Monday, November 24, 2014

One chai-half-caf-triple-foam-hemp-latte please.

Just like in the western world, the people make the office. The people at Nest and Loom to Luxury are simply amazing. The crazy thing is that the outside world is as different as it possibly can be, but inside the office walls the drive, talent, creativity, and general conversations sound similar to that of a fashion firm in NYC.

The office is a short rickshaw or moto drive from my hotel. My hotel by the way is in Asi ghaat (main ghaat – or door to the river) on the Ganges and the views are impressive. Look past the cows, goats and monkeys and you have the holy Ganga.

Digressing. Back to the office.

It’s incredible what a global view the owner, Jitendra and the Nest consultant focusing on growing L2L into a sustainable business, Sara, have despite being thousands of miles away from their target customer. That’s not to say that everyone is yelling at the newest interns to get their half-calf-skinny-almond-latte-hold-the-foam starbucks orders (not familiar or anything, ha!), there are quite a few differences….

  • You must remove your shoes upon entering the office.
  • Chanting from the temple next door regularly disrupts meetings.
  • A very nice man serving chai and other goodies is bringing treats all day long.
  • The lot next door is not another fashion house but a huge empty lot that’s turned into a garbage dump where cows, pigs and dogs hang out.
  • Hand-woven silk is being hand-dyed in the room next to the meeting room.
  • Intricate silk prints are being hand sketched in the following room.
  • Lunch is eaten sitting on the floor and with your hands (still not very graceful with that)
  • Only two on the team (Jitendra and Sara) are college educated.

But once you see past these cultural details you see a dedicated and determined brand creating true luxury product to the tippy top of the luxury brand market. These silks are uniquely beautiful and of the highest quality. They are all hand-woven in a traditional way but the designers, weavers, consultants and owners want to be clear that they aren’t a one-trick “ethnic” pony and that they can compete with the western brands in the western world. An extremely difficult feat even for brands located a few blocks away from their target customers in NYC. But they can definitely talk the talk and they’ve done their homework. They are up to date on the industry’s latest (trends, collections, editorials, you name it) and their main work room is covered by a mood board modern and forward enough to rival any of it’s NYC/Parisian competitors. This team is definitely driven and has the talent to back it up.

I love getting these reminders/slaps in the face to just never judge a book by its cover or have a pre-conceived idea of what success looks like from the outside.

Just because you have a b*tchy scowl, perfected your air kiss, wear the perfect phoebe philo inspired normcore ponytail, and have a green juice in hand doesn’t mean you know what the beep you’re talking about, or that you’ll even make it in this industry for that matter. Barefoot and adorned in henna is looking a lot more like success to me these days.

PS hopefully going to the village to see the weavers at work today or tomorrow, so pics to come :)

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Toto we're not in Delhi anymore.

I stepped off the plane and immediately knew I wasn’t in Delhi anymore. 

cheers masuma!
I landed in Delhi a few days back and had the pleasure of staying with good friend there, who showed me everything but a typical Dehli experience. It was a nice soft landing. Thank you Masuma! Now fast forward one day later and a one hour flight and it feels like I'm on the other side of the world.

The NGO I'm working with here in Varanasi (known as India's holiest city, right on the holy Ganges river) was so kind to send a driver to pick me up from the airport but with a little delay I was by myself for a half an hour as the lone white “madame” in the airport looking clueless. It is an initially frightening feeling, because you can’t help but compare to what you already know. I know very humble parts of South America and can’t help but compare this to that. But that’s like comparing an apple to a porcupine.

new friend
[literally bumped into him outside the hotel]
“How the eff did I find myself here?!” keeps running on repeat in my mind.  

To rewind a bit, I originally planned to come to India to celebrate the wedding of Kaveri and Manu (two friends from IESE). It’s going to be a beautiful celebration in Goa, in the South of India, sometimes called the Ibiza of India – can’t wait for a little mmmse mmmse mmmse! In addition, I’m joining a bunch of crazies (a French, a Lebanese and another American, to be precise) for a week of travel around India, mostly staying in the Northern parts. In trip planning (or lack there of – sorry guys!) I thought it was time for a little extra personal adventure.

I have been nearly obsessed with the ethical luxury movement and particularly with pioneering fashion brand Maiyet ever since its launch a few years back. Basically it is a women’s brand creating exceptionally beautiful products (apparel, footwear, accessories) that compete with other top tier luxury fashion brands, is sold in the likes of Net-a-porter and Barneys and most importantly each product is made from materials that are all ethically sourced from various parts of the world – handmade handbags in Swaziland, metal work in Mexico, silks hand woven in India (that’s me!), etc. All of this is made possible via their partnership with the NGO Nest . So long story short, I found myself with some free time and decided to reach out to them to do a short fellowship with them here. 
Maiyet FW14 runway
[made by silks from Loom to Luxury, inspired by the Varanasi loom punch cards - more on that later]

Nest is working with a local business called Loom to Luxury here and helping to create a more sustainable and thriving business, with the goal of ramping up the business and no longer having to lean on Nest. I’m here to help them create a marketing plan for their first collection, for SS16, where they'll be traveling to Paris to compete with top of the line fabric manufacturers and pitch their product to the likes of Celine, Hermes, Stella McCartney, etc. Basically HEAVEN to me.

Back to Varanasi!

The drive from the airport was shocking in itself. THE COLORS! THE SOUNDS! THE TRASH! THE SMELLS! It literally took my breath away, like I actually choked. And laughed outloud to myself.  And definitely felt a bit of fear. And felt alive. 
ride from the airport
There was high pitched hindi music playing from the tinny car speakers while a mixure of the most unplacaeble images I’ve every seen flashed by me. Barefooted women dressed in the most colorful sarees you can imagine, pungent colors, traveling in the middle of the road with barrels of leaves on their heads. Nearly naked men with 2 foot long white beards (that put Brooklyn hipsters to shame) draped over water troughs, sleeping. Lone children running in the middle of the highway shoeless (ooh finally found a need for toms? Ha) dogs doing nasty things together on the side of the road. And the cows! Cows and bulls, with a presence on the road like monster SUVs, roaming with confidence and the little 1970 Tata toy cars just swerve and slam on their breaks in response. Signage only in Hindi, which looks more to me like repetitive curvy brushstrokes than a written language. Garbage piles that put trash day in NYC and even trash strikes in Napoli to shame!! But to SHAME. It’s as if the people living here don’t see it or notice it or know that it is not hygenic. They walk in it, pick through it, play in it, live in it. Shrines. Temples. Chanting. Goats. Pigs. 

Uff how comfortable/predictable is new york and its amenities. I kinda miss it. Oops, I didn’t say that.
ride from the airport

Being surrounded by the literally unknown and feeling this true sense of unfamiliarity in every sense of the word, I realize, is exactly what I should be doing - throwing myself far, far, far away from my comfort zone. I had been getting Way to cozy in Brooklyn and it was time for another shake up.

Routine and easy living force you to be numb, in a sense, to your environment and allow you to comfortably treat every day as the day before, without questioning those things around you. New York I love you but you’re dangerous. In the city, for example, we wouldn’t dare speak to a stranger. We are so much wrapped up in our own world and unaware of our surroundings that we even power walk right past the people we know on our way into Starbucks. We walk into said Starbucks with the entitlement that they will make exactly what we want, when we ask for it, and it will taste exactly like the same same drink we get every day. And if it doesn’t we’re pissed. (Guilty of all of this by the way!) The learning stops. The questioning stop. Questions and frustration only arise when things aren’t how they were the day, week, or month before. And that is straight up spooky/dangerous/lethal…at least for me.

morning on the Ganges

I feel a life learning coming on strongly, staring at me in the face: Wherever you are, every now and then do your best to abandon your former ideas of the way things work. Expose yourself to new ones and be present and curious enough to try to understand them. THIS is my lesson for the day/week/year/lifetime, and boy am I getting schooled HARD on this here in Varanasi.


Saturday, June 7, 2014


I'm back in Rio and it feels so good. 

Oddly, there doesn't exist a word in english that defines one of brazil's most commonly used words: saudade. If you were to attempt to find a solution to this puzzle it would start with a combination of words including but not limited to: longing, nostalgia, fondness, that feeling in your chest that you just can't put into a word... Even of the tens+ of brazilians I've asked over the years to help explain just what this word means, I still remain answer free in terms of language, but believe I'm beginning to understand the saudade feeling quite well.

puro Rio [ipanema]

Yesterday I landed in Rio after almost 2 years away from this magical city. I'm here not because I had a life changing "Aha!" moment that made me return on a whim, but with my with adidas launching Y-3 (our Yohji Yamamoto collaboration) with beautiful designer/artist Gilda Midani, in her spaces in Rio and Sao Pualo with a World Cup capsule collection. [See left - woop woop thanks vogue brazil:) ]
After arriving in GIG with 250lbs, to be exact, of promotion Y-3 gifts/press releases/installations/etc (which was surprisingly uneventful at customs...was honestly worried about brazilian jail) and a 14 hour flight, I somehow landed full, but FULL, of energy and with one thing on my mind - FAVELAS. Before I could get comfy in my hotel in Aproador or shower (TMI) I was in a taxi to the Complexo do Alemao. On facebook I saw that the incredibly inspirational Ilton Barros was giving a lecture at Fabrica Verde, a new sustainable NGO operating in Rocinha and now the Complexo focused on bringing used computers to students in the community who wouldn't otherwise have access. I had no address, no telephone number, no contact with Ilton, pretty bad Portuguese since I hadn't spoken in about 2 years, but luckily also no shame.

dreamy [aproador]
The driver was convinced I was mistaken because "gringos don't go to the favelas" but took me the hour trip from Ipanema to the Complexo and dropped me off at the address I had found in the middle of the favela. Beating heart, sweaty palms, fueled with optimism, I got out of the taxi full of hope and with fingers crossed. Low and behold on the third floor, there was Ilton, giving a beautiful presentation of his latest desfile de lixo (trash fashion show).

There it was! Fashion in the favelas. Ilton presenting to a room full of budding fashionistas, making the most of the limited resources around them.

Que emociao, que saudade!

ilton + me reunited and :) [at fabrica verde in front of the complexo]
We hugged, we laughed, we caught up [portuguese came back surprisingly fast and seemingly out of nowhere!], we thanked the travel gods for making planes a real thing, we took a juice, and we did the next thing on my "must do in rio" list, took the teleferico.

For those of you who are reading (maybe it's only you, Diana ;) ) and don't remember, Ilton is the amazing favela-born dreamer/social activist/fashion designer who inspires both children in underprivileged areas of Rio and adult (?) twins currently living in Brooklyn to make the world a better place through fashion and recycling (reason 2139484392 why i love him).
the complexo from the teleferico
Back to the teleferico. We rode around taking in views of the seemingly larger complexo, chills running up my spine, smiling ear to ear with saudades of my last experience here and again, a thankfulness to greater powers that make travel a real-life super power. He also updated me on the recent going-ons in the complexo, which unfortunately were not good news on the violence front, but I think that is an entirely different post... 

Anyways, the fact that a simple ride on a cable car with another human being had me so shaken up that I literally felt euphoria/a call to action/chills/joy/sadness/lightbulbs/saudades all at the same time got me thinking... how do these moments come about? where do they come from? how can some situations get swallowed among millions of other memories never to be uncovered again and others shake us to the core and resound so deeply with us? and most importantly, what do we do with them?

The other day, a wise chilean-american-ex-berliner and another wise israeli-current-berliner started talking to me about turning points. Similar to our brazilian word of the day, something also quite difficult to define but if I take a stab at it...

turning point\\ an experience or event that imprints itself so greatly on you that it makes sure you will never ever be the same again. 

The funny thing about a turning point is that even if it is something that happened during a short period of time, maybe even in just a moment, you will carry it with you for a long, long time and for the really good ones, forever. In case I didn't know it before, upon returning to Rio two years later, it is clear that this is one of those "forever" ones for me.

So I had a turning point. great. got it. now what?!

I may very well go back to BK, jump back into the busy day to day (heck, I already did it today, put on my corporate fashion face working a super schmancy event with Rio's most accomplished creatives....inspiring in its own right, but quite contrasting to the day before if  I may say so...DIGRESSING!) but need to remember not to separate those turning points - those game changing moments, the ones that made you who you are, the ones that still give you saudades up your spine - from the day-to-day you. [note: i am speaking directly to myself here]

The important thing is what you do with these moments. I personally still don't have an answer, but all I know is that I am grateful that this short corporate work trip has converted itself into a soul touching reminder to act and do something. NOTE: This 'something' does not include only thinking back fondly on memories and merely feeling these saudades. I must act on my saudades. In what form it will take, I don't know but I will keep you posted. 

So, full of saudades, agua de coco and confusion, I give thanks - Thank you Ilton, Thank you Complexo, Thank you Rio for reminding me that you shook me up.

Friday, August 3, 2012

A semisonic kind of day.

Funny how life can feel kind of like a washing machine sometimes. Before you know it you’re blindly thrown into a chaotic process….no idea of what’s about to come your way and before you know it you have water thrown in your face and you’re getting thrown around haphazardly. At first you're confused, you need some time to assimilate, you’re not sure in which direction you’re coming from or to which you’re going. Maybe you’re a little scared, but it feels like it might be good for you. Then all of a sudden just as you as you start to get comfortable and get into the groove, you’re good and clean and BAM! the machine stops. Onto the next phase.

best professora surprise ever. homemade limao + chocolate cake.
[sustainable jewelry classroom, complexo do alemao]

Today was my last day of work in the favelas. It was surely far too abruptly of an end. I saw the end coming, I knew it was coming, but somehow I just couldn’t prepare. But like all processes in life, and at the risk of sounding extremely trite, all endings are the start of another beginning….cue Semisonic. But it’s true. Today’s end was an exciting beginning for what is to come with our relationship with the favela of Complexo do Alemao.

Today was extremely beautiful.

I created a [rough and dirty] draft of a website for the FASHION EVENT OF THE YEAR….ALEMAO FASHION WEEK! 25th of November - mark your calendars!...will share site later when it's a lot more beautiful than it is now.

hmm..i know i learned how to do this back in my enginerding days...
Diana got a heartfelt interview of our dear friend, colleague and co-fashionisto Ilton [founder of the Fashion Lixo project in the Complexo].
and....ACTION! [filming on rooftop, complexo do alemao]
We got a rooftop view of a GORGEOUS setting sun on the complexo.

The students threw us a surprise going away party :) We arrived to Tia Bete’s school to our favorite students [yep, we picked favorites] telling us to close our eyes and stay downstairs because they were preparing for us “the best surprise of our life”.  And it was.

favorite little monsters :) 
Today was extremely frustrating.

When we put our MBA hats on and wanted to work, and I mean work and get scheisse done, not only were the resources not there to support (it literally took us 2 hours and 45 minutes to find working internet….never did we find wifi), but we also didn't get even the most motivated of people to understand what a productive day American style was like…coffee breaks, chats, visits to friends houses, coffee breaks, sharing photos….all fine and dandy, actually amazing, when you have the time. But when work needs to be done….well you get the picture. My German side started to show its face for sure.

taking pics while waiting for someone to ask someone to find someone who knows someone's aunt who might know the network key for the internet
[fancy shmanzy cocacola computer lab, complexo do alemao]

But through the hits and misses, through the highs of accomplishment and the lows of leaving behind a project that feels just to premature too step away from, I know that it is the start of a deep relationship with this community. In what form exactly I cannot say. That is for fate [and a lot of elbow grease] to decide.

Thursday, August 2, 2012


Mid-season it is always good to take inventory of designs so far. Nothing wrong with a little catwalk practice either. So a little drumroll please........we give you a behind the scenes look at our Fashion Week Mid-Season Run-thru! 

hat made from coffee filters, vest made from cereal boxes.

front row.

gown made from table cloth + packaging, head piece made from old vogues.

top made from garbage bags and cds, skirt made from packaging.

magazine mania gown.
take a bow. so proud.

proud professoras

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Dr. Jekyll + Mr. Hyde.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012, 2:05pm, Favela de Complexo do Alemao.
One classroom, two Professora Verdugos.
Subject? English.
Students’ ages? 9 – 61, of course.
You can guess how the rest panned out.

When we bid adieu last Friday to the only other volunteer (aka English teacher) in the favela, we should have known we were in trouble. Despite our lack of experience Diana and I eagerly agreed to pick up his English classes in addition to our Sustainable Jewelry sessions. Fast forward to today, and somewhere between Wanderson leaping across the room barefoot singing Justin Beiber, Juliana spreading her entire makeup collection on her desk, 61-year old Alice trying to give us her 5-generations of family history, and 14 year old Aline arguing on her smartphone with her 28 yr old boyfriend - all while trying to teach - I realized that the honeymoon was over.

diana trying to man the fort.

abandoned desks, abandoned havaianas.

new professors in charge.

We were not even half-way into the two hour favela-based English class, only describable as mayhem, and I was starting to question the way things were going. Had I over idolized the students? Had I too quickly given them too much credit? Were they truly motivated after all? Do they only care about JB (refer to previous post)?

On the length of the entire commute, from the 484 bus ride to Bonsucesso stop, then past 5 teleferico stops deep into the favela, Diana and I were organizing and structuring our lesson plan for the day. Both of us have a fear of teaching, especially language. Heck, until recently we both even had a fear of kids (exception: stinky little Parisian princess). So to combat these “fears” we thought we would prepare, and prepare we did. Lesson plans, games, class outlines, print-outs, stickers, rewards (aka American candy)….you name it, we had prepared it and brought it with us to class today. The result? Refer to the aforementioned situation.

By the end of what I can only call two hours of torture, Diana and I got to the “Just eff it” stage. Before I knew it we were all eating (undeserved) american candy bars, singing Adele at the top of our lungs and getting makeovers from Juliana. Class dismissed.
eff it, we're singing.
eff it, give me a makeover. blue eyeshadow and all.
On the bus ride home Diana and I, both feeling quite defeated, barely spoke. All I could think about was the long run down the Ipanema coast that I was going to take when I got home. Since I’ve been in Brazil I’ve found a new [sort of] love for running and find it’s the best way to clear my mind after a crazy favela day, get some perspective on life, and just take in the beautiful views (oh yeah and help me train for the marathon that I was somehow coaxed into running this September in Berlin). Anyways, got home, changed as fast as possible and within minutes was out the door running. About 15 minutes in when I started to feel more relaxed and quite invigorated when a bus driving by caught my eye...."JULIANA BUS" it read. I stopped in my tracks, almost tripped myself and the jogger on my heels to take a bberry pic of the sign for Juliana. "OMG! She would LOVE it!" I thought. Whoa. Guess I take back all of those words I said, ok thought, over the past few hours. 

My passion to snap a pointless pic of a dirty bus (aka my new and undying love for the students) got me thinking about them and their behavior. How could the situations make for such polar opposite outcomes? How could such little angels so quickly convert into little misbehaved devils? So strange it all was....same classroom, same teachers, same students, totally different behavior. They truly are amazing and driven little creatures. REMARKABLE how their behavior can change so much from one subject to the next. Then I started to see that it all boils down to passion. They [kind of sadly] don't have much interest in learning a foreign language, but now it was even more apparent to me that they [super amazingly] are MADLY PASSIONATE ABOUT FASHION. Their tremendous variation in attitude between today and yesterday verified that to the power of 1000. Guess that just means we have to keep working as hard as we can do to whatever we can to help them realize these big fashionista dreams. And that I won't waste another day (or bag of candy) helping them in any other way.

Julie [+diana]

P.S. but no regrets from today, us Verdugos are famous for having to learn the hardway anyway.

We might be wrong. [and we like it.]

I’ve never felt so alive in my life.  Ok, top three days in my life.  Pretty sure we got slapped across the face about 6 times today with the reminder that life is INCREDIBLE in every beautiful and horrible way possible.  So Julie’s posts have left me drooling and glowing with pride, empathy, sympathy, super-charged, inspired…but will have to admit that her post regarding throwing out all she learned from an MBA is crap. Sorry Jucie.  Oh wait, shoot, hmm I take that back. I think she was completely correct...on that day.  But today we experienced the very contrary, which is the beauty of this rollercoaster ride.  Proving yourself wrong is one of the most humbling exciting things you can do. Like when at 12 yrs old Julie learned tuna fish wasn’t evil, or when we both realized Germany was actually cool (oops), or even that Favelas do need MBA minds.  Sometimes.

Well today was full of proving ourselves (and our colleagues, for the matter) Wrong and it was lovely. Actually, to brag, we achieved Reallllllllly exciting jumping-for-joy milestones today, getting leaps closer to our mission to make a sustainable difference in the community of Complexo Alemao and it feels like we’re at the free-fall part of a sky-dive.  It feels like a drug.  

Today I met a guy.  Julie warned me of this, as she worked with him last week, but from the 10am introduction to our 10pm goodnight, I wanted to strangle him, marry him, share a peace pipe with him, then roll him up and take me home in my [garbage-filled] bag.  Think Isaac Mizrahi+”Just Jack” from will&grace+Joan Rivers+Anne Frank+Mother Teresa = JoseIlton Barros, (or just Ilton = EEW-TOH), THE designer of “Fashion Lixo” (translation: Fashion Garbage, pronounced: FAH-SHOWN LEE-SHOE) of Complexo Alemao who has prided himself in creating head-to-toe runways looks just out of trash in the community.