Years ago, at a gathering of American Artists for Diversity in Marrakech, I met the remarkable poet, C.K. Williams. He had just won the Pulitzer Prize. I had just exhibited my textile creations for the first time. He admired a piece I had stitched together, wrapping it around his shoulders until he thought he must buy it. I picked up his latest volume of poetry, Repair, and wrapped myself in his words on the plane ride home.
Some say it's brazenly sexist, though kimonos have always been worn by men and women, so I find that debatable.
Others claim the expression originated in feudal Japan referring to the practice of proving that no weapons were hidden within the folds of the clothing. I like that. A visual pat down.
2020 will be a year to remember for many reasons, but for the Ibu Foundation, it was a particular standout. Our donations went up by 15% and our outreach strengthened. While many businesses and non-profits struggled to survive, your support helped the Ibu retail store thrive, and enabled the Foundation to uphold our mission. This year taught us again and again that nothing can dampen the power of beauty and the strength of women determined to rise into their own sovereignty.
Today, many of us will begin something new. Me, too.
Each week, I write about artisans and other bits of life in Ibulliance. But there is so much more that never reaches the page. So, this year, I've decided to undertake a personally narrated trip daily through the world of Ibu on our Instagram platform.
On the last day of the year, Katherine May builds a fire on the beach near her home in Whitstable, England and watches the sun die into the horizon. With her friends gathered around the flames, together they repeat, marking the moment,
We have turned the year.
And it's just such honest moments as these that things begin to change.
Seven of them, actually. Seven sisters. In Kyrgyzstan. Like never before, linking arms. Because . . . Covid.
We began to hear reports of terrible things happening with our artisan colleagues in Kyrgyzstan. So terrible, I didn't believe them. We've certainly heard from imposters before, posing as artisans in trouble, pleading cash. So, though I put the emails aside, I thought it would be a good idea to check in with Zhanyl, just in case.
Whispering Cloud. Singing Silk. Tea Silk. Soft Gold. It's been called many names over the past 2500 years, but all names agree about this rare luxurious cloth - it's liquid on your skin, and weightless as the sky.
Listen! There is something happening among the women of Northern Kenya. Something powerful.
Recently, 1300 women of Maasai, Samburu, Turkana, and other tribes - have been exercising their incredible beading skills to not just earn a living - but to change their lives. And not just their lives, but 7800 family members, still living their pastoral, semi-nomadic lifestyle. They've sent 3500 children to school. They've protected their lands so that 1000 more elephants now graze there, and they've radically reduced the destructive practice of making charcoal by cutting down trees. That's some powerful stuff.
As the pandemic surges into the heart of summer, I feel some days as though I am walking through a cloud. Nothing is clear. No-one is certain. No path is plain to see.
It makes me think of a text I once studied, anonymously penned in the late 1300s, called The Cloud of Unknowing. The author traced the mystic's path: giving up - rather painfully giving up - all that we believe about ourselves and the world around us, in order to receive a glimpse of our true being, our true place in the world.
It's the symbol of our time - the whole crushing chaos of COVID distilled into a few thin layers of cotton. Overnight, fashion sprang on this new social canvas; because fashion is all about manufacturing identity, and what signifier is more in your face than a mask? But what, I am wondering, does it signify?. Is It a social firewall or a thoughtful gesture?
Depends on why you wear it, says Liz Bucar quoted in the Washington Post. If you are wearing a mask to protect yourself from others, you are forming a habit of fear. Every time you put a mask on, every time you see someone else wearing one, you will reinforce this fear.
Did you know that there are 75 million garment workers in the world, and almost all of them earn far below the average income of their country?
In China, garment workers make 20% of the national average wage.
In Bangladesh, where poverty is rampant, 65%.
In the United States, 51%.*
And across the board, 75% of these garment workers are women.
Less than three weeks ago, an esteemed English professor/poet laureate staying in my home pulled out his flip phone (no kidding), and pondered how to Zoom his new online classes.
Look at us now. Henry is sailing through his Zoom maneuvers; my niece Emily is streaming her Sunday morning service to an at-home congregation; my accountant is educating me via a webinar; Elton John and friends play for us from their homes; artisans the world over are checking in via What's App, friends on email and text; phone conferences play out at my home on the hour; grandparents celebrate their little ones on Facetime . . . I mean, the longer we are isolated, the more creative we get in banding together.
And then there are some, in the midst of life's strange calamities, who will rise into their full stature, and with fear, but not trembling, find a way through.
Even I'm a sucker for Amazon next day delivery. Retail is dead, they say. Madison Avenue is a mausoleum of the marketplace. Shopping is now a finger-click, and poof! - your next TV is waiting at your door.
Five years ago, the writing is on the wall. I open Ibu online, knowing the real market is rocketing into hyperspace. A team of five is working in my house - at the dinning table, the sewing room, the office, the kitchen - but know one else can see with their own eyes the handcrafted beauty pouring in from all over the world, which is, I think, a shame.
How do you make a button? The loop-de-loop kind of intricate things that march down a Moroccan djellaba by the dozens like a proud brigade?
Ask any of the twelve Ibu allies who traveled to the city of buttons to learn how. Sefrou, Morocco is where women know how to start with a tiny piece of paper and needle and whip up a chic little button, no problem; but teaching an American crew was another story altogether!
Cathie Black begins her book, Basic Black, talking about the importance of Drive. Persistence. Passion. A fearless forward motion in a woman that doesn't stop when set back.
I'd say she is describing herself. This woman who became the first to head up Marketing for a ground-breaking upstart called Ms. Magazine when women's issues were hardly at the forefront of public discourse - this woman threw herself into an almost impossible job and didn't give up. I'd call that Drive.
Maria spends her days sitting in the courtyard of her home in the rural village of Pinotepa de Don Luis, Mexico, weaving on the ancient backstrap loom. She ties the loom to a post and secures the strap around her waist, sits down on the stone ground, and begins her craft. Each hand-woven garment requires two weeks of preparation and spinning, and another 3 months or 400 hours of weaving. The pieces created are nothing less than a language of love. When asked if Maria enjoys this type of work, she proudly says this is not work to me, this is my way of life.