So a Scientist, a Designer and a Professor Walk Into a Bar...


***Disclaimer before you read this article on sustainability and fashion. I was googling “how to give ideas to NYC about sustainability (a whole other conversation) when I came upon this event produced by “Change Fashion” and Fashion Revolution. I have adult-social anxiety (probably due to a long process of re-sensitizing myself as I let go of a bartending job and embraced my love of exploring my own spirituality.) I am terrified to walk into places where I don’t know anyone, especially of making social faux pas. So I want to thank the Universe for allowing me to run into Lirra Deborja, my neighbor, who I had never spoken to before this day, a sustainable accessories designer whose feeling that she belonged and warm welcoming of me, helped me feel like I belonged and allowed me to sit in the front instead of the back, where I would normally hide. Thank you!! ****

I am not sure if anything in the world could make me happier than putting a scientist (Linda Greer, NRDC) , a designer (Mara Hoffman, swoon) and someone who designs higher education curriculum (Yvonne Watson of Parsons) in a room. Have it moderated by a culturally-powerful institution like the CFDA and hosted by an icon, throw in a love for the planet and some casual astrology lessons, and I am pretty much in heaven.

This is the experience I had last week on Thursday during We Change Fashion’s panel. Donna Karan introduced the speakers and invited us to her space: Urban Zen. In her ex-husband Stephan Weiss’s studio, seated in the West Village (which does feel truly like a village), she spoke spontaneously about her deep reverence for the past (ancient wisdom), her interest in the present (centering on healthcare), and the future (the planet.)

She made us all laugh, conveying her surprise at the length of her career and the sensation of time passing, “it’ll happen to all of you,” she quipped, “and you’ll know what it feels like,” and in that passage of time she conveyed the great difference she felt when she started as a designer, and her main motivation was just wanting something to wear, and her current concerns about the environment, designers, and our responsibility to other human beings. “I don’t consider myself an artist she said. Fashion is kind of a selfish thing,” she said without so much judgment as well as a deep sense of humility and honesty.  

What tickled me the most was the undercurrent of spirituality and philosophic romance in the air. Karan spoke candidly about the passing of her father when she was just a small child and  her memory of watching the Macy’s Day parade, and in her sense of loss and adult experience with the modern healthcare system, she discovered a passion for bringing back the idea of care in healthcare.

Donna Karan’s eyes shone brightly and she mentioned that someone had asked her who she would want to meet if she could meet anyone in the world. “I said I would like to meet his holiness, the Dali Lama,” she said. Three days after she answered that question, His Holiness appeared at Urban Zen to inaugurate a ten day summit on health. “You have to think like that,” she said. “You have to put it out there,” alluding to a belief in the power of intention, positivity and giving the Universe a desire to deliver to you without attachment or pressure.

A few moments later, she instructed us to close our eyes and take deep breaths together. We all closed our eyes, and followed her lead. I immediately felt more relaxed, as she looked around the room and asked everyone if they could feel the way the energy changed. She spoke about how she believed in yoga in every school, in meditation, and in the importance of all of us coming together to be calm in a sea of chaos.

Donna’s message was clear. She spoke fondly of her ex-husband Stephan Weiss, and his bronze apple in the river, and their conversation about only one of them being able to be an artist.

“He was so good at connecting the dots. He would write down all the dots on a piece of paper, and he would connect them. He was good at that,” she said. Presumably she was making a metaphor about how diverse lenses are required for us to understand how to solve problems, particularly the pressing issue of fashion’s effect on the environment.

“And it’s so important to connect the dots,” she continued. Looking out at the intimate crowd that had gathered here with the leading voices in America fashion, environmental science and fashion education.

“You’re a dot, and you’re a dot and you’re a dot,” she said looking out at us. “And if you tell their friends and your family, they’re all dots, and they’re all important.” she stressed. She lit the room with inspiration and in the moment, I felt a deep hope that there might be small steps towards seemingly huge problems.

She articulated what I have felt for so long. Nature, science and the body teach us the every cell has it’s own job, but that every cell is well aware of how it fits into the whole. Nature teaches us that unrestrained growth is not healthy, but in fact, illness. (This is best articulated in Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book, Braiding Sweetgrass.) That being able to understand how as people we are connected, but as inhabitants of this planet, we rely on one another to take care of the only home we have. A whole lot of science, rigorous experience and a shifting consciousness are all required if we want to preserve, renew and honor this place we call home. And that’s true beauty.