interested. I want to pass down all my knowledge of the trade to those who want to know, just like my grandmother passed down the steps of sewing to me. I refuse to be a gatekeeper of exclusion, but instead wish to follow the blueprints of how traditions are started…by sharing information!  Every time I share my knowledge with others, I gain more knowledge through that interchange. 

From your perspective, how does tradition fit into the textile community? 

The textile community exists because the knowledge of these practices was continuously passed down through generations over the span of human existence! Tradition and textiles are different sides of the same coin, while tradition is remembering the past it’s also about sharing it with those who will be the future. It’s how the fabric of our society continues to evolve. 

Creating spaces to share knowledge, like making a tik-tok of how you set up your tufting gun or making a youtube video on how to cross-stitch helps the textile community not only learn but thrive. In a society where we have been pushed to exist almost completely virtually this is the new normal, creating digital space and a digital platform for interconnectivity between textile artists is the newest form of tradition that is unspoken and unconsciously participated in by many.

Interview by Stephanie Sun.

Images provided by Lauren Prado.

 

 

As we start a year of New Traditions we are pleased to share the work and practice of Tokyo-based textile Artist Terumi Saito in our community spotlight. Terumi recently graduated from the Parson’s MFA Textile Program where her thesis project “BIRDS DIETY” grew from her experiences studying with master dyers, basket makers, and weavers from Peru and Guatemala. In addition to utilizing historical techniques, Terumi’s work draws from her own spiritualism and references the symbolism of the phoenix and the peacock. Terumi’s evocative work proposes a “contemporary hybrid craft” created with the intention to preserve, honor, and revive interest in these classic techniques through a different perspective. We hope you enjoy the following video interviews.

 

 

 

Photos and interview by Caleb Sayan

Victoria Wanjuhi received her B.F.A. in fashion design from SCAD Atlanta in 2013. After graduating, Victoria worked in the garment industry as an assistant designer for a few years before deciding to go back and pursue an MFA in Fibers. Growing up in Kenya, Victoria saw low-income communities recycle materials and make innovative pieces from waste. During her graduate studies, Victoria reevaluated her relationship with making by carefully thinking about the process within the material; by using discarded and up-cycled textiles. Victoria creates unique pieces by exploring abstraction, distortion, reimagining the material in various 2D and 3D forms, and design applications. This process tries to extend the material’s life-cycle instead of adding to the overburdened environment. This interview was conducted by Caleb Sayan as part of Portland Textile Month 2020.

Integrating, repairing, and transforming found objects into social commentary has been a major part of Bonnie Meltzer’s fiberart sculptures throughout her career. Her crocheted wire sculptures used objects as diverse as computer parts, globes, garments, and un-named doohickies. Many of the 1970s crochet books included images of her sculpture. More recently, they are on the covers of Fine Art of Crochet (2013) and Artistry in Fiber: Vol II Sculpture (2017). Her very mixed media artworks have been in exhibitions (Maryhill Museum, Hallie Ford Museum, Columbia Center for the Arts); collections (University of Washington, National Science Foundation, City of Portland); and TV (OPB produced a video about Meltzer for their 2013 “Voices of Coal” series and was in an early episode of Oregon Art Beat). In fall 2021 a large textile installation will be exhibited at the Oregon Jewish Museum. This interview was recorded by Caleb Sayan as part of Portland Textile Month 2020.

Brittany Vega was born in Bradenton, Florida, but was raised throughout various cities in the south. Her current work is centered on the life of politically charged objects while focusing on process exploration through materials, primarily construction through textiles and sewing, painting, and print. She draws inspiration from personal collections of such objects and historical documentation to investigate how these things act as symbols for American-ness, and furthermore how they can be misconstrued. This interview was recorded by Caleb Sayan as part of Portland Textile Month 2020.

The Ghost Net Landscape collaborative installations are organized by Emily Miller, a multi-media artist whose work centers on uplifting our human relationship with our ocean planet. In the following interview. Emily discusses how Ghost Net Landscape started, the role of community in her work, and what makes her optimistic about the future. We hope you enjoy learning from Emily’s unique perspective as much as we have. This interview was conducted by Caleb Sayan as part of Portland Textile Month 2020.

Originally from Torreon Coahuila, Mexico, Lilia Berenice Hernandez Galusha (born 1988) approaches each work focused on an experience. Lilia received her Bachelors of Fine Art from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock where she developed a love for craft. Furthering that love, she received her MFA from the MFA Applied Craft + Design program in Portland, OR in May 2019.

Hernandez Galusha considers herself a multidisciplinary artist and allows the concept to dictate the medium. She believes our lived experiences teach our bodies how to navigate our surroundings and people around us. Thus, it is important to exchange our stories so we can better understand the stories our bodies never experienced. Lilia’s focus on community and stewardship in her studio practice offer an inspiring example of how we can repair the future.This interview was recorded by Caleb Sayan as part of Portland Textile Month 2020.

 

Matt Perez is a Mexican American figurative sculptor who deals with issues concerning the hyper-visibilty minorities experience in places that lack diversity. His sculptures range from textile creatures six inches tall to towering 11 foot figures Perez calls his companions. Perez is a recent graduate of Pacific Northwest College of Art, and was a panelist during the 2019 International Sculpture Conference discussion on Sculpture in the Classroom. In the following video interview by Caleb Sayan, Matthew discuses his upbringing, formative influences and experiences, that form his art practice.This interview was recorded by Caleb Sayan as part of Portland Textile Month 2020.

 

 

 

We are pleased to introduce Fuchsia Lin in our stories community spotlight. Costume designer, dance choreographer, and filmmaker Fuchsia Lin invents unearthly garments, mythic universes, and stirring gestural languages in her dance films. After six years of work, her forthcoming film “Future Cosmos Flow” is scheduled for release in Winter of 2021.  Follow her journey on her Facebook page and consider supporting her Future Cosmos Flow film through her donation page!

How does reuse or upcycling figure into your work?

Since the fabric stores have been closed [due to the pandemic], I’ve been going through my fabric stock and using what I can to create mock-ups of pieces I’m working on. I just got rid of an old duvet cover that I had for 20 years and am using it to create a mock-up of some large wings for a new costume.

I often have fabrics donated to me that need a new home. One time when I lived in Paris, my friend gave me all this leather in bright beautiful colors that came from the atelier of the legendary French fashion designer Claude Montana after his company closed. I used the leather to create several statement pieces that ended up receiving a lot of exposure and have been some of my all-time favorite pieces I’ve made.

For the upcoming Oregon Ballet Theatre (OBT) and Pink Martini performance that I’m designing the costumes for, I’m working with Tara St. James, a consultant based in NYC who has in-depth knowledge of sustainable textiles and apparel production. Tara is helping me to source responsible fabrics for this costume build. I’m especially interested in this 4-way stretch fabric that’s perfect for dancewear and made by the Italian company Carvico. It’s made from Econyl yarn, a nylon material made from ocean and landfill waste. I also source fabrics from Fabscrap, a wonderful organization in NYC that recycles and redistributes textiles gathered from the fashion and entertainment industry, saving them from the landfill.

Is it important to you to use your artwork as a tool for education and activism?

Definitely yes. In my marketing, promotional materials, and social media platforms, I always highlight that my costumes are built utilizing sustainable materials.

For the upcoming OBT project I’m designing costumes for, choreographer Nicolo Fonte agreed to my ethics of using sustainable materials for the costume build. This is a momentous step forward for the costuming industry to take toward a more sustainable future. I’m so excited to show other costume designers and my audience that beautiful and sophisticated costumes can be made from sustainable materials. This is so much more effective than just telling people statistics and data.

How are you staying connected with your creative network while adhering to social distancing guidelines? 

Fortunately, my partner Stephen is also my film collaborator and we are able to continue working on our projects. We are still planning to film this summer for Future Cosmos Flow, and Stephen and I have been able to storyboard and discuss cinematography. I have tried to have Zoom meetings with the dancers to talk about the choreography, but for costume fittings, I will have to get creative how to go about fitting the dancers and remain safe.

Author:

Sebastian Zinn has a B.A. in Comparative Literature with an allied field in Art History from Reed College. Since graduating in the Spring of 2018, he has been working as a freelance writer and editor covering a diverse range of topics, including visual and performance art, fashion, literature, film, music, healthcare and economics. He is currently producing social media and blog content for Portland Textile Month.

 

We are excited to introduce the multi-faceted Ophir El Boher to the Portland Textile Community. Ophir is an apparel designer and systems thinker focused on ethical-sustainable models for fashion from sourcing and production to use and after-life. Ophir also uses fashion and costume to explore cultural phenomena and promote environmental awareness and activism. As a design educator, Ophir promotes cultural and behavioral shifts around fashion consumption, providing knowledge, tools, and methods for creative alternatives to satisfy materialistic desires.

 

How does reuse or upcycling figure into your work?

Everything that I use in my work has been used beforehand. The materials, mostly textiles, are normally post-consumer fabrics that I reclaim to make something new. But not just the materials; I use past knowledge in my work too. And I try to stretch the concept of upcycling to consider not just the physical material but the non-materialistic matter as well. For example, I try to incorporate as much of the labor that was already put into something in the new end result. To be more specific, I might use the buttonholes of a shirt as the fastening for a new pair of pants. The configuration isn’t very complex, I do what humans (mostly women) have been doing since the very beginning: I take material that was used before and isn’t useful anymore and make something new, exciting, and useful out of it. To reuse is really just in our nature. The more complex areas of my work are concerned with questions like how might reuse help us reduce our solid waste on a global scale? Or, how might upcycling prevent consumption? Or, how could my upcycled designs cause a behavioral change? One of the biggest, overarching questions that I really enjoy thinking about is: how might we use fashion practices to resist consumption?

These questions, followed by many hours of research, led me to one conclusion that leads most of my work in recent years: to reduce waste we need to reduce consumption, and to do that, my suggestion is to provide alternative possibilities for what to do when one recognizes that urge to get something new. Rather than buying, which is the status quo and ‘business as usual,’ there are other things we can do to feed that urge. The alternative I am providing is to make something. I design for people to make their own clothes out of reclaimed textiles. Sometimes my projects provide the user with the material itself (mostly fabric that I patched and screen-printed with my graphics) or just the instructions. Other times it might be a workshop, a written article, or an art piece that’s actually a layout for sewing a garment. I want more people to consider reuse/upcycling as an appropriate, attractive, fun activity that can replace at least some of their consumption habits.

Other than this focus, I also make one-of-a-kind clothes and costumes out of random materials that are mostly considered trash, mostly for performance. This kind of work is extremely creative and joyful and it helps to widely spread the idea that reclaimed materials can become absolutely stunning outfits, that they can be precious and fantastic. One project of this kind is The Naked Soul, produced in collaboration with artist Stacy Lovejoy, that’s currently on view on Artsy in an exhibition by bG gallery titled What to Wear

 

Is it important for you to use your artwork as a tool for education and activism?

Absolutely. I am an educator as much as I am an artist. My art practice consists of workshops and classes in which I literally and practically teach people how to incorporate my system of upcycling into their everyday practice. I do this with artists, designers, and makers as much as with everyday people who have no background in arts or crafts. I definitely consider my educational work as part of my artistic practice. As a designer, I was trained to tackle a problem, so everything I do has to fit into the strategy I defined for tackling the wicked problem of waste and inequality produced by the current fashion system. That includes my educational work, my artistic practice, every design I produce. They are all part of my strategy toward my vision: a world in which fashion benefits the earth and its inhabitants.

This way of working keeps me passionate and encouraged and is essential for maintaining both my work and my personal wellbeing. However, for the viewer, this doesn’t always have to be apparent. I try to show work that, at first sight, is visually intriguing and stimulating, potentially thought-provoking, and sensual. If interested, the viewer can lean into the meaning by reading my provided texts, or even dive deeper, by acting on the provided designs and making them for themselves and/or others. So, while I am very transparent about my motives, I try to allow a cold read for the viewer and the thread of thoughts they might pull out of it without my help.

 

How are you staying connected with your creative network while adhering to social distancing guidelines?

I was very privileged to have a few projects still going regardless of the pandemic and that kept me pretty well connected (online obviously). Teaching two upcycling-fashion courses through PNCA, I was very lucky to stay occupied as they, luckily, weren’t canceled. Instead, I was teaching online, and that was surprisingly much more fun than I first anticipated! I knew it would be challenging to run a studio course online, but honestly, it had great benefits, and it became the highlight of my week very quickly. My students provided a very fertile creative network through their projects and the critical discussions we had together.

I also had quite a few collaborative projects running, which kept me busy. These include my solo exhibition, Patterning, and the video tour of it, which I worked on with EM Fuller and BriAnna Rosen of FullerRosen Gallery. In addition, I wrote a book to expand on the work in the show and worked on its design with designer Oskar Radon. I also joined a recent mail-art project—The Art That Reconnects by Simone Crowe—and I am producing some videos of earlier work with artist Stacy Lovejoy and videographers Alberta Poon and Raynee Roberts. These projects and others require collaborative work with other creatives and provide me with much to do and many wonderful people to communicate with on a daily basis.

 

What projects are you currently working on?  

My exhibition at FullerRosen, Patterning, kept me busy till very recently. While the artwork itself was installed over a month ago, I was also writing a book that expands on the work in the show by providing the full instructions for remaking the garments exhibited as well as exposing and discussing the logic behind the work. On May 30th we are finally releasing the video and the book, which I am very excited about.

It happened to be the case that this project comes to an end at the same time with a few others, and that means I have much more availability to revisit projects I started in the past, which I am extremely excited about. The one I’m most happy to go back to is my initiative Make Awear; this project is a system designed to produce DIY kits from upcycled materials for handmade designer outfits.

The new situation of more free time also allows me to start rebuilding my strategy for the next few years and come up with new projects, which is thrilling! These include a really fantastic collaboration with Renegade Opera designing and producing upcycled costumes for their upcoming project Justice or Mercy, an immersive modern adaptation for Mozart’s La Clemenza Di Tito. And concepts for this year’s Portland Textile Month, based in collaborative and social garment-making events and upcycling post-consumer textile waste.

Author:

Sebastian Zinn has a B.A. in Comparative Literature with an allied field in Art History from Reed College. Since graduating in the Spring of 2018, he has been working as a freelance writer and editor covering a diverse range of topics, including visual and performance art, fashion, literature, film, music, healthcare and economics. He is currently producing social media and blog content for Portland Textile Month.

LeBrie Rich of PenFelt Studio in her studio. Photo by Shannon O’Connor

Longtime PTM friend and organizer LeBrie Rich proves just how much can be done with a needle and thread––or in her case, multiple threads matted together to produce felt. As the owner of PenFelt Studio, LeBrie leads felting workshops and designs felting kits. She’s also a multidisciplinary savant, adept at fiber arts, collage, performance art, illustration, and more. LeBrie uses hand-felting as a starting point, then incorporates stitching, appliqué, and other textile techniques to achieve her desired look and function. Recently, she’s been crafting hyperreal replicas of American grocery store food in felt. “I’m kind of obsessed with our food system, corporate seduction, and what it means to be human in an era of industrial sameness,” says LeBrie. A felting purist, LeBrie is not!

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Lindsey Fout photographed in her studio. Photo courtesy of Last Chance Textiles

We’d like to use this week’s Community Spotlight to formally welcome Lindsey Fout, owner and operator of Last Chance Textiles (LCT), to the Portland textile community. Lindsey recently moved her life and business from Los Angeles to SE Portland, but she grew up in West Virginia surrounded by the cultural heritage of rural Appalachia. Last Chance Textiles has rejuvenated an iconic facet of North American cowboy culture—the bandana—an accessory that is stylish, dependable, and versatile. Lindsey has set her craft apart by incorporating natural-dying techniques from around the world into her fabrication process.
In her spare time, Lindsey has been organizing raffles with other textilers on social media to support philanthropic initiatives, such as the Feeding America COVID-19 Response Fund. As a local contributor to “Crafters Against COVID-19,” she’s been using deadstock material to produce and donate masks to those in need, and posting instructional videos explaining how to use a bandana as a “no-sew” cotton mask in a pinch.
Last Chance Textiles is still fulfilling online orders, and Lindsey is offering no-contact, curbside pick-up from her studio in SE Portland.

 

Has Last Chance Textiles been affected by the outbreak of COVID-19?

Last Chance Textiles has been affected in some contrasting ways. I’m based out of my home studio here in Southeast Portland and am able to continue my work/life routine without too much interruption, although it still feels different somehow. I’ve been able to continue fulfilling ecommerce orders and have even seen a slight bump in bandana sales since the CDC recommended face coverings. On the flip side, I have a lot of money tied up in production and the supply chain right now with no clue when those investments will shake loose and refill a dwindling inventory. Last Chance Textiles is horizontally integrated, meaning I rely on other very small businesses and individuals to help me make products. Falling so far behind will certainly make my goals for sales and growth planned for 2020 impossible at this point. The best case scenario is to stay afloat and hope all of my vendors and production partners survive as well.
  

Do you anticipate that this outbreak will require you to restructure your business in the near future?  

Most likely, but I honestly don’t know what that will look like. Last Chance Textiles has funded its own growth from the beginning, so has gone through numerous phases of restructuring as I’ve scaled and figured out how to run a business. While I don’t know much about business strategy and was certainly unprepared for a global pandemic, I’ve been leaning into my tenacity and grit and feel open to adaptation.
 

How do you hope to continue to provide your goods and services to your community as this crisis develops?

I’m happy to say that for the time being I have bandanas in stock that can be used as face coverings and feel thankful that the USPS is still going strong. If you’re in Portland, I can provide a local no-contact pick up. If I run out of bandanas, perhaps my skills as an educator will help keep me relevant as a brand and artist. Maybe some online workshops or demos? I don’t quite have that all figured out, but it will be something I’m likely to pursue if this goes on for much longer.

Author:

Sebastian Zinn has a B.A. in Comparative Literature with an allied field in Art History from Reed College. Since graduating in the Spring of 2018, he has been working as a freelance writer and editor covering a diverse range of topics, including visual and performance art, fashion, literature, film, music, healthcare and economics. He is currently producing social media and blog content for Portland Textile Month.

 

Kristin Van Buskirk of Woonwinkel (left), artist Dianee Da’Lama (Center), and Haley Dunham of Woonwinkel at the Magical Landscapes PTM 2019 event. Photo by Caleb Sayan

If you’ve ever found yourself surrounded by vases coated in vivid pastel glazes, or pillows adorned by unexpectedly pleasing arrangements of abstract shapes, you’ve probably stumbled upon Woonwinkel. Located in SW Portland, and owned and operated by Kristin Van Buskirk, Woonwinkel carries goods manufactured by small-scale designers from all over the U.S. While Kristin temporarily closed her brick-and-mortar store to comply with social distancing guidelines, Woonwinkel’s colorful cache of home goods is still available for purchase through their online store. They are currently offering free local delivery.

Kristin is hard at work applying for federal grants so that she can guarantee her employees’ salaries. Please support them if you are able, so that Kristin and her coworkers can continue to bring exuberance and vibrancy to homes throughout the PNW.

 

Has Woonwinkel been affected by the outbreak of COVID-19?

Yes. We rely on foot traffic from downtown residents and workers, as well as tourists. So while we (thankfully!) already had an online shop up and running, the vast majority of our sales were previously done in the store. This, of course, has meant a significant drop in sales—enough to impact my ability to pay my awesome team.

Do you anticipate that this outbreak will require you to restructure your business in the near future?

Perhaps. Although I’m holding out hope that I’ll qualify for the new Paycheck Protection Program recently passed by Congress, the funds would only last for a period of 8 weeks. No one really knows what will happen beyond those 8 weeks. I imagine this could mean changes to my business but I’m trying not to get too ahead of myself—a lot of what we need to do now is to be watchful and ready to adapt, whatever may come our way. People who hate change are probably having a really rough time right now!  

How do you hope to continue to provide your goods and services to your local community as this crisis develops?

A small part of my team has been keeping our little cogs in motion through web orders and local deliveries. We’re doing the free local delivery as a thanks to our loyal supporters here in the area. Aside from delivering goods, if you’ve been following Woonwinkel for a little while, you know we believe in the power of color to evoke emotion; it can be a powerful tool and force for good. I hope that SOON I’ll be able to offer inspiring and optimistic content for our social media and email followers, using the power of color to uplift—but right now I still feel challenged to keep up with disaster loan applications, learning what I can do for my employees, and trying to educate a kid. It’s hard—I want to feed my customers’ souls and of course literally feed my employees’ bellies, but really it’s the customers who are giving us the most right now. We’ve had such a wonderful outpouring of support from folks who want to see our small biz survive and I don’t know what I’d do without them.

Who are some of your favorite creators in the PNW who have goods in your stores? 

Textiles: Studio Proba, Sarah Wertzberger, Primecut /// Furniture: Matthew Philip Williams, Merkled Studio /// Ceramics: The Granite, Peaches /// Glass: Esque /// Jewelry: Love Oru, Natalie Joy, Favor, Minoux /// Apothecary: Crosby Elements /// Paper: March, Alli Stocco

Author:

Sebastian Zinn has a B.A. in Comparative Literature with an allied field in Art History from Reed College. Since graduating in the Spring of 2018, he has been working as a freelance writer and editor covering a diverse range of topics, including visual and performance art, fashion, literature, film, music, healthcare and economics. He is currently producing social media and blog content for Portland Textile Month.

Drea Johnson (left) next to Vania Vananina (center) and Alyssarhaye Graciano (right) at the Magical Humans PTM 2019 event. Photo by Caleb Sayan

It’s fitting that Drea Johnson’s first name is an anagram of “dear.” Her business, Hidden Opulence Design House, specializes in prolonging the lifespan of her customer’s most cherished garments as well as helping small businesses produce small batches of their dreamiest clothing designs. As a non-essential business with a brick-and-mortar space, Drea and her team have been forced to creatively reimagine how they might operate for the foreseeable future of this pandemic. They’ve also begun offering a mail-in order service for those with garments in need of alterations or repair! Learn more about their team and offerings on their website.

 

Has Hidden Opulence been affected by the outbreak of COVID-19?

The short answer would be yes. The outbreak has essentially stopped incoming projects that we normally see every week because our pick-up/drop-off sites were mandated for closure due to being deemed non-essential businesses. I feel for these locations, too, because it’s not so easy for them to pivot. We were in talks about trying to expand Hidden Opulence to other retail locations and that has also halted. We also had begun production on our goods for spring in preparation for pop-up markets and those have now been suspended or simply canceled.

Do you anticipate that this outbreak will require you to restructure your business in the near future?

I think planning has been the biggest part of what has been taking place behind the scenes. Aside from immediately changing the way we sanitize and disinfect our workshop, Katie (social media assistant) and I have been in constant contact, digesting information from both ends of the country and making big decisions to pivot the way Hidden Opulence operates through these times. We are making sure that we are a business that is sharing more positive, uplifting messages to our audience right now. I believe these changes will ultimately help strengthen our company and positively impact how we move forward in the long run!

How do you hope to continue to provide sustainable clothing and alteration services to your local community as this crisis develops? 

I think it’s really important to continue to provide some sense of normalcy to those who want to support us. We have spent the past week rerouting orders back to their respective clients and are offering shipping as the method of delivery for other orders. We also are running a web promotion (discount code: RELAX) off all our sustainable products, even gift cards (GC never expire)! Lastly, we are very very excited to announce a Mail-In Order option to submit projects to Hidden Opulence.

Author:

Sebastian Zinn has a B.A. in Comparative Literature with an allied field in Art History from Reed College. Since graduating in the Spring of 2018, he has been working as a freelance writer and editor covering a diverse range of topics, including visual and performance art, fashion, literature, film, music, healthcare and economics. He is currently producing social media and blog content for Portland Textile Month.