The fabric that holds us together

A machine at Kenneth Mackenzie on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland, depicting part of the process used to turn the wool fibers into fabric that will last a lifetime

A machine at Kenneth Mackenzie on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland, depicting part of the process used to turn the wool fibers into fabric that will last a lifetime

Over the weekend I had dinner with a friend who works in agriculture. She mentioned how important she felt it is that work places exist like farming where people with different political views come together and work with each other. They may disagree on different issues, but they still work together and get to know each other as people, form relationships, come to depend on each other and know each other’s families. I was thinking about this with the apparel work. Apparel, like farming is another opportunity to bring people together across the political spectrum and create work and prosperity regardless of points of disagreement across various political issues.

When I reflect on so many problems we face: the inability to come together on climate solutions, polarization around how to make the economy work for more people, blaming each other–red people, blue people, immigrants–for our problems, or the increasing prevalence of psychological problems like depression and anxiety, I come to a common source: Disconnection. Disconnection from ourselves, from each other, from our communities, from our environment. Disconnection from the connection we all share. And I thought about this with regards to the economy. How many of us get to connect with people with very different views from our own through our work, through what we buy, through the services we use?

When most everything we buy is made in China, or other far off countries, that means two things: 1) We don’t have the opportunity to connect with the producer of the things we are consuming which used to be made in the U.S.  2) The absence of that work producing U.S. made things means that all those connections that would be made across the political spectrum through that work no longer exist.  If very little U.S. manufacturing remains, that means that the opportunity for say a New York designer to work with a Tennessee shirt maker are few and far between.

At what cost? Well I believe that these days we only imagine who we are as a people. We read about how we are voting here and there, what that extreme group is doing. The real human beings we share this country with fall away. They become reduced by voting districts and poll numbers and stereotyped images. And we become more disconnected.

And so I was reflecting on calls to boycott the Alabama economy in the face of the Governor’s signing into law a complete abortion ban. In Alabama, there happens to be an apparel company called Alabama Chanin. They provide high quality jobs in a community that needs them and create beautiful clothing for women. Alabama Chanin is one of a small fraction of apparel companies who make clothing for women and produce it in the U.S. What’s more, Natalie Chanin has inspired countless designers and apparel entrepreneurs (myself included) by bravely building this work in Florence, Alabama, in a community that needed jobs, when the rest of the industry was saying that U.S. production of apparel was no longer financially viable.

Check out a short video here on Alabama Chanin

And yet I say all this knowing that boycotts are often effective. But I wonder if hitting people that have already been knocked down by the economy to make a political point is the answer? Is taking aim at the businesses who provide the few quality job opportunities available the way to come together and make progress as a country? We are after all a democracy. We need most people to come together to make progress.

I believe the answer lies in reconnecting with each other. Again and again. Every chance that we can get. We can weigh the choices we make by asking ourselves: Will the action I take here drive more of a wedge between us or will it bring us together? We must urgently come together.

Part of what I want to do is to reconnect people in different parts of the country and reconnect the urban women to their rural sisters. I want to dismantle the imaginary people we share our country with and expose the real humans that go to work each day, love their children, and do their best with the lives they’ve been given.

Please help me rebuild connection again and again. This can be as small is choosing to sit with someone who is alone and as big as working on a dream that brings people together. I believe that if we make the choice each day to turn our back on the things that divide us and move towards the things that connect us to each other we will one day find ourselves sharing more love, joy, fulfillment, community, and harmony with each other and the beautiful Earth we share together.