When It Comes To The Environment, Less Is More

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A few weeks ago, I attended an anti-capitalism summit hosted by The Trampery and one of the conclusions from the event that stayed with me for weeks was that, when we speak about counteracting climate change, the reductions that we need to make go against the concept of capitalism and growth. To slow-down the damage that we are doing to the planet, we must also slow-down our purchase and consumption behaviour. Less is more, no truer words were ever spoken.

Buy less, reuse more and learn to give a new purpose to items that until now were considered waste. All these necessary habit changes in our lives are not good news for businesses that rely on us continually stocking on their products, but if they don’t take the planet seriously, we are going to have to teach them a lesson. I’ve been writing a lot about this over the last year and a half:

One thing that I haven’t done is to write about the changes that I’ve been implementing in my life to reduce my waste. Some of these changes were no-brainers and easy to implement, while others took a lot of deliberation and compromise. Not only with myself, but also with those who live with me. It’s not an easy feat.

I have divided them in three sections: already put in practice, in the process of and on the drawing board.

Already put in practice

I am trying to reduce as much as possible single-use plastic. This has proven to be a massive endeavour as almost everything you buy these days has plastic. From clothes to food, you always end up with unnecessary plastic waste:

  • I love cooking, and I not only cook very often, but I also like preparing elaborate meals to share with others. This translates into having a lot of leftovers that I need to store in the fridge or freeze for future consumption. One of the most convenient ways to do so is to store the leftovers in zip-lock bags. And that means that, at the end of the year, I have gone through hundreds of these types of bags, mainly because you can only wash them and reuse them a limited amount of times. This was the first change that I implemented. I bought several silicone zip-lock bags that are washable and durable and have completely eliminated single-use zip-lock bags from my kitchen.

  • Tap water in London is terrible. It is safe to drink, but it’s so hard and tastes so awful that it even affects the taste of what you cook. Since we moved to London, we got into the habit of buying bottled water that we use for drinking, cooking, coffee, tea, etc. We only use tap water for washing. This translates into dozens of bottles of plastic wasted every week. It got to a point where I felt like the sole responsible for climate change in the world. I replaced bottled water with a Britta jug in which I filter tap water. The taste is not as good as bottled water, but at least all the minerals that come with the tap water get filtered out, and I’m not producing so much plastic waste.

  • Also, in the kitchen, plastic wrap is something that is commonly used to cover and protect things that you store in the fridge. My friend Chloe told me about these fantastic bee-waxed organic cotton cloths that are washable and shapeable and that easily replace plastic wrap. I’ve been using them for weeks, and I haven’t looked back at plastic wrap again.

  • I hadn’t bought new clothes in almost a year. I know that this goes against the industry that I work in, but I just didn’t want to give my money to brands that were not taking into account the environment when making their garments. I’ve done extensive research on the matter and a very little percentage of the brands that call themselves sustainable actually are. To be fully sustainable, a brand must have procedures in place for the whole life cycle of the garment, even after the garment can’t be worn anymore and it’s disposed of. Very few brands do this, and the whole concept is very confusing for consumers:

    • First of all, it’s worth mentioning that Ethical and Sustainable are two different concepts. You can be one without the other, and you can most definitely be both, but the terms are not interchangeable. An ethical brand sources materials from suppliers that pay their workers a fair wage, that treat their employees equally disregarding gender, religion, sexuality, age, etc., brands that guarantee humane working conditions in their sites.

    • A sustainable brand worries about its environmental footprint. It sources materials from sustainable suppliers, and it tries to produce their garments using sustainable techniques with the least amount of transport possible between the different stages of the production cycle. A brand that, when it sells you an item it tells you what to do with the garment once you decide not to wear it anymore and that would take back those garments and tell you how they will repurpose them.

    • These two concepts sound like they should be at the core of every single fashion business ethos, but you’d be surprised at how very few brands out there actually take them both into account. As a photographer, I use a lot of plain black t-shirts for work, and up until last year, I was buying them from a very well-known Japanese fast-fashion brand. But, last year I decided that I was going to stop buying from fast fashion brands because they are part of many of the problems that we face in our societies these days (environment, local economies, working conditions).

    • That’s when I started researching ethical and sustainable brands and found the people at Rapanui Clothing, a brand from the Isle of Wight in the UK. They produce circular economy t-shirts with organic cotton using renewable energy and are transparent about the whole production cycle of their garments. Rapanui makes their t-shirts from ethical, sustainable organic cotton and all the stages of the production take place under the same roof so that the environment is not impacted by transporting materials between factories. Once the t-shirts are finished, they are sent to the UK via ship, which has a lesser impact than planes. When you buy from them, all their packaging is made out of paper, including the tape, and once you are done wearing their garments, they buy them back from you with store credit and repurpose the materials to make other items.

In the process of putting in practice

At home, the kitchen seems to be the biggest entry point of single-use plastic, and I’m guessing it is a similar reality in other people’s homes:

  • I am now researching food suppliers that don’t use plastic for packaging or use as little plastic as possible. It’s difficult with hectic lifestyles in big cities to find online supermarkets that have reduced their plastic usage. Amazon and Morrisons have joined efforts to deliver groceries, and they only use paper for their packaging, but still, most of the items inside the paper bags come wrapped in layers and layers of plastic.

  • I’m at the stage of identifying one by one the brands that are the alternative to the ones that I commonly buy from but that don’t use plastic or that much plastic. This is proving to be a very difficult endeavour because of how cheap and convenient plastic packaging is.

  • In general, I am also trying to reduce buying single-use items or items that have a very short lifespan. I’m trying to go back to how our grandparents thought when they bought anything. Everything was meant to last, good quality meant something that could be used throughout your whole life and then passed down to the following generations. Sometimes that means spending a bit more, but in the long run, you spend less because you end up replacing your items less. The good old quality over quantity.

On the drawing board

When you start doing the exercise of studying all your spending habits to see where you can reduce your waste, the most inoffensive of things turn out to be the most polluting:

  • Travelling is one of them. I have always been an advocate for exploring the world. It helps us learn about foreign cultures and expands our horizons, but our vacations are killing the planet. The proliferation of low-cost airlines and cheap holiday packages have benefited both suppliers and consumers, but it has been the doom for the Earth. I have been thinking a lot about this lately, and it is a tricky one, especially for those of us who live far from our families. But, we need to start travelling abroad less, travelling locally more and using the train rather than the plane when going on holidays.

  • This way of thinking will also benefit local economies, so it’s a win-win. The money earned here will be spent here, the anti-globalization movement. It sounds difficult to implement in our own lives, but ask yourself: how well do you know the city/country/continent that you live in? Why go explore overseas when you don’t even know how your backyard looks like? It’s true that most of the times it’s cheaper to travel two continents away than going to the town next to ours. But, like with everything related to reversing climate change, you have to look at it from the point of view that your money is being invested in saving the planet.

What measures have you started implementing in your life to reduce your waste and become more sustainable?

Photo credit: behind the scenes taken by Andrzej Gruszka.

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When You Learn, Teach. When You Get, Give.

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Last Sunday, Sandy Abdelrahman from Skaped invited me to take part in their Me & My Community Programme to talk to young photographers about turning ideas into photography projects and empower them to explore the issues that they care about the most. Skaped is an organisation that raises awareness of human rights issues and challenges as a way to inspire young people to become actively engaged in social and political matters around the world, as well as at their doorstep.

When Sandy first contacted me about running this workshop with Skaped, I couldn’t help but think about Maya Angelou’s poem Our Grandmothers where she says: “When you learn, teach. When you get, give.” To me, there is nothing more fulfilling than to share what you have learnt along the way with others. It’s my way of paying forward all the kind support that I have received since I moved to London to become a photographer.

You climb, and then you lift others. That is the only way our industry gets stronger, and that is also the way in which you help people to grow and empower them to make our communities better. Working with those very talented young photographers made me think about me at their age. They are so hungry for change, they are so aware of the issues affecting their communities, and they want to do something about them.

What was I doing in my early twenties? Not trying to change the world, I can tell you that. I wonder, what would have happened if an opportunity like this one had been offered to me back then. To take part in workshops exploring human rights in my community through photography. Would I have taken part in them even if they were for free? Probably not. They say ‘when the student is ready, the teacher will come”.

I wasn’t ready. I lived a comfortable life, oblivious to the issues affecting my community, my country or the world. And my surrounding never encouraged me because we all had very superfluous priorities. But, it is never too late to take action. Even if it took me twenty years to get here, I am now more ready than ever.

I thank Skaped for asking me to be part of one of their outstanding projects, and I applaud all of the young people who take part in them. I wish that one day, I get to be half as aware and engaged as you are.

Photo credits: behind the scenes shot by Skaped.

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For Every Mean Thought, Speak One Kinder

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I just read the title phrase of this post on The Authentic Project’s Instagram account today and thought that it was an excellent piece of advice. Especially in the times we are living when we are surrounded by so much negativity and so much hatred. You can’t fight fire with fire, so cooling down our thoughts before we speak might help us meet in the middle with those who think so differently to us. Being kind to others does not mean being weak; anyone who has been kind to someone who has mistreated them knows how much courage it takes.

We need more kind words, and we also need to start making an effort to make the people around us feel like they matter. It sounds like a lot of work and the sceptical who reads this might wonder why even bother. But, the truth is that happiness is contagious, and when you start making people feel better about themselves, they will inevitably try to make others feel the way that you made them feel. This will result in improving your community’s mood, and in return, you will be more comfortable belonging to a happier environment.

We are bombarded every day with sad and apocalyptical news. From social media, from the news outlets and even from the small talk with strangers or peers. Every day there is something that has gone wrong with politics, with the environment or with humanity. This affects particularly the more susceptible demographics like our youth because they either haven’t lived long enough to compare what is going on today with similar events in the past or because people in power haven’t provided them with the right tools through education to be able to deal with these situations.

The importance of self-worth has been lost, and people today feel that there is no future for them. This makes us all vulnerable and prone to manipulation. An emotionally broken population makes and easy to handle pack. This is why this is a moment for solidarity and for finding more points in common and pointing out fewer differences. We are all in this together, from the far left to the far right and everyone in between because we are all part of society. If we don’t start being good to people now, the consequences can be catastrophic for all of us. We don’t want to relive the events that affected humanity a century ago.

This is not the time to be a bystander and shrug the shoulders when we see what’s happening around us. We need more citizen engagement, and we need more acts of kindness. We need to start speaking from the heart more because when you speak from the heart, the other heart will listen.

Photo credit: behind the scenes by Andrzej Gruszka.

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When The Mercury Rises

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I’m writing this post in the middle of a heatwave. Tomorrow, the mercury will rise to an unprecedented 38º C in London, which means that it will be hottest here than in my tropical native country of Panama. Funny enough, summer-loving people in London are celebrating this weather without thinking for a second that this heat is a sign that our planet is not doing well. Admittedly, I am a winter person, and I don’t like the heat, but if I go to a Caribbean beach in Panama and all of a sudden it starts snowing I would be far from happy. We are warming up the planet to extinction, but we are going down with a celebration.

Around this time last year, I wrote a post on sustainability and the myths of Recycling and how we need to reduce our waste as much as possible. Today, I write about why we should be cautious when the brands that we buy from tell us that they are sustainable and green. Over the last year, many brands have jumped on the wagon of sustainability, especially fast fashion brands, but I wonder if we are starting to use this term as a selling point rather than as a real concern for the planet.

I’m not underestimating the efforts and the investments that brands are making to become more sustainable. But, some of the things that these brands are advertising as their efforts to becoming green are just a fraction of what they need to be doing. To be truly sustainable, a brand must acknowledge that the life-cycle of a garment is longer than they had anticipated and should also include the life after the item has been worn and replaced.

This new way of thinking about the life-cycle of clothes involves both brands and consumers. We are all in this together and if we don’t want to kill our planet, we must act now.

What actions can we take right now to become more sustainable?

As Brands:

  • Use sustainable materials/suppliers/processes: this is what the majority of brands calling themselves sustainable are doing right now, and in principle, it is something good. But it is just the first step on the roadmap to sustainability. The work doesn’t end there; there is more to be done.

  • Source locally: it is kind of counterproductive to source sustainable materials in remote places, ship them all the way to the factories and then ship the finished garments to distribution centres where they will be shipped again to the points of sale. It really doesn’t matter how sustainable a brand’s materials are if the carbon footprint of their supply chain is destroying the Earth.

  • Generate less waste: this is the tricky bit. Fashion brands need to sell to stay in business and to sell more, you need to produce more, but there must be a limit to the amount and frequency of the items produced. A brand may be the greenest of them all in sourcing sustainable fabrics or having a sustainable supply chain, but if they are releasing hundreds of new designs each month to force their customers to keep on renewing their wardrobe, all their sustainability efforts will go to waste. Literally. The real challenge of turning a fashion brand into a sustainable brand is how to make customers buy new clothes while at the same time stopping them from sending the old ones to landfills or incinerators. This is where the concept of circular economy comes in, but is it really possible to make fashion circular?

  • Keep it affordable: Price is the icing on the cake. Sustainable materials and research are still not cheap and to be able to lower their cost we would need to produce and sell so much that we would be contributing to the problem of waste while trying to amend it. At the same time, the sad reality is that if sustainable clothing is more expensive than non-sustainable one, people will keep on buying the latter.

As consumers:

  • Buy less: it all comes down to generating less waste, and to generate less waste, we must renew our wardrobes less often. This is the last thing that brands want to hear, but in all honesty, we don’t need to buy new clothes every season. Today we have five times more clothes on average than our previous generations, maybe because they didn’t have the money or the offer, or perhaps because they made their clothes themselves and these lasted longer. My mom once told me that she only had two dresses that my grandmother had made her, and as a child, she would have to go out on Sundays looking the same every week. And so did everyone else! Obviously, I’m not pretending that we go back to making our own clothes (which wouldn’t be too bad) or to owning just two pieces of clothes. The ideal would be to buy less but buy smarter, buying from brands that are truly sustainable and circular and that produce quality clothes that last longer and promote less waste.

  • Buy Second-hand/Vintage: Buying smarter also involves giving a new life to someone else’s old clothes. Pre-loved clothes are not only a sustainable way to renew our wardrobe, but it also gives you the advantage of not looking exactly the same as everyone else who buys from current seasons.

  • Don’t Become a serial returner: sizing is a serious issue when buying online, and sometimes we have to purchase and return at least once to get the right sizing. Some consumers buy/wear/return consistently, or buy many different sizes of the same item in the hopes that at least one would fit instead of properly researching the measurements of their body according to the tables that online retailers provide. Serial returners have a massive impact on the environment.

  • Buy from brands that are circular: again, buy less but buy smarter. Buy from brands that allow you to take your old clothes back to the shop in exchange for store credit. But, before doing that, ask them what they will do with your old clothes.

  • Repurpose your old clothes: don’t throw away your old clothes. Hand them down, take them to charity shops, return them to the shops where you bought them from if they offer store credit, donate them to the homeless but don’t throw them in the bin.

  • Don’t judge people for what they wear: the pressure to look always stylish and trendy is one of the main reasons that force us to buy so many clothes that we don’t need. This is particularly true when you work in the fashion industry because peers and superiors are constantly judging you from what you wear. This forces workers in the industry to contribute to this cycle of massive spending.

The time for complaining about the heat is long gone. It is time that we do something about it. We must seriously keep this conversation alive and look for ways to becoming more sustainable and saving our planet. Do you have any other ideas of how to become greener as consumers and as brands?

Photo credit: behind the scenes by Andrzej Gruszka.

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Stand Up For Human Rights

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The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was conceived by the international community 70 years ago as a way to avoid the atrocities of the Second World War from ever happening again. Its adoption in 1948 by the then newly created United Nations meant that, from that day forward, the concept of individuality was declared universally and every individual everywhere would have a set of rights assigned at birth that must be guaranteed at all times. The Human Rights concept is very recent and very fragile, and that is why upholding and protecting them is a matter of priority for all of us.

The proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was one of the biggest achievements in the history of humankind, and its significance has no parallel. Hernán Santa Cruz of Chile, member of the drafting sub-Committee, wrote that on the day the declaration was adopted “there was an atmosphere of genuine solidarity and brotherhood among men and women from all latitudes, the like of which I have not seen again in any international setting.”

Today, those who are born in countries where their Human Rights are protected can’t imagine a world where they never existed in the first place. Before the concept of Human Rights was conceived, states had ownership over their citizens’ rights and their power over individuals was absolute. Still today, there are nations in the world where the fight to have your most basic rights as a human guaranteed is an ongoing feat. What’s even worse is that some of the nations that voted in favour of the declaration back in 1948, like the United States, China or the United Kingdom, seem to be abdicating on that system that they gave us.

Human Rights are the roots of justice and freedom, of peace and inclusion, and their main restriction is fear: fear of others, fear of what’s different. Fear makes humans do the most horrific things to themselves. We need to stand up for our rights and for the rights of others and put an end to the toxic tide of hatred that is rising around us. I know that if we all join forces, we can do it. In the words of my friend and fantastic poet, Dean Garland: “in the brazen heat of fire and hate, hope trickles down like fresh water.”

That is why I have joined the #Standup4humanrights campaign, and I have pledged that:

  • I will respect your rights regardless of who you are. I will uphold your rights even when I disagree with you.

  • When anyone’s human rights are denied, everyone's rights are undermined, so I will stand up.

  • I will raise my voice. I will take action. I will use my rights to stand up for your rights.

Visit www.standup4humanrights.org and take the pledge today!

Photo credit: portrait taken by Dan Clarke.

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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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