Written by: Rachel Ross
Photography by: Michael Newsted
As I was sitting, looking directly into Michael's lens, tears began to well up in my eyes. I told myself it was because of the sun, but in reality, it was gratitude. Gratitude and thankfulness for being allowed to be everything I was in that moment and truly being “seen.”
Casa Flor started with the intention to open the eyes of the consumer to the human being behind their clothes. We want our business to be used as an opening or a way to see into the stories of the makers. We want the customer to know the name of the person who touched their garment and to see the story of their life in their art and craftsmanship. But what Averie and I didn't anticipate was the process of being “seen” ourselves, and what a vulnerable thing that is.
Our collaboration with Tribe Alive has been the heartbeat of Casa Flor for the last six months. When Carly approached us to design and produce Tribe Alive's first clothing line, Averie and I knew this relationship was more than a collaboration, but the joining of two families. Carly and Michael came to Guatemala in October to meet the artisans who helped create their collection and to capture the full lives of each garment. That week felt like more than a business trip, but a celebration of creativity and fighting for justice through fashion.
In beautiful Santiago Atitlán, we walked up the steps to the church in the main square and a peace flooded the moment. The cool breeze, the warm sun, surrounded by these amazing people. A year ago I didn't know any of them and yet now they have become my creative soulmates, my friends, my mentors, and my family. I sat down on the bench directly in front of San Pedro volcano, and was reminded how slight I am in this world. Nonetheless, I get to create with my hands and love the people around me. My life is small but mighty.
Michael pulled out his camera and instructed Averie and I to step into the light. We immediately started joking about our sweat and body odor (normal talk in Guatemala). Then I stepped to the side and Michael started to take solo shots of Averie and the jovial and nervous mood changed. Averie simply rested her head on the wall and closed her eyes. She radiated peace– something I haven't seen in Averie in some time with the stress of a move and the tight deadlines. She looked so beautiful and serene, I wanted to cry for the beauty of the moment.
Carly joked earlier in the day that Casa Flor's branding should be a big love affair. Love weaves through our entire business: The love we share of textiles, with our artisan partners and each other. Aves and I have always joked about our love for one another, we've known each other for a little over a year and yet there is a bond of sisterhood that we share. But I don't believe it was by random chance that we met. The similarities in our stories, past struggles that we encountered when we were the same age and even the differences in our personalities that strengthen the other; they are all gifts that I believe were intentionally brought together to create Casa Flor. So seeing my friend, my soul-sister, my business partner find peace, breath and rest, even for a fleeting moment, was so special to me.
When it was my turn to sit in front of the camera, I immediately focused on what I lacked. I thought about my hair and how unhealthy it looked. I wanted to wear my sweater so I felt covered because, who knows how my arms will photograph? Michael could tell I was tense and uneasy. When I looked at him and he said, "it's just you and me - no one else", I took a breath and released my vanity obsessed mindset. I just was.
An affirmation I tell myself is frequently is, ‘Everything you are, in this moment, is enough.’
I believed it. Truly believed it in that lovely moment.
I think we all want to be seen for who we are and accepted, not judged. But in a world, full of social media, a constant stream of “perfect moments” and the need to look, speak and act a certain way constantly pulling at you, embracing your natural self seems like an impossible feat. But just for a moment, Averie and I could just “be” and that was beautifully captured by our friend, Michael, through the lens of his camera and through the creativity of his life.
As I think about how exposed I felt in front that camera, I think about the strength that our artisan partners possess to courageously share their lives with us. They are willing to take a chance on Averie and me - to create and collaborate and to weave a part of their story into our products. It is truly brave to allow us to share their stories, their hopes, and their struggles with people they will never meet. Averie and I both are so grateful that there is a community around Casa Flor that celebrates people being seen for who they are. On top of sharing the stories of the incredible makers we work with; our hope is that the people buying our clothes will also embrace their true selves for everything they are in every moment of everyday.