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What I’d Say About Ethical Fashion if I Met You on the Street

Recently, I was visiting with a friend who I hadn’t seen in awhile and she said something regarding my blog that has stuck with me:

“Maybe it would be a good idea for you to move somewhere where people are less concerned with being intellectual so you can know what it’s like in the real world.” 

I’d taken this to mean that my approach on this blog can seem inaccessible, even judgmental, to those living outside of my specific social circle. To give you some context, I had just been complaining about the Type-A, aggressively driven culture of UVa and Charlottesville, how it exhausts me while also pushing me to strive for more. In many ways, it’s a great thing to be surrounded by people who are obsessed with going after their dreams. But it inadvertently creates a culture of judgment and misplaced expectation because it assumes that anyone who isn’t doggedly pursuing something “important” (it’s easier to tell what’s not important than what is important around these parts) is lazy, or maybe not very smart. And those things, in this context, are very bad words.

When I first moved here, I had no idea what I wanted to “do with my life” (now, I think we’re fooling ourselves if we assume that there is only one thing we’re “supposed” to do). When people asked me, “So, what do you do?” I couldn’t give a satisfactory answer. “I’m a barista” or “I work at a screen printing company” were not adequate in the eyes of these driven, high-minded people. I’d get a blank stare and then a follow up, “Oh, but what do you want to do?” I wanted to yell “That’s not what matters! I matter! See me for who I am, now.”

I fear that maybe I can come off as a “What do you do?” person. 

As blogging became more central to my life, I started to get more respect and fewer blank stares. “I write on ethical fashion” or “I collaborate with social good companies” sounds like a real thing, believe it or not, and the academics among me could relate it to the type of work they do. On the one hand, it’s nice to have a project that forms part of my identity. But it also makes me prone to becoming the type of person who values people only for their labor and not for their being.

And maybe sometimes, it makes me seem like the type of person who would judge you for not living according to my standards.

So, let me be clear…

If I met you on the street, I would not tell you that you are bad, or not good enough. 

If you asked me “what I do,” I would tell you my spiel, “I write on ethical fashion and manage a thrift shop,” but I wouldn’t then expect you to engage in any particular way with that information.

If I met you in the store or at church or at a university event, I would not try to guilt you into embracing my lifestyle, or pretend that I had it right. Don’t get me wrong: I love to talk about ethical fashion with people who seem genuinely interested. It gives this project some validation in the real world. But I don’t ever want to give the impression that because I am living a certain way that I expect you to do the same.

In the tiny room that is this blog, the conversation is different, sometimes more intense.

But you – the reader who keeps coming back – are having this conversation by choice. You entered this space of your own volition. 

If you’re a woman stopping into the thrift shop while your brother’s getting his weekly transfusion at UVa Hospital or a volunteer hoping for a little camaraderie during the week or a fellow parishioner at a weekly dinner, you didn’t ask me to talk to you about this. I respect that and I honor you.

I believe that people have the responsibility to live according to high moral standards and encourage others to do the same. But accountability comes as relationships mature, not in the beginning.

So if I meet you on the street and I’m not living up to the standard of inclusion and hospitality that I strive for, you have permission to tell me so.

And I’ll try my best to not ask you what you do, but what you enjoy and how you spend your days. You matter so much more than the work that you do can ever let on. I’ve sorry if you’ve ever been told otherwise.

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