Notes From The Fashion Debates On Mental Health

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A massive thanks to everyone who came to the latest edition of the Fashion Debates at The Trampery Republic in London. We had an outstanding discussion about the mental health problem that we face in the Fashion and Creative Industries, with a panel led by Olivia Pinnock in conversation with designer Charli Cohen, Dr Jonathan Gander from The Haven + London and business consultant and facilitator Fabian Hirose.

Employees in creative careers such as fashion are 25% more likely to experience mental illness. Dr Jonathan Gander started the discussion by saying that “young people are amazing, that’s why I like working in a university. But I do see vulnerability. The cost of [the creative industries] production is often hidden. It’s not the money, it’s often someone”.

Designer Charli Cohen said that “the creative industry will either help with someone’s mental health issues or actually worsen them” and “you can’t complain about it, [because] everyone [else] is stressed. In fashion, it’s [seen as] ‘normal’”.

Fabian Hirose added that “we [designers] need to give meaning to existence. We are trying to solve the problem for others, and we do so at the expense of ourselves”. Cohen agreed by adding that “as a designer, you’re expected to draw inspiration from your lowest low to create, and it’s a lot of time to spend there.”

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For Dr Gander, the problem lies at the top levels of the industry: “when I meet successful people, what I often experience is the attitude that ‘I went through this, I struggled, you have to struggle for it too’”.

So, what can we do about it? How can we take better care of ourselves? As Olivia Pinnock explained, freelancers make up a significant portion of the workers in the creative industries. Without a support network, creatives can feel isolated and lonely, which contributes to developing mental health issues. But the problem does not only lie in the freelance community, almost 95% of creative industries businesses are micro-businesses (less than 10 employees), according to figures from The Creative Industries Federation.

“As a freelance, you need to set your own boundaries, even if it sounds counterintuitive”, Cohen said. And Hirose added that “even if you’re a company professional offering independent services, communities are very important. We need to form [supporting] communities to survive”.

Apart from joining or creating supporting communities yourself, what other things can be done? “Keep the conversation going on every forum you can”, Cohen responded. Dr Gander said that “professional help is available, don’t be afraid to take it”. And, everyone agreed with Hirose when he added that “it’s an individual journey, there is no linear solution”.

During the Q&A part of the discussion, the audience asked what can we do to detect if someone is struggling with mental health issues and, if so, how can we offer support? Dr Gander explained that “it’s not something you can catch early and just treat it there and then. When you recognise it in someone, just be prepared for whatever can happen next, but don’t force it”. Hirose finished the discussion by saying “Vocabulary is very important”, you have to be very careful with what you say to someone who you suspect is going through a rough time.

Thank you so much to everyone who came to be part of this discussion. Like Cohen said, we need to keep this conversation going. This is an industry formed by people who really love what they do, sometimes at the expense of themselves, as Hirose taught us. That is a high price to pay to keep businesses running, and it’s the most expensive cost that the industry faces, paraphrasing Dr Gander.

Thanks to Olivia Pinnock for allowing me to be part of this beautiful event! If you haven’t been to one of these discussions yet, learn more about The Fashion Debates on their website.

About The Fashion Debates

The Fashion Debates is a London-based event series run by fashion journalist Olivia Pinnock that explores ethical issues affecting the fashion industry. From sustainability, to diversity, to animal rights, and workers’ rights, their aim is to make the industry as beautiful as the clothes it produces.

Photo credit: behind the scenes by Andrzej Gruszka.

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Panel Discussion And Networking

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Last chance to get your tickets for tomorrow’s edition of the Fashion Debates at The Trampery Republic in London. Olivia Pinnock will be leading the conversation with the panel formed by Charli Cohen, Dr. Jonathan Gander from The Haven + London and Fabian Hirose.

We will be discussing the state of mental health in the fashion industry, how to deal with the pressures of our jobs, how to take care of ourselves but also how to support those who are going through a rough patch.

Get your tickets here.

Event information

  • Date: May 30th, 2019

  • Time: 7 pm to 10 pm

  • Location: The Trampery Republic, Import Building, 2 Clove Crescent, East India, London E14 2BE

The evening

  • 7 pm Complimentary welcome drinks

  • 7:30 pm Panel debate

  • 8 pm Questions from the audience

  • 8:30 pm Networking

The panel

  • Charli Cohen: Founder of Charli Cohen tech-wear and mental health awareness initiative Shades of Blue.

  • Dr Jonathan Gander: Associate Professor for Creative Industries, Kingston University, and Chair of The Haven + London, the only UK charity solely dedicated to supporting the emotional, spiritual and mental well-being of the creative community.

  • Fabian Hirose: Business Coach who runs workshops on Fashion Burnout designed to answer the question “Why do Businesses & Individuals within Fashion Systems Collapse?”

About The Fashion Debates

The Fashion Debates is a London-based event series run by fashion journalist Olivia Pinnock that explores ethical issues affecting the fashion industry. From sustainability, to diversity, to animal rights, and workers’ rights, their aim is to make the industry as beautiful as the clothes it produces.

Photo credit: taken by Anna Klepikova during one of the previous debates.

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Mental Health Awareness Month

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As I explained in my previous post, May is Mental Health Awareness Month. We are very aware of the need to take care of our bodies to live healthier lives. But, feeling better and living a healthier life is not only about taking care of our bodies. We must also learn how to take care of our minds. If you are in London this May 30th, 2019, join me as I host a panel debate on Mental Health in the Fashion Industry where we will explore the relationship between creativity and mental health.

The discussion will be led by Fashion Journalist Olivia Pinnock with a panel formed by:

  • Dr Jonathan Gander - Associate Professor for Creative Industries, Kingston University, and Chair of The Haven + London, the only UK charity solely dedicated to supporting the emotional, spiritual and mental well-being of the creative community;

  • Charli Cohen - Founder of Charli Cohen tech-wear and mental health awareness initiative Shades of Blue;

  • And Fabian Hirose, a business coach who runs workshops on Fashion Burnout designed to answer the question “Why do Businesses & Individuals within Fashion Systems Collapse?”

Get your tickets here.

Photo credit: behind the scenes by Andrzej Gruzska.

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Fashion Debates On Mental Health

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Since 1949, Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed in May to raise awareness and educate the public about mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, panic attacks, body image, anger, eating disorders and loneliness, among others. This year, I will be co-hosting an edition of The Fashion Debates dedicated to Mental Health in the Fashion Industry with fashion journalist Olivia Pinnock that will take place at The Trampery Republic on May 30th. Join me and fellow professionals passionate about this topic as we explore the complex relationship between creativity and mental health.

Does the way the industry operate lead to mental health problems in its workers, or are creative people more pre-disposed to mental health problems? How can we look after ourselves and our colleagues better to ensure a healthier relationship with our work?

We’ll be discussing these issues and more with our expert panel followed by a chance to network with the rest of the attendees. I look forward to welcoming you!

Get your tickets here.

Event information

  • Date: May 30th, 2019

  • Time: 7 pm to 10 pm

  • Location: The Trampery Republic, Import Building, 2 Clove Crescent, East India, London E14 2BE

The evening

  • 7 pm Complimentary welcome drinks

  • 7:30 pm Panel debate

  • 8 pm Questions from the audience

  • 8:30 pm Networking

The panel

  • Charli Cohen: Founder of Charli Cohen tech-wear and mental health awareness initiative Shades of Blue.

  • Dr Jonathan Gander: Associate Professor for Creative Industries, Kingston University, and Chair of The Haven + London, the only UK charity solely dedicated to supporting the emotional, spiritual and mental well-being of the creative community.

  • Fabian Hirose: Business Coach who runs workshops on Fashion Burnout designed to answer the question “Why do Businesses & Individuals within Fashion Systems Collapse?”

About The Fashion Debates

The Fashion Debates is a London-based event series run by fashion journalist Olivia Pinnock that explores ethical issues affecting the fashion industry. From sustainability, to diversity, to animal rights, and workers’ rights, their aim is to make the industry as beautiful as the clothes it produces.

Photo credit: Fish © 2018 Photography by JC Candanedo.

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The Path To Diversity Can Be Painful

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Promoting inclusiveness and trying to make all the projects that you work on as diverse as possible is no easy feat. You encounter a lot of resistance, not only from people who oppose diversity but also from people whose levels of inclusiveness are not the same as yours. However, if the aim is trying to create an inclusive society, we must accept the fact that people who don’t think like us should also have their place in society in order for our communities to be truly diverse. In terms of equality, the term diversity means “the inclusion of different types of people in a group or organization.” But, where do we draw the line?

I used to think that the line was easily drawn on anything that attempted against human rights. Any form of hatred is inadmissible. But as simple of a rule as it might seem, the nuances make it more complicated. When trying to explain to certain people that words can kill and that a comment that might seem innocent can be very hurtful or can even lead to someone taking their own life, I’ve been told that I don’t have a thick enough skin. Referring to someone or a group of people with derogatory terms, not only has implications for the affected person but also sends the wrong message to those who might find the support they crave for their discriminatory practices.

At times, promoting diversity and calling out on inequality can hurt. Especially when the people with opposite opinions to yours are family members or close friends. You just can’t understand how someone who has your own blood or whom you love so much would not be as concerned for human rights as you are. This reality has sent me down a spiral of disappointment and rage many times in my life. Even in the present, it is sometimes really hard to breathe deeply and have patience whenever a person close to my heart says something really awful against women or against a specific ethnic group.

Personally, the reason why it hurts so much is that I have also been affected by discrimination myself. I’m a gay-forty-something-year-old-atheist-immigrant, so I’m constantly facing homophobia, ageism, anti-atheist discrimination and xenophobia. What’s even worse, I am also a very empathetic person so whenever I see someone facing discrimination I can completely relate to the pain.

But, I can’t let the pain cloud my judgement. I believe that the biggest mistake of the political correctness era of the ‘80s and ‘90s was to ostracize anyone who didn’t think like us because what happened was that they all united forces and came back fighting stronger than ever in the recent years. I believe now that if you have been a victim of discrimination, or if you are an ally of any group affected by discrimination, you cannot discriminate against others yourself. Even if that means that you have to include those who think completely different to you. You can’t fight hatred with hatred.

I’m not saying that we should condone discriminatory practices or allow space for hate speech. All I’m saying is that if we really want to be inclusive, everyone must be welcomed. Otherwise, we risk becoming hypocrites by doing exactly the opposite of what we preach.

Besides, we are in desperate need of allies and if we want the support from groups that have never been marginalized, we can’t start our request for help with rage. We must fight discrimination and be very angry about inequality, but we must use that anger to fuel our fight and not to rule out possible allies. I know it’s easier said than done, but being someone who has felt discriminated by those close to me many times while growing up I can tell you that, had I let my rage inform my relationship with them, I would probably be all alone now.

Photo credit: behind the scenes taken by Andrzej Gruszka.

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We All Have This Superpower

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Last night, I was having a conversation with a very good friend of mine and we were talking about how being friendly opens so many doors. A smile doesn’t necessarily get you everything that you want, but it goes a long way. Ironically, a peer once told me that in some cultures, like in France or some Asian countries, for instance, smiling too much is associated with having a lower level of intelligence. Well, I don’t know if I’m perceived as dumb to some people, but I am a happy person and I smile a lot. And I don’t intend to change that any time soon.

When I used to work in corporate, my friendly and outgoing personality was always perceived as a weakness. I was too nice. Maybe they thought that I was easy to take advantage of, or maybe they were just jealous that I live a happy life. But, even if that always played against me, I never considered for a second smiling less or being less friendly.

I like to surround myself with friendly people, especially when I work. I think that we have enough stress in our lives and jobs to have to put up with the crankiness or bad moods of others. I don’t necessarily think that you have to act like a clown or try to make people happy all the time, but just being friendly and accepting of others really doesn’t cost that much and it makes all the difference.

Admittedly, we are here to work, not to make friends. But, let’s try to make work an enjoyable experience. When I have to put teams together, I obviously look for the best that my budget permits, but someone who is the next best thing but is nice to work with will always be chosen over someone who’s a diva or makes people around them uncomfortable. Life is short, let’s try to enjoy ourselves while we can.

A smile is such a powerful thing to share. Being able to make someone else feel better with just a smile, albeit for a few seconds, should be considered a superpower. So, if we have that power, why not use it more often?

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The Women In My Blog

Photo by Sania Saleh

Photo by Sania Saleh

This coming March 8 is International Women’s Day, a day that has been celebrated for more than 100 years, since 1911. International Women’s Day is not a day to be celebrated only by women for women, it is a day that should be celebrated by any person who cares about equality and human rights. This year’s theme is #BalanceforBetter because a gender-balanced world is a better world.

In honour of International Women’s Day 2019, below you will find posts from some of the amazing women who have contributed to my blog over these last 4 years.

If you want to find out more about the events taking place in your area during International Women’s Day 2019, go to the IWD Website. From concerts and conferences to fun runs and festivals - celebrate International Women's Day with friends, family or colleagues. Raise awareness, celebrate achievement or rally for change. Help forge a more gender-balanced world.

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The Quest For The Post-Human

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Everywhere we look around us, Artificial Intelligence is taking over our workplaces, our streets and even our living spaces. Siri controls our phones, Alexa is in charge of our homes and robots are conquering our kitchens. AI is even being taught how to write poetry! We seem to be wanting to create an artificial new version of ourselves, one that corrects all the flaws and limitations that are inherently human. But, a future when the robots take over the world is still far from becoming a reality.

AI programs and devices are still tools to support humans in performing activities that go beyond human capabilities. Machines can perform extraordinary tasks but, when it comes to analysing the results of these activities or making critical decisions, humans still have to step in. In reality, the computer intelligence that powers AI is still, nowadays, more human than it might seem. AI software is created, managed and supported by humans. It takes 10000 people to make Amazon’s Alexa work.

Humans v2.0, post-humans or however you want to call them, will be a species beyond our wildest expectations, capable of doing things that we can’t even dream of today. And, in this quest to create a better version of us humans, we have already produced human-machine hybrids, a breed unable to live their lives separate from their smartphones. But, in spite of the fact that this technology has turned us into some sort of superhumans, we are still pretty much Humans v1.0.

Over the weekend, during a conversation about AI replacing humans, one of the arguments that a I heard was that in order for machines to replace us they must have something that, at the moment, only humans possess: our self-awareness. According to Ai Weiwei, what gives the concept of humanity a special meaning is our self-awareness and the actions that we take to uphold human dignity.

Therefore, in order to create a better version of a human, this new post-human species must not only be able to exceed the limitations that our brains and bodies have, but it must also be able to solve the issues that make us so inefficient as a collective, like our lack of empathy for our own people (70 million refugees roam the planet at the moment of writing this post) or how careless we are with the ecosystem that keeps us alive, for instance.

However, no matter how far a future when the machines take over is, I for one am not looking forward to the day when the post-humans arrive. I am not against technological advances, and I appreciate everything that we have accomplished as a species. But, I like humans. We are beautiful organic machines capable of loving and creating so much beauty that I think that we deserve a chance even if our imperfections make us do the most horrible of things. We don’t need a post-human at the moment, we just need to fix the human that we already have.

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A World Without Social Media Likes

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Picture for a second a world without social media likes and follower counts. Would you still use social media? I think very few people would. What made the social media phenomenon so successful had less to do with the social part of it and more to do with the need that we have to be liked and accepted. Is a utopian world without likes and follower counts on social media possible? Some think it is.

Platforms like Facebook or Instagram play with our self-esteem and hook us by making us think that the more likes or people following us that we have, the better we are. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book, women’s magazines have been doing it for ages making women feel bad about themselves and their bodies to hook them into buying the products from their advertisers.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey recently told an audience that the "follower count" on the social platforms is meaningless and that, back in the day, when they were still developing the tool, they were not really thinking about it as an important feature. Little did they know that it would become the most important feature for users, advertisers and anyone profiting from social media in general. These days, however, Twitter is considering discontinuing the “likes” feature.

How would a post-likes, post-follower-count world look like? Would social media platforms be relevant anymore? Maybe this would be the biggest digital revolution since social media itself. People sharing ideas and having meaningful connections without the popularity contest that these platforms have turned into. A real social platform.

Could this even be possible? How would you feel if you weren’t able to tell if anyone watched or liked your posts or stories? How would the so-called influencers make a living? Maybe it would be a more democratic and less noisy social media environment, where the algorithms of these platforms wouldn’t be able to favour the posts of those users with more likes and followers, or where the motivation to write a post would be to share knowledge rather than to clickbait people for traffic and conversion.

Maybe I’m just being too naive and someone would find a way to keep on profiting from our vanity and egos. Whoever figures it out and finds a way to monetize it will be ahead of the game. Is anyone up for the challenge?

Photo credit: photo by Ruby Rose.

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Is A Better World Possible?

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Just a few days until the end of the year and I have been reflecting on the state of the world these days. Judging by the news outlets and our social media feeds, the world as we know it is coming to an end. We are doomed. This is the worst time in history to be alive. But, if you think about it carefully, it is impossible for this to be the worst time ever. Just picture our parents and grandparents who lived through two world wars, two post-war depressions, a few civil wars, hundreds of dictatorships and many economic recessions, and still, they managed to raise your parents and raise you so that you could make it to where you are today. Is this really the worst time ever or is it that we have no idea what tough times are really like?

Don’t get me wrong, admittedly there are some really bad things happening in the world today and we must address them and try to fix them. However, before writing this post, I started thinking about how to make this a better world. So, I wrote a list of the things that I thought could be changed in order to achieve that and, when my list got to almost a hundred lines, I learned two lessons:

  1. Most of the things that I consider to be in urgent need of fixing will never compare to having your city taken over by Nazis and your family sent to concentration camps.

  2. If I started filtering people who committed any of the “crimes” in my list out of my life, I’d probably end up alone in the world.

I’m not trying to say that nowadays there are no people going through hell and possibly living the worst situations imaginable, but the majority of us complaining about the state of the world today live very privilege and comfortable lives and don’t really know suffering. Things are not that bad in comparison to where we come from, they just seem worse because of the way the media and our feeds are exposing us to them.

I read somewhere that mayflies only live for a few hours. For them, 3 hours is a lifetime. Our species gets to live to a hundred years these days, that’s 300000 mayflies’ lifetimes. For the last 100 million years, mayflies have only existed to be born, reproduce and die. However, human beings went from living an average of 31 years in 1900 to the life expectancy that we have today. Clearly, we live better lives these days than at any point in history.

We mustn’t stop fighting to right the wrongs in the world today, but we must also count our blessings and acknowledge how far we have come as a species. Let’s condemn the wrongdoings, but let’s also praise the accomplishments that we have achieved. There are good people doing really good things out there, but only the bad ones are getting all the press. Besides, if we want to keep on fighting to make things better, we must at least know that there is the possibility for things to get better. In the words attributed to Martin Luther King Jr. “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

Have a wonderful 2019.

Photo credits: image by Andrzej Gruszka.

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One Singular Sensation

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Yesterday, I watched the movie ‘A Chorus Line’ for the first time and when the cast started singing ‘One Singular Sensation’ I thought to myself that this is the perfect set of words to describe the special feeling of this season. The cold, the decorations, the friends and family gatherings, “these are a few of my favourite things!” However, being so fond of this season made me feel very guilty for a long time because I am a Humanist and, even though I was brought up in an atheist family, I’ve been celebrating these holidays all my life. In our defence, “everyone else is doing it, so why can’t we?”

Long before Christianity took over Europe, many cultures had celebrations throughout the year that are now considered as part of the Christian religious calendar. Christians appropriated of most of the Pagan festivities and made them their own, like conveniently making us believe that their prophet was born in late December so that we had to celebrate Christmas instead of the Winter Solstice. So, if I’m not Christian, I shouldn’t feel bad about celebrating this season because these holidays are not even theirs in the first place. They just took over them.

Anyway, if you think about it, Pagan festivities were also religious festivities and, as a Humanist, I am a non-religious person and I shouldn’t even be celebrating those either. What a conundrum! Perhaps the solution that I should come up with for my dilemma is to appropriate myself of the already appropriated festivities and make them my own, taking out the religious connotations and the myths and making this season about being happy for the people in my life and about sharing this happiness and love with others. In the end, that is what being a Humanist is all about.

Happy Holidays 2018 and let Love be stronger than the differences that divide us.

Photo credit: photo by Ivan Weiss.

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Is Black Friday Still Worth It For Anyone?

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Black Friday 2018 is nearly here and the world is getting ready for the biggest sales day of the year. A day where the big brands will try to sell you almost everything that they have in stock and consumers will buy almost anything, even if it means spending more than they can afford. It is a fierce competition among store owners, but also among bargain hunters. Sadly, it is a competition where the winners are hardly winning, and the losers may lose it all.

I have my doubts on whether Black Friday is really that good for brands and consumers. On the one hand, even if it is true that it is the biggest sales day of the year, anyone who runs a business can tell you that more sales don’t equal more profit. Also, if you have to discount everything to be able to sell something, the discounted price is your new full-price. On top of that, if everyone is waiting for the best deals on Black Friday, who will buy your products at regular prices during the rest of the year? In the end, brands would have to give out their products for free if we continue at this pace (I spoke about this in this post).

On the other hand, one could argue that Black Friday is not that good for the consumer either. The whole shopping experience during that day is awful and it makes you question your faith in humanity. Besides, there are always reports of brands pumping their prices up before Black Friday so that they can offer discounts on the day.

But, for me, the biggest losers during Black Friday are not whom you might think:

  • Small brands: smaller brands that don’t take part on Black Friday or can’t compete with the discounts offered by bigger brands because they have smaller margins and can’t afford to make drastic discounts. You might think “well, it’s the survival of the fittest”, but you must remember that small and medium businesses are the ones that keep the economy alive.

  • The economy: if stores do most of their sales of the year during Black Friday and the rest of the year customers are hardly buying their products, what is the need for brands to keep shops open all year long wasting money on staff, rent, utilities, warehouses, etc? Who is going to hire all that staff or rent all those commercial spaces if brands don’t need them anymore?

  • The environment: Black Friday does not only result in over-spending, but it also brings over-consumption and waste. Consumers not only tend to wait until Cyber Monday to renew their devices, but they also buy some new ones that they didn’t even need just because they were offered at a discounted price, contributing to the electronic waste that is piling up in the landfills all over the planet.

Brands and consumers alike should reassess whether keeping the tradition of Black Friday alive is worth all the hassle. For what is the point of a competition where everyone loses in the end?

Photo credit: behind the scenes shot by Facundo Bustamante.

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We Don't See Ourselves As We Are

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The person under the ET costume is me, circa Halloween 1982. I don’t remember much about that day, just that my brother got to be a cool Storm Trooper and I was dressed up as an awkward alien. Growing up, I was never a self-confident self-loving person and for the 30 years following that photo, I would see myself exactly as that alien. Minus the shiny red finger.

When you have a low self-esteem, you don’t see yourself as you are but as how other people see you. During my twenties and almost my whole thirties, that awkward boy lived inside me and controlled the image that I had of myself. Whenever I looked in the mirror, I could only see the alien on the outside and not the beautiful boy inside the costume.

It wasn’t until I was about to become forty when something clicked in my brain and I started to see life differently. I started caring less about what other people thought and what society expected of me. I gained the confidence to quit my job in a different industry to become a creative and I finally felt like myself, the authentic version of me. In the words of Pedro Almodovar’s character Agrado from ‘All About My Mother’: “you are more authentic the more you resemble the image that you have of yourself.

Nowadays, when I look in the mirror, I am in love with what I see. I love the grey hairs, the tiny wrinkles, but most importantly, I love the person that I’ve become. Maya Angelou once said: “I’ve never trusted anyone who says ‘I love you’ and the person doesn’t love herself or himself. How can you? How can you give something you don’t have?” The more I age, the more beautiful I feel and the more I love myself, and it really doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks, the only person that I have to please is myself. And that knowledge makes me happy.

Had I known this when I was younger, I would probably remember the day in the photo better and all the fun that I could-have / must-have had. It was a very cool costume, indeed. I think my grandmother made it. If only I had possessed back then the confidence and self-love to be able to enjoy it and appreciate it…

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How Can Your Business Contribute To A Better World

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We easily forget that the availability of information and technology that we enjoy today is a very recent phenomenon. Up until not so long ago, the information that we received from news outlets or educational sources was thoroughly filtered to meet the needs of those in power. Information is power, and if you want to control the people you must only let them know what you want them to know, or not let them know anything at all for that matter. An uneducated population is an easily controllable group. This has always been the strategy of regimes and religions throughout history.

A few months ago, I read somewhere (I just can’t remember where, excuse the absence of a proper bibliographical reference) that if you took a person who died in the 10th century and woke them up in the 15th century, they probably wouldn't notice much change in their surroundings. But, in comparison, if you took someone who died in the 15th century and woke them up in the 21st century they'd probably think that they woke up in a different planet.

That prompted me to think how far back in recent time could I go for someone who died back then and was woken up today to feel that they didn't recognize the world around them. And it immediately occurred to me that, in recent times, the farthest back that I could go would be just before the mobile and the internet revolution. Someone who died in 1990 and woke up today would feel like they were in a sci-fi movie.

The internet has become the nightmare of those in power who want to be able to control the people as they wish. There is so much information out there that almost no one has an excuse today for not knowing what is going on in the rest of the world. That is why the need to control its access or to produce information chaos is imperative for those who want to remain in power: Kim Jon Un in North Korea, Xi Jinping in China, Vladimir Putin in Russia, UKIP with Brexit in the UK, Yoweri Museveni in Uganda or Donald Trump in the United States, to name a few examples.

In this day and age, the most powerful tool that we have is knowledge and our most powerful weapon is our voice. The more we know about our communities, about our heritage, about local and international news, and about our history, the more we can avoid repeating the mistakes that our societies made to help put these people in power. And the more we use our voice, by expressing our opinions, by calling out those who attempt against human rights, or by voting, the more we contribute to make this a better world.

The times we are living require a less passive approach to solving the issues in the world today. Over the last 5 years, I have continuously asked myself how can I contribute to make this a better world? Not only as a person but as a business as well. I strongly believe that it is incoherent to be longing for a better world in our personal lives but then going to work and supporting the opposite of what we believe in. Our businesses, especially for freelancers, are an extension of ourselves and therefore should follow our personal ethos.

That is one of the reasons that my blog is so important for me because apart from sharing everything that I learn in my journey as a creative business owner, I also try to call attention to the issues that matter the most to me. Running a business that doesn’t contribute to making this world better doesn’t make sense anymore. It should be as mandatory as paying taxes.

Photo credits: image by Facundo Bustamante.

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Napoleon Didn’t Have Internet

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Napoléon Bonaparte was a French statesman whose influence over European and global affairs made him one of history’s most notorious and controversial leaders. His political and cultural legacy is still relevant almost 200 years after his death. And he accomplished all this without access to the internet. If he had used social media we would all be speaking French today!

I was born in a time when there weren’t any mobile phones, nor internet, nor personal computers. But, in my early twenties, almost everyone I knew had a mobile phone, and most people had computers at home. The internet revolution was about to start and change our lives forever.

In spite of all these technological advances and the influence that they had on our culture and in our lives, none of them changed the way we see life as social media did. And when mobile phones became smarter, we had in our hands the power to communicate without limits, to learn anything we wanted to and to conquer the world.

Social media brought people together and in today’s society time and distance are no longer barriers. You can connect with anyone, anytime, anywhere, which makes it the perfect tool for bringing the world together. But, somehow, it has also evolved into a parallel universe, some sort of upside-down, where your best friends are people that you have never seen in person and your real-life friends are not relevant if they are not online; a world where brands measure the success of their political statements in sales and not in how they are making this a better world.

Lately, I’m getting a bit overwhelmed by social media. Everyone else seems to be doing better, having more fun or being more successful altogether. Of course, I know that it’s all fake, but it doesn’t help with the self-imposed challenges that sometimes make their way into our minds and numb our efforts to move forward. "My work is not good enough", "What if nobody likes what I do?", "What if they say no?"... all irrational fears but all fed by how perfect everyone else’s lives or careers seem to be.

Social media is anything but ‘social’ these days. It is very alienating and it has taken control of both our personal and work lives to the point where we now do things just because they would look good online. Napoleon would have thrived in this environment. In spite of allegedly having so many complexes and of being looked down on by his peers, he got to be one of the most influential persons in history. Imagine how much more he could have accomplished if only he had had Instagram?

Or, would it have been his doom? Perhaps all his self-doubts would have been magnified by seeing online everything that he was not. We will never know. What I would like to find out is what would happen if we take all the power that we have in our hands these days and use it to do some good instead of just to pretend that we are cool. I bet not even Napoleon would be able to defeat us.

Photo credit: your typical restaurant bathroom selfie.

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I Have Always Trusted Strangers

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I have always trusted strangers. My mom used to say that, when I was little, if anyone offered me their arms I would go with them. No hesitation. Pure innocent trust in humanity. Nowadays, as an adult, not a lot has changed. I always engage with other people with an open heart and a disposition to have a meaningful exchange, no matter how mundane the encounter is. You can call me naive, and sometimes I would deserve it, specially when someone has tried to take advantage of me. But I never let one bad experience with anyone affect my relationship with someone else.

I know a lot of people who have a completely different approach. When they meet others, they need to feel that the other is worthy of their trust. So, they start from zero and build their trust from scratch. But to me, that is the wrong way of looking at human interactions, because you start with a rejection instead of with an open mind. I feel like you are missing out on the possibility of fully experiencing the time that you spend with others.

It is very rare to find people who think like me these days. We live in such a constant state of paranoia that we don't trust anyone anymore. It's understandable, but it's sad. We are loosing our connection with other human beings. Everyone else is a potential enemy instead of a potential friend.

I’d rather be called naive than to live in a world where you can’t trust anyone anymore.

Photo credits: image by Andrzej Gruszka.

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Is There Such Thing As A Sustainable Photographer?

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When the use of digital photography became widely spread, many praised this new form of taking photos as environmentally friendly. At last, gone were the days when the planet was harmed by the film photo processing chemicals, they said. The truth is that digital photography is not as clean as we might think, and I am willing to say that sometimes it's even worse. With all the talk in recent years on sustainability in the fashion industry, I asked myself the question: could there be such a thing as a sustainable fashion photographer?

Last week, I wrote about assessing the environmental impact of our businesses and putting in place best practices to reduce the amount of waste that we generate. Today, after assessing my own practice, I have come up with ways in which my photography business can be more sustainable.

The aim is not to be 100% eco-friendly, because that concept might not even exist at all. Our own existence has a direct impact on the environment, and practices considered good for the planet, like recycling, have impacts of their own. The aim is to reduce our impact as much as we can. And, as photographers, there is so much that we can do to reduce our waste, not only in our practices, but in our personal lives as well.

To start my environmental-impact self-assessment, I asked myself: what is my business? I take photos. What are the tools of my trade? A digital camera and a computer. What is the impact that my equipment has on the planet? Contrary to what one might think, digital photography is not a low environmental-impact medium. All the technology that we use on a daily basis has an enormous impact on the environment:

  • Electronic waste: our photography businesses run on electronics. All this equipment has a very limited lifespan. Even if we tried to really get our money's worth, we would still have to replace our cameras, computers and phones every 5 years because they become obsolete (read about how manufacturers stimulate consumption by using planned obsolescence). In contrast, my 35mm film camera is from 1981 and I still use it regularly and for commercial purposes. None of my digital cameras will ever last that long and still be worth using.
  • Packaging: every time we buy new equipment, it comes protected by layers of packaging, most of it non-biodegradable and some of it, albeit recyclable, will end up in a landfill as we are unable to recycle all the waste that we produce.
  • Batteries: our cameras, computers, lights, phones, tablets and wireless equipment in general use batteries. Nowadays, most of these batteries have a lifespan of 3 years and need to be properly disposed of.
  • Data Storage: with digital photography we don't use film-processing chemicals anymore. Instead, we rely on a gigantic network of electronic devices to store our photos and documents. What we call the cloud (or internet in general) is a massive amount of data centres scattered across the planet that process and house everything that we do in the digital world. These data centres use an unbelievable amount of resources. They use electricity and fuel for generators, they need batteries for uninterruptible power supply, their equipment generates a lot of heat so cooling mechanisms need to be put in place (water, air conditioning, coolant), and they are in constant need of expansion so a lot of land is required.

These were just a few of the things that I could think of in which the core of my business has a direct negative impact on the planet. The reasonable thing to ask next was, what can I do as a photographer, and a business-owner in general, if I want to run an environmentally friendly business?

  • Buy from suppliers and manufacturers that are environmentally conscious, those which use less packaging material, and those which have strict environmental policies in place.
  • Turn off electrical equipment when not in use.
  • Use rechargeable batteries.
  • When buying new equipment, buy products that will last longer and that will not force me to replace them too often.
  • If I need to change my equipment, try to repurpose the old equipment by using it as a backup, by selling it on the second-hand market or by finding ways to reuse their individual parts or as a whole.

The concept of 100% green photography might be an oxymoron. To be a 100% eco-friendly I would not only have to stop taking photos, I would have to stop living completely. But, by putting some of the aforementioned practices in place and by trying to reduce my waste and to reuse as much as possible, I can make sure that my business is more environmentally friendly.

Photo credits: image by Andrzej Gruszka.

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Are You Running A Sustainable Business?

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A few weeks ago, while planning the catering for a shoot that I was producing, I decided to go with a vegan catering because one of the crew members was vegan. On the day of the shoot, when all the food arrived it came protected in layers after layers of plastic packaging. What is the point in going vegan for environmental reasons, if you will then generate so much plastic waste that it defeats your purpose? What you do with your hands, you destroy with your feet, my nan used to say.

The majority of people would argue that all that plastic waste is recyclable, so we would still be on the right track to saving the planet. But, the reality is that not only not all of our rubbish is recyclable nor reusable and will probably end up in a landfill, but from the part of that rubbish that is recyclable less than 45% will be recycled or reused in the end. What's worse, the amount of waste generated by households that can actually harm the environment is very small in comparison to the waste that industries generate. So, even if we recycle all the waste that consumers produce we still wouldn't be saving the planet. According to official figures in the UK, 15% of the waste generated comes from households, while 70% comes from commercial, industrial, construction, demolition and excavation activities.

Recycling is not the solution that we were promised, it's just a small part of it. It's easy to make consumers feel guilty about all the waste that we are generating and have us obediently separate all of our rubbish at home. This way, governments feel like they have done their part on the matter and consumers are happy because we are left feeling like we are doing something good for the planet. Meanwhile, producers keep on packaging their products in plastic because it's cheap and it's all about margins and profit, and the rubbish that is not recycled nor reused keeps piling up in a landfill in a town near you or it gets sent to other countries. Well, that is up until not so long ago, because we are using such bad quality materials in our production chains that developing countries don't want our rubbish anymore.

Specialists in waste management talk about the four R's: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Recover. Any waste that is not subject to these 4 principles ends up in landfills or incinerated without energy recovery. Recycling comes in third place of these principles because we don't have the capacity to recycle all the waste that we produce, and the multi-million pound recycling industry itself has an impact of its own (the economic impact, the pollution that comes from collection, transportation and operation of recycling equipment, and the production of greenhouse gases, to name a few). Priority is given to Reducing our waste and trying to Reuse as much as possible.

What can we do if we want to run an environmentally friendly business? Just last week, I spoke about this matter with fashion journalist Olivia Pinnock, who has written extensively about sustainability in the fashion industry. We both agreed that we can't possibly do everything that there is to be done to be 100% sustainable because the nature of our businesses will eventually have an impact on the environment. Instead, what we can do is assess our personal and professional environmental impact and make changes in the areas where we feel that we can contribute to generating less waste.

To reduce the amount of waste that we produce, we should start by paying attention to how much and how often we buy and whom we buy from, and source suppliers that are environmentally conscious. Suppliers that are actually doing something to reduce their environmental footprint and not just trying to comply with the minimum guidelines required by our governments. Suppliers that use biodegradable packaging instead of all that plastic. Suppliers that make products that can be reused or repurposed, in line with the Circular Economy principles.

Also, we should Reuse as much as possible, and give a second life to what we don't use anymore by repurposing it, selling it on the second-hand market or passing it on to those who might have a use for it. And, above all, we must use the power of voting to elect politicians that are more strict with the sectors that are the biggest producers of waste. Stop punishing consumers for something that we haven't done wrong and forget the notion that Recycling is the answer to our waste problem. This is a problem that has to be tackled at the source.

Photo credits: image by Andrzej Gruszka.

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What if I live to be 100?

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A few days ago, I was chatting with a very young person, literally half my age, and they were telling me how they were jaded of London because they had done it all, they had seen it all, and they knew everything that there was to know about the city. Not with these exact same words, but you get the point. While I was trying really hard to hide a patronizing gaze, Samuel Johnson's words "tired of London, tired of life" came to my mind. This was the type of person that he must have been referring to.

At almost 45 years of age, I don't feel, not even remotely, that I have done everything, or that I have learned everything, or that I have even met everyone there is to meet in London. There are so many things to do or to learn or people to meet in this city that it can get really overwhelming at times. I have been living here for close to 5 years and I sometimes feel like I have just arrived.

Forget about London for a second, and just think about life in general. How can anyone possibly think, at any age, that they know or have done everything? No matter how old you are, 20 or a 100, there is always something new discovered or invented in the world every day. It is impossible to keep up! To feel so jaded about life or a city like London must be really sad.

I for one am really happy that I still know nothing and that there is so much to learn. It is such a beautiful experience when you are able to discover something new. In fact, I believe that being surprised and amused by something in a world where a lot of people think that they have seen it all is a real privilege.

That conversation reminded me of an ad that I saw in a magazine which read "What if I live to 100?" and it made me reflect on the path in front of me. If I ever feel so jaded about life as this 20-year-old is, I definitely don't want to live that long.

Our concern shouldn't be whether we live to 100 or not, but whether we live a life that is worth living. At my age, I just started my second career after 20 years in another industry and there is so much to learn and experience that I don't think that these coming 55 years will be enough.

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A Case Of Divided Loyalties

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Last week, while I was shopping for new trainers,  I started thinking about some brands that do not have our best interests at heart. From Adidas standing by Kanye West's comments on slavery to Nike's (and so many other companies') misogyny culture, we keep supporting brands with ethics that go against everything that we stand for. I then realized that, in my closet, I have 6 pairs of Adidas trainers and 7 pairs of Nike trainers, which made me wonder: why am I still giving my hard-earned money to brands that do not represent me and what I believe in? So, instead of shopping those brands, I consciously supported a lesser known one.

It is true that causing controversy has helped the careers of so many people throughout history. It seems to be PR 101. Kanye does it, Trump does it, Lady Gaga did it, Madonna did it, Dali did it, Marilyn Monroe did it, and the more you go back, the more you realize that it has always been part of the celebrity toolkit. Mae West once wrote: "I don't care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right." But, one thing is causing controversy and another completely different thing is attacking a particular group.

You shouldn't expect women to buy your products when as an organisation you oppress them, the same way that you shouldn't expect women's support when you claim that they should be grabbed by their parts when they don't respond to your advances. Or expect black people to keep endorsing your products when you support slavery deniers, the same way that you shouldn't expect gay people to be religious when every single religion in the planet has discriminated them at some point.

The irony in all this is that there are still women buying Nike products, black people wearing Adidas, women voting for the Trumps in the world and gay people supporting religions. I don't know if it's in our nature or if it's just that we are brainwashed from birth into condoning these practices. But, at some point, the cycle must be broken.

And I'm not writing this post trying to call for a boycott on any brand. Those boycotts don't really help, they just give brands free publicity, even if it's bad publicity (remember Mae West's quote). What I'm saying is that we should be more conscious about who we give our money to. Because money doesn't grow on trees (I know mine doesn't) and something doesn't feel right when we are working our lives away trying to make a respectable living, but then we give that money to companies that are not respectable at all.

Brand loyalty shouldn't just be about the quality of the products we buy or the customer experiences that these brands give us. It should also be about which brands reciprocate and are loyal to us as well. Because, in the end, the most important loyalty is the one that you have to yourself and your principles, and if a brand doesn't align with them it should be their loss, not yours. There are plenty brands out there to choose from, but there is only one You to buy from them.

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