By Hannah Woodard
A few evenings ago, I was having dinner with one of my closest friend’s parents, and we got to talking about inspiration- a topic of frequent occurrence in conversation among this particular family.
I commented on an experience I’ve been lucky enough to have many times in the past. It is the experience of feeling joy when in the presence of someone else who is inspired. Of being inspired by another person for the sole reason that they are inspired, and that they are expressing it.
In this conversation, I used the following example: I am not someone who is often interested in chemistry. I mean the kind of chemistry we had to learn in high school- bond configurations, chemical reactions, equations. I never understood it in a way that resonated with me. But if someone for whom these things evokes a feeling of joy and fascination spoke to me about those emotions with genuine excitement and vigor, that energy has the power to make me want to design, to create.
I could have nothing in common with this person. I could have never even met this person before. But by genuinely expressing this part of his soul, he has then inspired me to engage in what makes me feel that in my soul.
Go forth and express.
By Hannah Woodard
“Jewelry has its archetype in the amulet – an object of magical significance. It served as protection against misfortune, gave strength to its wearer, enhanced the feeling of security and showed that its wearers were aware of their identity and of being part of a community.” ~ From the introduction to this year’s Legnica International Jewelry Competition application.
What we wear is often an expression of our individual lifestyles and beliefs, no surprise there. What’s different about today as opposed to a century or millennia ago is the vast variety of visual forms we are able to choose from and be inspired by.
With the world having become so much smaller (through photographs, films, the internet, ease of travel) and with cultures permeating one another so frequently, we today (and here I generalize, as that area is another discussion entirely) have the means to cater to our own individual tastes unlike ever before.
This creates the ability for us to choose and express our identities in a way that is unique to our time. Through what we wear we are able to create an essence that we each individually feel is a reflection of our values, whether they be purely aesthetic or moral or spiritual or a combination of all three.
I don’t mean that the people of other eras couldn’t express their individuality through their attire and adornment. Only that I think that the capacity to which we are able to do so today must be far greater.
This exponential expansion of what I think of as a collective dictionary of visual vocabulary is, for me, a blessing. I feel truly honored to live in a time that affords such bountiful opportunities for expression and for inspiration.
by Hannah Woodard
I often experience conflicting feelings when it comes to the objects I surround myself with, and the fact that I am willing to pay more for them when they are well-designed even though there are people starving all over the world. Surely my money could be put to better use.
A child somewhere could go to sleep with a full stomach. Or, for my own pleasure, I could have a well thought out bag, or watch, or Italian leather-bound journal. When I think about it like that, it seems positively outrageous that I don’t live off the minimum and devote more of my earnings to assisting people in need.
And yet still I’m prepared to purchase the perfect coffee cup, the one that embodies how I want to feel in the morning when I’m drinking from it. It’s $20 more than the one next to it, which might as well be the same cup except that the one that I want, no need, has a slightly steeper degree of tilt to the taper at the bottom. It changes the whole feel of the piece.
The plain truth is, I’m happier when I’m surrounded by design that inspires me, challenges me, satisfies something in me. I don’t believe that such an experience should be lost.
I do believe that the answer to such conflicts of interest lies in projects like KEZA, EDUN and SOKO. If we can fuse design, creating jobs, teaching and learning, then everybody gets the best of both worlds. And everybody gets an opportunity to lead a happier and more sustainable lifestyle.
by Hannah Woodard
Type ‘jewelry’ into Google image search. Or don’t, because you can probably guess what will come up and it’s not worth the time. Rings, necklaces, earrings, the majority of which involve flashy stones and lots of sparkle. In short, bling.
In psychology, this might be referred to as a ‘perceptual set’- the expectation of a person to see or perceive something based on prior experience. For many westerners, the term ‘jewelry’ likely brings to mind most immediately an image of rings, necklaces, earrings and bracelets. The particular style of those jewelry items is probably relevant to the individual’s particular taste.
But what about jewelry beyond that? What I love and what gets me excited about jewelry of Africa (among many other places) is that it involves what to me is wonderfully innovative adornment.
There is so much more than the usual suspects. There is jewelry that hangs from ear to ear across the face. Jewelry for hair, jewelry that hangs sideways over the chest like a sash. Jewelry that starts below the knee and extends all the way to the ankle.
After much time spent studying such forms of adornment, I no longer see the body in its separate parts (ears, neck, wrist, finger). I now see it as a landscape abundant with planes, sloping valleys, tiny canyons and rolling hills. Forms whose beauty can be amplified by adornment designed for that very purpose.
by Hannah Woodard
I was in a grocery store in Torrance, CA last week, hunting for a specific brand of bread. I was on what to me at that moment was an important mission, and was thus walking quickly, quite oblivious to my surroundings.
A man (one of the grocers working in produce) reached out his arm to get my attention. “What is that you are wearing?” he asked. He had a hint of an accent, looked as though he might be in his forties. A round face, friendly eyes. Though at the moment they were squinting at my necklaces, causing the man to appear quite serious.
The necklaces are ones that I wear every day. One has a silver-cast bone, a crocodile tooth from Kenya, and a tiny lion carved from bone hanging together from a silver chain. The other is a small piece of bone in the shape of an elephant’s tusk and a coin from India on a length of dark cord.
The man repeated himself. “What are these? They mean something to you.”
He had my full attention now. I told him that yes, they did, and shared with him the story of each tiny object.
We ended up talking for quite some time. He had a strong personal interest in jewelry. I learned that he used to value gold, precious stones. Material value.
But then, he told me, he came to understand the importance of the meaning a piece holds; its history and value to the wearer, regardless of its mere material. The connection one feels to an object based on its design, its story, its essence.
Now he makes trips to Indonesia to collect jewelry that brings that feeling of fulfillment to him.
Besides having a great conversation with this complete stranger about our philosophies on jewelry, I was most pleased by the fact that he seemed such an unlikely character for such an interaction. Not to mention the conversation blossomed amidst baskets of fruit in a supermarket.
Unexpected interactions in unexpected locations are, I think, amongst the stronger of exchanges between human beings. He made a conscious choice to reach out to someone rushing by because he saw the opportunity for connection, for something positive to happen between two previously unacquainted people.
He stepped out of his role as a grocer to invite me out of my role as a customer onto a plane of existence in which we could each be a more honest version of ourselves.
It was worth it.
by Hannah Woodard
I have recently had the fortunate and rare experience of having a collection of excellent opportunities present themselves to me almost out of the blue. One week ago I didn’t know what was to become of the next few months of my life, and then I found myself moving across the country, to where an apartment, car and some of my closest friends in the world awaited.
Ragardless of how this all came about, there was just no reason not to hop on the next flight out of town. And yet somehow I still felt a bit irresponsible, because one last element of this master plan was not in place. I didn’t have a solid job lined up.
Then my mother told me about her decision to move out west when she was my age. Not only did she not have any provisions lined up, but she gave up a good job, car and apartment in favor of trying something new and adventurous.
Which brought me to wonder: Have there been other opportunities that I haven’t taken advantage of simply because there were not enough elements to create The Perfect Opportunity?
Likely. But perhaps I could have located those other elements if only I’d looked a little.
Imperfect opportunities aren’t ones that aren’t worth taking. They require some extra research. Extra research is often dismissed along with the opportunity, because it feels like too much energy and time to figure out whatever is left to be figured out in order to make the opportunity reality.
I’ve found that’s not a good enough reason not to make things happen. Perfect opportunities are rare, and honestly it’s likely you’ll learn more by turning an imperfect opportunity into something doable.
Make it happen. Chances are, it’ll be worth it.
by Hannah Woodard
In reflection of the past year and in anticipation of the coming one, a Kenyan friend of mine recently wrote to me that we are all human regardless of different races, cultures, religion, beliefs and taboos. That although we are from different worlds, in a way we are one and the same people.
Besides whole-heartedly agreeing with this, this brought to my mind something a professor of mine at RISD once said: ‘I believe that art is a cultural necessity.’
Culture depends on art because art and design are in every single aspect of life, from religious objects to the architecture of one’s home to the flip-flops or fur boots on our feet. And then of course there is the more metaphorical art and design of social structures and governments.
Our differences are necessary. They make us appreciate the exoticness of people and practices foreign to us. They make us question humanity.
Where would we be without appreciation and questioning? We wouldn’t be making any sort of advancements.
Why do we need advancements? Because the world, though surely bountiful in meaningful relationships, has a lot to work on. Every culture has something to learn about the way it receives, addresses and respects other cultures
Art reflects our cultural and individual thoughts and beliefs, and allows us to recognize and question our similarities, our differences and our very being. Without it, we’d be a lost and dull species, and it is in this that I find my passion for design.
by Hannah Woodard
This past weekend, I was in a shop in Burlington, VT when I came across a bracelet exactly like ones a friend of mine in Kenya makes for a living. I smiled.
I turned the label over: ‘MADE IN KENYA’. My smile widened. I might very well have been sitting with this friend the day he made this bracelet, and now here it was thousands of miles away in the place where I grew up.
But I was smiling because I know the story behind it. I know that this man’s wife sells vegetables, and that they are raising three children on the income from that and the man’s jewelry making. Unfortunately, none of that story is captured in a bland ‘MADE IN KENYA’ label with a barcode next to it.
I wanted others that would pick this bracelet up to know its story too. I believe that even just a little bit of that information would spark a feeling of connection for the person who will eventually buy and wear that bracelet.
I believe that most objects carry much of their value in their individual histories. And I believe that knowing the story behind objects in our lives, especially ones we wear, has the ability to contribute to a feeling of fulfillment and connection in every day life.
by Hannah Woodard
As holiday time draws near, I find myself recalling the things I valued about my family’s holiday (Christmas, in our case) as a child, and what I value now. Unsurprisingly, I was terribly excited about the gifts I would receive. That felt like the most important part of the holiday. But it was also equally important to me that I found gifts for all of my family members that I was sure they would love and appreciate.
I remember the question that adults would be asked of me over and over; What did you get for Christmas? And I remember, as a teenager, realizing that perhaps that one innocent question had fueled the perception that what I received for the holiday dictated how much I enjoyed it.
I resolved then to always ask of the children in my life what they gave for the holidays rather than what they got. I think we influence our young in ways that we don’t even realize, and that’s it’s important to be deliberate even (or perhaps especially) in small, daily interactions.
Nowadays (again unsurprisingly) what I appreciate most is spending time with family and friends and eating good food. Listening to festive songs. Enjoying the general holiday atmosphere.
Thus, I ask everyone to keep in mind this holiday season the question, What did you give? And not only to direct it towards children, but to people of all ages. I believe that taking the opportunity to change perspectives in small, everyday interactions has the potential to make a world of difference.
by Malinda Douglass | KEZA Sales
Over the past decade, a major shift has begun to occur in the field of psychology. Since WWII, psychology has been primarily concerned with disorders of the mind and the focus of treatment has aimed at eliminating the symptoms of these pathologies. Depression, anxiety, PTSD, ADHD, you name it, the goal has been to isolate the biological and psychosocial factors that contribute to these problems and attack them head-on with meds and psychotherapy.
But those within the field that is now known as Positive Psychology started to think differently. Rather than continuing to look solely at what’s wrong, they began to ask, “What’s right?” Knowing that people aren’t simply a bundle of pathologies and problems, they started to study strengths, virtues, talents and values within their patients and dared to consider the idea that if these character traits could be nurtured, perhaps pathology would shrink in their presence or fail to surface in the first place. Sort of a form of alternative mental health care, so to speak.
The nature of consciousness remains a great mystery, but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that what we give our attention to grows.
What if we decided to view the developing world through the lens of Positive Psychology? What if we looked beyond the poverty, beyond the disease, beyond the hunger? It’s not that these issues don’t need to be addressed. They do. Now. In very smart, intentional and sustainable ways. But, what if we started to also ask, “What’s right?” What if we truly paid attention to the strength, the beauty, the talent and fortitude of its people? Would these things grow? Might all these problems, slowly but surely, begin to shrink in their presence?
I never thought that being involved with an ethical fashion label would find me drawing parallels with my previous work in psychology. But this is exactly what KEZA is doing. KEZA is stepping back, taking a broader look at the developing world and asking, “What’s right?” And you can see the answer reflected in everything they do. The beauty, the creativity, the talent, the resourcefulness, the determination. These are all strengths and virtues that are prevalent in the developing world. And it’s about time we began to see them.
Start asking, “What’s right?” When you find the answer, pay attention.
You can take your own Values in Action (VIA) Survey of Character Strengths for free at: http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/Default.aspx