A Personal Struggle on Fashion // 關於時尚的個人掙紮
What religion taught Sam about fashion, what God taught her about style.
“Fashions fade, style is eternal.” -Yves Saint Laurent
Coming from a typical Asian church in the suburbs of Toronto, the concept of being a Christian was, in my high school years, a ‘pass/fail’ ticket to heaven. ‘Living for God’ entailed being a good person, going to church, reading the Bible and praying, trying to stay out of trouble and to find a godly and honorable career. The only glitch to my uncontroversial Christian life plan was that I was also passionate about fashion – an industry that seemed to go downhill once fig leaves were repurposed into garments. Initially it began as a hobby reading the fashion section of the newspaper and going to thrift stores to customize dollar dresses.
Then in the early 2000′s, I enrolled into Parsons and moved to New York. It was also the age of social media and I began publicizing my thrift outfits on the Internet. Shortly after graduating in ’09 I started my own blog, Sam is Home, a fashion and lifestyle site with the name drawn from my baptismal testimony on Ephesians 2:19 and Philippians 3:20. From meeting Olivier Theyksens of Theory and Jenna Lyons of J.Crew to photographing Olivier Rousteing of Balmain – those we consider the Lebrons and Jordans in the industry – fashion became more than just a page in a magazine. There were days when I was elated that I got away without taking Calculus (my arch enemy) in high school, congratulating myself saying, “HECK YEAH I’m not your stereotypical Asian!!!”, and flipping mental cartwheels when featured in press. In terms of my career, about 95% of my jobs came from Sam is Home acting as a portfolio of ongoing work and as a result meeting clients and collaborators alike. Yet within that decade of academic and career progress, I felt like my calling and interest was drifting farther away from the perfect Christian life I envisioned in my younger years.
On the flip side of this pride-driven sugar high, fashion seemed to be the antithesis of a godly Christian life, much of it based on vanity, driven by materialism and promises of perfection. The only time fashion was ever mentioned in the church and the Christian magazines I read as a teen, was only to tell us to wear modest clothing with little emphasis on creativity and style. I was aware of this in my high school days where I’d hide my copies of Vogue and newspaper clippings under my bed in case my church deemed me a shallow person who cared only about outer appearances and pretty clothes. In hindsight it was a lie I instilled within myself which I recognized during inner healing sessions for I thought my family, friends and church could never accept such an interest that grew into a passion and a career. Perhaps I was selling myself short and not fulfilling a calling in something better or greater like my friends who were enrolled into teacher’s college and medicine. And that was the shame and guilt that I struggled with as I was trying to reconcile my career with Christianity.
But, Sam, why the Gollum-like schizophrenia? Is Fashion that important to make such a big fuss out of it and does anyone care? Out of all the arts, it’s probably one of the most debated in contributing to the greater good. While graphic design is about the art of communication and the relationship between text/visual, architecture about structure and habitation, fashion falls in the grey area of self-expression and sartorial cliques.
Clothing is a pure expression of the inward out and the simple joy of communicating with the body. It forms communities, embraces change through symbolic dress and unifies people with non-verbal communication. From Seoul to London, I’ve made friends based on appearances alone and connected with people of different cultures based on our love for Peter Pan collars- there’s fellowship in shared taste. Taking on a wider perspective, the industry alone rakes in $20 billion a year and supports 4 million jobs. No one can deny that fashion is powerful in that sense. It’s a shallow industry but it sure has deep pockets. But because it deals with surface aesthetic, it’s often seen as vapid and as a result, all those who wander into its territory must also be as well.
Bodies are contorted and twisted into the ideal figure with one definition of beauty (though personally I find this debatable). The term ‘Fashion Victim’ is perceived as those who have fallen into the trappings of blindly following trends and haven’t a sense of curation – or self for that matter- though Anna Dello Russo seems to think differently. But the true victims of fashion aren’t the consumers but the makers and those it employs. In April 2013, another building in Bangladesh housing two garment factories crumbled killing over 1000 people. As my good friend Joy (Of Stranger Sensibilities) wrote so beautifully in her blog piece called ‘What’s the Big Idea?’ she says that yes, the fashion industry is indeed a life and death issue; we’re just not paying the price. Those who love social justice, who love people, who want to see poverty eliminated shouldn’t be just looking at the shelters but also at their wardrobes. They should be looking at the environment and understand that poverty is linked to the stewardship of the earth; that their clothes aren’t that cheap because of a good deal, but because there are people three thousand miles away working under crumbling factories to pay the price of that $50 blazer.
Back in Canada a year ago, a friend asked me how I reconciliate my faith with fashion. The Holy Spirit led me to say, “God would much rather see a fashion person in this fallen industry on his or her knees praying daily for His will to be done than the Christian doctor who doesn’t pray and believes his work justifies his faith.” It was then I realized, after all those years, that the cookie cutter Christian mentality was a religious spirit who subscribed to pleasing the church and men over God. That religious spirit, much like fashion, was based on fleeting trends and philosophies, following rules of the do’s and don’ts, and subscribing to the sameness in how to dress and how to be that perfect Christian.
But my God, our God, desires a relationship, not religion. He designed us for intimacy in Him and created each of us with inimitable qualities and quirks to fulfill a specific calling He has ordained in whatever field He sees fit for each individual. God doesn’t want the conformist Christian who seeks to be like the rest of his/her fellowship. God didn’t want me to be a doctor or a teacher or a missionary in its most cliché of definitions but He placed me in the creative industry so I would have to seek after Him and to reflect His creativity and His joy in design. It started as little exercises in purely blogging on Sam is Home to show me that nothing is unworthy or too lowly of a purpose for Him. From there, I co-launched an online boutique selling environmentally and socially conscious clothing to bridge the gap between ethics and aesthetics.
Yet despite being different from all my Christian peers, I am still a part of the body and of the church. I know, I’m not making a big difference in the world and I am certainly not curing people of diseases or fighting for justice in the courts. Yet, there’s room for fashion to do good, to answer the issue of poverty, to create honest work if we’d only see both the ins and outs of the existing fashion industry and to be the light wherever God places us.
到了2000年年初，我入讀美國的帕森斯學院，並移居到紐約。這時也是社交媒體流行的時代，我開始在網上發表我的低成本服裝設計。在09年畢業不久，我成立了一個屬於自己的博客名為”Sam is Home”，一個時尚跟生活方式的網站，而名字取自我受洗禮時引用以弗所書2:19和腓立比書3:20的見證。 從認識Theory的Oliver Theyksens和J. Crew的Jenna Lyons到拍攝Balmain的Oliver Rousteing - 那些好比喻為時尚界的勒布朗和佐敦的人物 ﹣時尚已經變成比只是雜誌裡的一頁來得更有意思的東西 。曾經有一段時間我為著在高中年代不修讀微積分（我的天敵）也沒有影響我前途而雀躍，恭祝自己說道：「太好了，我不是人們眼裡的典型亞洲學生！」，同時為我的作品被報導而暗暗自喜。至於我的事業，大約有百分之九十五的工作是通過由我建立博客”Sam is Home”開始時所做的作品來吸引客人以及與客人和業內同行面談而得來的。然而在這十年所累積的學術和工作經歷裏，我感覺自己對神的號召和興趣跟我兒時對作為一個完美基督徒的願景有很大的距離。
這個被名利所推動的風光背後， 時尚好像跟神聖的基督徒生活對立，這很大程度上是基於虛榮，被物質和追求完美的承諾所推動。我年輕時唯一一次讀到時尚被教會及教會雜誌提及，就是叫我們穿那些不要太誇張和有風格的樸素衣服。在高中時，我一直提高警覺地把我的Vogue雜誌跟剪報收藏在床下，避免被教會認為我是一個膚淺的人，只注重個人外表和漂亮衣服。現在回想起來，那是一個我藏在自己心底裏的謊言，我是透過一些心靈治療而得以發現這謊言，我以為我的家人、朋友以及教會永遠不會接受時裝由我的興趣演變成我的熱誠和事業。或許我是在低估自己，以及沒有履行號召去嘗試像我有些讀師範學院或醫學院的朋友一樣去勝任更偉大的工作 。而這些都是我在基督教信仰和事業中間尋找平衡時所掙紮著的羞愧和罪惡感。
服裝是一種單純的由內而外的表達和跟身體溝通的簡單喜悅。它建立群體，帶動和迎接通過有代表性的服飾所帶來的改變，和利用來沒有言語的溝通方式來聚集人群。從首爾到倫敦，我認識了憑外表而相識的朋友，並基於對小飛俠領口的共同愛好而跟來自不同文化背景的人聯繫 － 這就是因分享共同品味而凝聚的友誼。從較闊的角度看，時裝行業的每年收入是二百億，並提供四百萬個就業機會。沒有人可以否定它在這方面的厲害之處。它是一個膚淺的行業，但真的很賺錢。基於它注重表面的審美眼光，它常常被視作虛無和缺乏內涵，而因此所有在這行業工作的人應該也同樣。
身體被扭曲到一個完美的外形，仿佛漂亮只有一個定義 （雖然我個人認為這話題值得商榷）。‘時尚受害者’這名詞普遍被認為是那些跌入麻木追隨潮流陷阱的人，沒有創造的觸覺或個人風格，雖然Anna Dello Russo好像有另一種看法。但真正的時尚受害者並不是消費者，是那些創造者以及他們聘用的員工。在2013年的4月，有一座位於孟加拉的建築物，有兩個在該處的成衣工廠崩塌，死亡人數達一千人。我一個很好的朋友Joy (Of Stranger Sensibilities博客)，她用秀麗的文筆在她的博客上寫了一篇名為‘什麽是偉大想法？’的博文。她寫道，對，時尚行業實在是一個生死攸關的課題，我們只是沒有付出代價。那些喜愛社會公義、喜愛人、喜愛見到貧窮被根除的人應該不止留意庇護所，而是也應該留意他們的衣櫥。他們應多留意外在環境並明白貧窮是牽連到地球的管理；他們的衣服那麼便宜不是因為他們拿到一個好的折扣，而是在3000英里外有工人在有機會崩塌的工廠裡工作來支付那50元一件外套的代價。
Image credit: flickr.com/felipeneves