1 Month Later: Brixton, the Underground, and Becoming a Student Again*

* I’d like to note here that yes, I know we’re always students (of life) but this is meant more so in the realization you have once you’re back in class that academia really lends a level of validity to having full blown conversations with yourself in the middle of the night.

A police officer sits atop a horse outside the local Sainsbury’s. Brixton, London.

A police officer sits atop a horse outside the local Sainsbury’s. Brixton, London.

So, I made it. After one long (and thankfully dull) flight, two weeks pet sitting what might be the most charismatic cat, and several train rides I have settled into London. Settled in the sense that I have a comfortable amount of pillows on my bed, know where to get groceries on the cheap, and can confirm that McDonald’s is out here playing Americans (because yes, it is actually possible to make the burgers look like the picture - every time). Basically, I know how to stay fed which is really one of the best indicators that a new chapter can truly begin.

Marked down sandwich from Sainsbury’s.

Marked down sandwich from Sainsbury’s.

People walking by. Brixton, London.

People walking by. Brixton, London.

Food aside, I’ve been making it a priority to steadily get out and immerse myself in the local community. I have the privilege of living a few minutes away from Brixton which is lit. For starters, I was a little concerned that finding products for the melanated might be difficult. From where to re-up on hair conditioners because the weather is brutal towards curls or how to say adequately moisturized, I was partially convinced my family would need to send seasonal care packages just to keep me from being, well, ashy. However, Brixton has shown itself to be a real one, because almost immediately on sight, I’ve come across several well-stocked beauty supplies and more than one vendor providing shea butter relief. That’s in addition to the multi-cultural cuisine that shows itself around every corner — Jamaican curries, Chinese dumplings, Lebanese, Japanese, Italian, the list goes on. (Food might be a constant theme here!) As you can imagine, the swirl of languages, accents, and smells is beautiful.

Unsurprisingly, I’m quickly picking up just how much culture resides in Brixton. On my first walk around town, I came across the Black Cultural Archives (BCA) which is the first black cultural studies center in Britain. Before even entering, I experienced a sense of welcome. As I was standing outside and taking in the memorial created for the African and Caribbean men and women who served along British forces during WWI and WWII, an older man greeted me and expressed appreciation after witnessing me taking it all in. He turned out to be a friend of Neil Kenlock, the photographer whose photographs are currently being displayed at the BCA in an exhibit titled “Expectations.” This warm encounter made me even more excited to check out the center and see what was behind its doors.

Let me tell you, for anyone wanting to feel enveloped in a space dedicated to the preservation of Black history and providing comfort to the Black diaspora, BCA feels like the jackpot. From the cafe selling Jamaican cuisine to the shop, which features a robust selection of literature and pieces pertaining to Black heritage, serving as a backdrop to the Black women engaged in thoughtful discourse, it just feels good to be there. You just know this space is working for Black people, which can feel like a rarity even today.

Anywho, “Expectations” is a wonderful collection of photographs which are really a visual display of history. I’ll leave some photos here but honestly, if anyone is in the area and thinking about visiting, just do it. It’s a small space that you can easily spend an hour in because with so much context provided, you’re bound to have ideas, reflections, and questions that come up.

I’ve spent some time on my new borough and feel like I should mention the Underground (after all, it’s in the title). So the tube is really a world unto itself. Coming from the Bay, I’m used to a flight of stairs (maybe two), a couple platforms and that’s it. Here, there are several escalators, staircases, and tunnel outlets that take you to your platform of choice. As any person who is new to a place will tell you, it’s a good idea to google map out your travel and screenshot it so you have some sort of guidance. This is especially important on the Underground because there is no WiFi and there are a lot of ways you can go off in an unintended direction. It’s also helpful to be mindful of the maps which are graciously spread out because they have a tendency to expand the further you go, so your stop which you were fairly certain was on the Central Line can almost magically appear a couple maps later, letting a waive of relief wash over you.

Last thing on the tube for now, and this might be a little TMI. If you, like myself, ever find yourself wondering why the stuff coming out of your nose has turned a dark or even black color after a day using the trains it’s likely due to the low-key, highly concentrated pollution down there. I thought I was tapping into my hypochondriac tendencies when I noticed it but google—> reddit confirmed that this is a very real thing. Many people have experienced this revelation which they attribute to being in a space that doesn’t provide much of an outlet for fresh air. So all the stuff that trains and humans emit is just sitting there for you to inhale. Yum.

Central Saint Martins. Kings Cross, London.

Central Saint Martins. Kings Cross, London.

And now we get to the part which really covers why I’m in London in the first place. I’m a student again! And let me tell you, no matter how much you try to mentally prepare yourself for the transition, you’re still caught off guard. There’s the walking through communal spaces feeling like the new kid on the block (regardless if you’re a grown 24 yrs old, lol) and having a mix of excitement + sense of being overwhelmed written across your face. But that’s just a part of the fun.

The first few days at CSM were spent getting to know the other post-grad students in my program, creating groups for our main project that will span the first two terms, and aligning on the MA fashion designer we want to focus our collaborative project on. It was a whirlwind (and still kind of is) that really teaches you about yourself and your preferences in a very short amount of time. The remainder of the week was dedicated to getting to know our respective course leaders better (and vice versa) and working on our first assignment which was to interview each other.

One thing that is clear, and which I appreciate, is that CSM is all about getting you going stat. With so many resources and talented peers, there’s this spirit, if not expectation, that you hit the ground running and keep going. You’re given the run down on where to locate tools and how to operate them, and then told to go and make of it what you want. The professors and staff stress that they are there to help students get closer to realizing their goals and aspirations, but they expect the students to come with a sense of purpose that drives the relationship. It’s more than ideal for those who possess a strong level of self-awareness as well as those who may fluctuate between certainties and feeling lost. As I’ve just started (I am by no means a connoisseur of all things CSM and UAL) I’ll say this will surely be an ongoing experience filled with opportunities to learn, grow, and explore. But more on that later.

Buckingham Palace. Westminster, London.

Buckingham Palace. Westminster, London.

Well, you’ve made it to the end of this post which is more like an essay but hey, I have a lot to share so far and this barely scratches the surface. I’m excited to see how life unfolds in London and to keep y’all updated on it all.

x Michella








SFO International Departures, Gate A1

Growing up, I was always looking forward (rather impatiently) to the next thing. And, if I’m being honest, I still have a strong tendency to jump months, even years, ahead in my imagination anticipating what is around the corner.

Over the last few months, I’ve been steadily prepping for my move to London — I’m getting my masters in Fashion Journalism at Central Saint Martins (!)- and finding myself in a constant transition of being neither here nor there. Mentally, my mind has been racing to make sure I have all the necessary things sorted (visa housing some sort of safe cash ) and physically it’s been a rollercoaster of eery calm and downright anxiety. Of course, there’s a lot of excitement - after all, I’m moving to a city I’ve spend literal decades eyeing from afar, and I have the incredible opportunity to study an industry that is integral to my identity ( bold words I know but it is what it is). However, this excitement isn’t the same variation that I’ve felt with other new beginnings, like starting high school or moving across the country for undergrad. This excitement carries with it the weight of taking the leap to move to a country I haven’t visited before, really setting out on my own (more on that in a bit), and saying farewell-for-nows to my family and my friends.

As just mentioned, I’ll be journeying solo. And while I’ll have the university there to guide me if needed, grad school is likely, and rightfully so, a bit more independent in nature. Staying in affiliated housing means certain securities will be granted, but there won’t be the Williams- like quality of having group dinners with your dorm mates or having JAs there to serve as a big-sister/brother fill-in. Having spent the last couple years since undergrad living at home for which I am extremely grateful, I’m now getting ready to move to a city where there won’t immediately be a tight-knit community waiting for me. I’ll likely have to go out and cultivate it, not unlike the friendships I’ve gained in the last two years.

It can’t go without saying that these friendships are also what makes this move feel so much more mature as I’ve found myself in a place where I’ve managed to both start and nurture friendships that didn’t just rely on the naive belief that friends stayed friends because they were friends. These friendships required work, patience, and are still ever-works in progress. They're the fruits of labor from both myself and the people whose love and support I am forever grateful for.

For my family, the same goes— when you get older you inevitably start to see your parents and siblings in less of a “you’re related to me” way and more of a “you’re a fully-fleshed human being with dreams, ambitions, thoughts, and ideas” way. When you’re young, you take your family for granted and as you get older you realize just how much you owe it to them to live a fulfilled life and enable them to do the same. Because love is a powerful force and the family type knows few comparisons. So yea, this move is a real “adult” move I guess you’d say.

Yet here we is.

After taking mental mementos from time spent with family & friends and doing the usual hugs and waves, I’m now preparing myself for “Michella Livin’ in London” (which honestly is going to be a pretty lit series, so stay tuned).

Fashion, Sustainability, & The Boutique Space

On a temperate evening in Oakland, I made my way to McMullen Boutique. Upon arrival, I was greeted with a brightly lit interior showcasing racks filled with deep blues, punchy reds, and a mix of floral-- a visual cue signaling the start of a new season. I was there to preview the spring collection and take notes on emerging trends.

It’s been a decade since McMullen first opened its doors and it has steadily risen to public prominence ever since. From a little known shop in Northern California to a reputable destination for those seeking high-end clothing from Ulla Johnson and Jacquemus, the boutique serves as a meeting ground for fashion enthusiasts. That night, while sipping champagne and admiring the selection, I couldn’t help but think about the role boutique spaces could play in an industry that is working to dismantle its past association with excess and waste, in exchange for sustainability.

Surpassing the lifespan of a trendy topic, the fashion industry’s focus on sustainability reflects a pivotal transition in its trajectory. In the recent years, there has been a steady wave of brands adopting initiatives to combat the wastefulness fashion has become nearly synonymous with, in hopes to mitigate further contribution to the degradation of the environment. Whether it’s using recycled textiles, or being transparent with production and the brand’s environmental footprint so as to adequately track impact, fashion brands are taking strides to prove the industry has turned a new leaf.

Of course, this push towards sustainability is a response to both the very real dangers the environment faces if change isn’t made, as well as the shift in consumer priorities. With regards to just how much of an impact the fashion industry has on the environment, the Global Fashion Agenda reported in 2017 that it had consumed “nearly 79 billion cubic meters [of water]-- enough to fill nearly 32 million Olympic-size swimming pools.” And that number is expected to increase by 50% over the next decade. Heavy water consumption for the use of producing fabrics and garments can cause many communities to grapple with how to balance an industry that fuels the economy, while ensuring people have access to enough drinking water.

And then there is the consumer --these days, individuals have adopted a more research-based approach to buying, reading up on company backstories and methods of production before they even consider making a purchase. As Texas-based designer Julissa Arrington explains, “we are in a social climate of thinking before buying.” Regardless whether they personally experience or read about the industry’s impact on the environment, consumers are driven to demanding that the brands they patron actively promote sustainable solutions. Because at the end of the day, consumers are people with real human needs, and the health of the environment impacts the livelihood of us all.

The fashion industry has learned that if better-known brands aren’t demonstrating to consumers their commitment to sustainability and reducing their contributions to environmental issues, such as excessive water consumption and increased CO2 emissions, consumers will look to boutique brands that do. The popularity of niche brands like Everlane and Allbirds, the latter being one of the fastest growing shoe brands in the market, has confirmed to the industry just how much the global community desires this prioritization.

And so, the fashion industry continues to adopt sustainable measures throughout, spotlighting brands that are transparent with their production and promote a “less is more” approach, sacrificing rabid resource consumption not quality. This shift, which favors the thoughtful curation of product, seems to be ripe for the boutique space to thrive.

By now, we know that people enjoy the personalized retail experience, and we can thank online shopping for illuminating that insight. It’s fairly certain at this point, that when people are faced with the choice of filtering out their desired pieces based on size, color and price, as opposed to going into a store to sift through piles of clothing in hopes of maybe finding the one piece they actually like, many will choose the former. And that’s because consumers would rather spend less time in the depths of uncertainty and more time enjoying the product of their preference.

However retail IRL isn’t dead. While people are spending more time adding to their virtual carts, David Womack, a creative director at RG/A, shared with the Guardian that many still love to venture outside to shop “as a social occasion, family day out or even holiday.” And when they do, they’ll be looking for that same concise and cohesive approach to retail that enables them to fully immerse themselves in the rewarding experience of leaving with a piece they love.

So how does the boutique space play a part in the industry's pivot towards sustainability and align itself with consumer priorities? One way would be for boutiques to look at their foundation-- literally. Arrington thinks it starts with the owner being selective with the building they choose, and that they should consider whether the building “offers recycling services, solar panels, [and] is energy efficient.” Not only will this impact how the building contributes to waste reduction, it will also visually signal to consumers that environmentalism is fundamental to their business.

And as the boutique begins to select the brands it will house, it should place a balanced emphasis on the designs and backstories of the brands alike, noting whether they have implemented initiatives that foster conscious consumption of natural resources, like water and cotton. A plus up approach would be to hone in on brands that use innovative methods to create their garments, such as the incorporation of 3-D technology and the use of “smart” fibers in the production of their fabrics, both of which can eliminate unnecessary excess.

All in all, the boutique model has always served to provide exceptional personal attention to the consumer. In an environment where consumers are becoming increasingly vocal proponents of a sustainable fashion industry, boutiques can continue to ensure that they are catered to and heard.


Sources:

Lehmann, Morten, et al. “Pulse of the Fashion Industry 2017 Report.” Global Fashion Agenda - Publications, Global Fashion Agenda and The Boston Consulting Group, 2017, www.globalfashionagenda.com/pulse

Ojeda, Nina. “3 Ways Allbirds Became The Fastest Growing Shoe Company In The World.” Inc.com, Inc., 30 Nov. 2017. 14 June 2018. www.inc.com/nina-ojeda/3-ways-allbirds-became-fastest-growing-shoe-company-in-world.html

Shearman, Sarah. “Rethinking Retail: Why Brands Are Embracing the Rise of the Concept Store.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 9 July 2014. 20 June 2018.www.theguardian.com/media-network/media-network-blog/2014/jul/09/retail-brands-concept-store-shopping


This piece was written June 2018.


It's 12:01pm, Guess I'll Check My Email Again...

Anyone else check their inbox compulsively?

It’s like the modern day waiting on the stoop for the postman, except in addition to notes from work and maybe a loved one, you get one too many promotional codes from stores you only subscribed to for the initial discount. Yet, the oft lack of a surprise factor doesn’t deter most. Instead we keep clicking, tapping, and refreshing.

But why? I’ve been giving it some thought, even asking friends. This curiosity stemmed from realizing my own habit— I find myself checking my email much more than my social media (and Instagram tells me I already spend 47 mins scrolling on average, daily :0 ). I check my email because I’m either waiting for a response, monitoring progress (how’s the publishing coming along? Is my order ever going to find itself out of the almighty FedEx grasp?) or manifesting that today will be the day I get that life-changing message. It can happen! Trust me.

But more times than not, I’m met with the same “read” emails, and a growing supply of promotional content I likely will never read. You’d think the repetition would lead me to cap the amount of time I check the inbox, but I don’t. And from what I’ve gathered from friends, I’m not alone on this one.

People talk of social media cleanses but not email fasts. And for fair reasons— can you realllly do it? Sure, there’s no checking of the work email while on vacation or limiting the hours you log in each day, but many of us don’t decide to just completely opt out at any given moment because we want a break. I mean, something important might come through that will need a response.

Because I’m damn near convinced there’s a human truth lying behind even seemingly minor obsessions, I’d like to think a part of this on-going routine is the longing for truly personalized correspondence that isn’t given at face value. After all, we spend our day-to-day serving as faceless viewers to content, be it from our social feeds or the constant stream of ads being served up. It’s nice to feel special or important, and one way to make that happen is to send someone an actual message - with full sentences!

Then again, there might not be some bigger message behind all of this. Perhaps, people just like being on top of their incoming mail.

x Michella