I’ve been bottling something up, Sara Bareilles-style for two months. And today, I share.
It’s the kind of News (emphasis, capital N) that I’ll get REAL out of character for and make a Facebook life event, even though I typically reserve the platform for such low brow activities like selling lost-case TVs to innocent UT grads (sorry: no remote) or stalking teak dining sets I have no space for (MCM or bust).
I’ll spare you the scroll to the bottom left of my profile, although humble-braggedly, it is top-notch: “July 2019 — Kasi started work at Fair Trade USA and moved to San Francisco.”
WOMP. There it is. Like ripping a band-aid off (but an A++ experience without any hair loss!). In all seriousness though, this is a monumental career shift for me and, quite frankly, something I’ve been working toward for over six years.
If you’ve been a reader since my mirror-selfie-just-ordered-my-first-biz-cards days, you know I’ve taken The Peahen from a humble blog that unpacked complex issues in fashion ( à la my journalism degree), to a place to discover wearable “ethical clothes” (styled by mua), to a launching pad for my in-person advocacy and public speaking (TEDx, Global Sustainable Fashion Week).
About three years ago, when I moved The Peahen to Austin, I got embedded even deeper on the real-world front and started eco-styling, curating vintage, and carving out a community for Austin-based ethical brands.
After navigating the emerging fashion scene here, I got hooked on the idea of localizing production infrastructure to support local designers and brands. So went my thinking: We have local food at farmers markets. Why not local clothes (I’m talking fiber to mill to finishing)?
I thought “localizing fashion” would work in other cities too, especially if we want to realize the idea of Made in America beyond NY and LA. If you’re curious, I spoke about this at length at SXSW.
Fashion and cities
It’s an unlikely combo I never expected to pivot into but fusing the two has been fascinating. At one point, I even tapped into the tech infrastructure (like that offered on https://www.mirantis.com/software/docker/security/) in Austin to help me build a startup to solve the fit issue in vintage fashion (project on hold, re: News).
So yes, I made the most of my city and got fully ingrained in my fashion work. Probably too much at times. But the workload was mine and exciting, so it didn’t deplete me.
Here’s what did…
While doing all of this, I was juggling a full-time corporate career in financial marketing (I know, I know, most of you had no idea I was doing things like appointment setter services and lead generation). I was as tight-lipped as kid in a warhead challenge about it because I didn’t want the job to define me.
I don’t want to minimize a career of seven years. I worked hard there. I worked even harder to get the job in the first place. I spent many evenings, as I’m sure lots of other people did, to make my resume stand out from the crowd. How I wish we had access to somewhere like arc resumes that could give us a helping hand so we didn’t have to do it ourselves. With services like that available, it has never been easier to achieve the job of your dreams. But whilst I missed out on this helpline, it allowed me to improve on my skills that allowed me to excel in this career. I’m proud of the writing I contributed and the progressive ideas, albeit scant, I was able to push during my tenure. Ultimately, however, the corporate gig became a Catch-22. It fueled my creative work financially (because there’s not bookoo bucks in eco-fashion) and gave me the stability I craved. But it also zapped my slowly-dwindling energy and attention (this is 30) and, because of this, I could never devote the time required to turn The Peahen into a full-fledged business.
It also didn’t help that finance bored me as much as discussing the heat in Austin. Like, we get it, we’re all wearing 100% cotton undies and swiping our Tom’s of Maine® in unintended places over here!
Basically, I felt stuck. Bummed I couldn’t support myself with what I really loved and at max capacity with my workload. Rather than stay the course and continue to do something that felt cushiony (but that my mind and body were overtly fighting), I got practical.
Leaning into my next phase of life
Maybe it’s getting older and wiser, maybe it’s being sick of overthinking how my pictures will perform for the gram. Probably a smidge of both. Be as it may, decided I was ready to move into a slower phase of life. To do one or two things with more purpose and deeper intent.
I wanted to live by the ocean, rather than boil it.
With this in mind, I started looking at jobs in California where I could make more impact, beyond my personal brand. Fair trade was a fortuitous match.
I have written on the topic (here) and when I was speaking at the Fair Trade Federation conference in April (ironically, as an influencer trying to move out of the space) I got connected to the perfect role.
Now, I know you have a million questions so in a never-before-scene self Q&A (vain, yes, I’ll own it), I’ll address your burning questions. Or, at least the ones I want to answer because I’M.SO.VAIN. Naw, really, they’re the ones my friends have already been asking, and ones I’d imagine you, my dear reader, would ask if I had ya over for tea.
But what about your love for clothes, Kasi?!!
Not going anywhere! I just won’t be actively styling or curating. I’ll also scale back my presence here, at least temporarily until I get my sea legs in the new gig.
I decided about a year ago that in the long run, it made more sense for me to join a company or brand to make a greater impact. I love being an entrepreneur and being my own boss. It’s liberating and exhilarating but the tough reality is that it doesn’t pay my bills because the business of ethical blogging wasn’t viable, for me at least.
Considering this, I looked farther out and figured out two things. 1. I was burnt-the-hell-out from spreading myself too thin and 2. I knew wanted to work in social change as my life mission but doing that meant pivoting into something full-time.
The fair trade impact
So sure, Fair Trade USA isn’t a fashion company but it touches produce, consumer packaged goods, home goods, AND apparel. The potential for social impact is exponential.
For now, I’m putting a “no new commitments” rule on my life. I want to get immersed in the job, push the model forward, and enjoy my new city. At least until I feel the itch to create again.
In Austin, for instance, I did modeling and styling work for ethical brands. I built relationships and brought the community together by co-founding the city’s first ethical fashion collective. Time permitting, I hope to replicate this work in the Bay area if and when the time feels right.
I’ll need to learn the ins-and-outs of the fashion scene there, which will take time. But I’ve already started Instagram stalking #sanfranciscofashion and there’s certainly not a lack of brands. Exciting!
Until further notice, I’ll be channeling my love of dressing into my own wardrobe.
Will your world implode if you don’t share things as an influencer?
This is a fundamental question I had to ask myself when assessing this job opportunity. Like, is it more important to have my face on my advocacy via The Peahen or am I good with being behind the scenes?
I went with the latter and I know it’s right because I feel relieved. I’ve always been a private person. I built my brand around my knowledge of fashion to help you be a more informed consumer. The personal stuff, like always being in the spotlight or opening up about struggles, has been harder. So I think the relief comes from the lens being turned away from me.
I also know it’s not 100% this or that. I don’t have to completely stop “influencing.” I’m just going to do it less digitally and less publicly for now. And heck, nothing is permanent, right? I can always reinvest in The Peahen again. I’m proud of the brand and the resources I built here. I’m not going to walk away from them cold turkey.
I also expect there will be amazing opportunities to write about the social initiatives I’m working on in this new gig. So I’ll still be sharing, but on my own whims rather than on a rigid, growth-oriented schedule.
On leaving Austin, go.
In a few years, Austin may seem like a blip on the radar. A stop I made on my way to the West coast. But right now it feels monumental.
Even though I spent less than four years here, I experienced the highest highs and lowest lows of my life. In my first year, I went through an epic and litigious breakup and then my health, something that I’ve always maintained with an iron fist, spiraled downhill.
In the midst of this I was trying to stay afloat in my day job, maintain my side gig, and keep my image looking glossy (ugh). Then my doc went all, “bed rest for you, young Jedi,” on me and my body forced me to oblige.
My recovery didn’t happen as fast as I wanted, but looking back on it now I’m thankful for the time it gave me to reflect, reset, and rethink my intentions in life because, honestly, things weren’t working.
When I was sick, I laid in bed dreaming of clothes and wanting to bring them to people in a more tangible way. I decided when I got better I would start curating and styling. I realized I was craving more interaction with people and I wanted to see the change I was making by providing a service, instead of relying on likes and pageviews.
My days of investigation and rigorous reporting felt like they were behind me (or at least on hold until I was ready again). I continued to write but in a more emotional way. I filled my diary, penned poems, and started thinking through a chapbook. Space to air my thoughts and develop new skills is what I needed in this phase.
Plus, my poems are uplifting and meant to encourage women in their quest for independence, love, and understanding in a complex world. So although they’re not in the “social justice” realm, I do hope I’ve provided a social good. Heck, even if five people read them, I’d still call that impact.
Lessons from ATX
In addition to reflection, another major thing happened during my recovery/rebound: I learned survival. I learned I had people. Probably the best ones I’ve had in my life. And I’m not talking specifically about close friends here. The expansiveness in the hearts of Austinites for love and kindness is like, well…it’s like they’ve been raised in The Cheaper by the Dozen house.
Thanks to my community, I had a soft place to land. A place where women built each other up. A place that embraced my ideas, direction, and creativity and inspired new ones every day. Austin is where I built a lot of my confidence and independence. Where I learned who to listen to and who to tune out. And where I started trusting myself and knowing when to engage my mind and when things were matters of the heart.
It’s cliche to say, but I feel like I became a fully-formed human in this city. So perhaps, that was my purpose in being here. I know what it takes to transition, to struggle, to build, and to overcome. So big challenges like a move and new career feel way less daunting. What would have made me shake in my Vejas four years ago, today, it’s kinda like, psh, bring it, sounds fun.
So to Austin, my people (you know who you are), and the random stranger who gave me a rose on my first day in this city — thank you.
Whoa, you really went for it there! So how are you feeling about living in the Bay area? I saw your Craiglist ad “RESPONSIBLE ROOMIE SEEKS 50SQFT+ RM. **MRS. MADRIGAL-TYPE LANDLORD DESIRED, BAY WINDOW A BONUS.**
Right?! Time for funny Kasi again.
I’m pumped about it!! Growing up in Florida makes me crave the sea so as much as I loved the community in Austin, I always felt landlocked. Landlocked and SWEATY.
I can’t wait to live in a place that doesn’t require AC and be immersed in a cosmopolitan scene that’s more chilled out than NY. With my whole “slowing down” mindset, I want to focus on my day job and use my free time to take weekend trips, hike, maybe even venture to SoCal to surf.
I said it before but I’m sure I’ll eventually miss styling and modeling, so if you’re an ethical or vintage brand or modeling agency, hit me up!
In the meantime, I’ll be working my glutes out on the hills.
With your new fair trade role, what will happen with The Peahen?
Dialing her down until further notice. Realistically I’m going to be working long hours when I start this new gig. I want to learn as much as I can about fair trade and be mission-driven.
Still, there are so many parallels in the work I’ll be doing so chances are I’ll be back to write about them, even if I change the site’s direction or scale it back.
While I figure things out I hope you’ll continue to follow me on Instagram and use the resources I’ve created as a repository for conscious consumption (shop ethical fashion; when to shop; sustainable fashion guide).
Keep up with the movement by following other bloggers and creatives and these established and rising stars in Austin:
- Ethically Curated
- All There August
- Ana Elizabeth
- Sustain the Mag (soon to be in ATX)
- Join The Conscious Crowd.
Do you want to say anything else about fair trade?
Seek the Fair Trade Certified™ seal. It’s a surefire way to ensure people and planet are respected when making your goods. Since its start 20 years ago, the nonprofit has turned over $610 million to producers through sales of Fair Trade Certified products. Heck ya!
And a piece of advice: think beyond just coffee and cocoa. The certification is available on over 800 consumer brands that range from produce, to home textiles (West Elm, Looma), to clothing (Madewell, Patagonia). Find a guide here.
And here’s a handy tip for clothing. You probably won’t find a fair trade seal printed on hang tags. Most likely, it will be in the web copy or product description. That’s because “technically” the entire garment can’t be fair trade certified. The factory it’s produced in, however, can be. More on that here.
There’s a number of different certifiers and member organizations in the space with their own interpretations of the fair trade standard. You really won’t go wrong with any of them but if you want to support Fair Trade USA, look for a green and black logo with a farmer carrying a basket.
Any final thoughts?
I hope I’ve given my readers honest information. Rather than virtue signaling, that I’ve provided tangible and realistic ways to help change the way they think about and consume clothing.
I aimed to provide insights and tips that are approachable, realistic and positive. No shaming! And most of all, I hope I’ve fulfilled my mission to bring truth-telling to fashion while maintaining a lightheartedness and wit in the process.
To the unknown, here’s what I’ve got to say:
Hey, Bay. I’ll take your frequent fog of grey.
This new venture is gonna go my way.
Because I’m gonna take it day by day.
Thanks for journeying with me.
Photo by Daniela Lewkowicz for Art & Soul Design.
I love this summary so much, Kasi! It’s crazy that we’ve known each other throughout your entire Austin journey…even if from afar 🙂 You have definitely come out the other side stronger, smarter, and somehow even more passionate than before. You’re going to LOVE living in the Bay and I can’t wait to visit you there soon girl! XO
I’m overjoyed for you and your journey, Kasi. Thank you for being so passionate in sharing the work you have done thus far. Fast fashion and labour exploitation are symptoms of systemic injustices; from what I understand, Fair Trade USA works to combat those with the UN’s missions close to its core- being a part of such initiative is so powerful. And you’re such a creative- I imagine your voice and vision will lend great impact to the work done in San Fran! It’s always beautiful to watch social work and creativity mesh together (in style). Wishing you all the best in this new adventure.
(also, love the Sara Bareilles throwback- I remember when that song first came out <3)
So humbled, Morgan. It’s bittersweet I won’t be around as much but I’m so confident in my decision to divert my attention (and writing & creativity) to a mission like Fair Trade. Thank you for following my journey. Please let me know if you pass through the Bay area and I’ll show you around.
I’ve loved Sara’s writing and songs for years. I hope you’ve listened to her latest album. My all-time favorite is She Used to be Mine.
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