CO-CREATION AND LOVE MEETS EUROPEAN FASHION

I have arrived back in the jungle...

Wow! Still feeling the energy from all of the amazing opportunities to discuss authentic co-creation and the fashion industry! I was invited to speak at fashion events across Europe and used the stage to discuss the co-creation aspect of our work at Ways of Change, and how it is made possible because of our authentic connection and Love. 

I felt honored each time I took a stage. Honored to be there, to feel heard. But mostly, honored to have had the experiences I was portraying.

If you are interested in what I spoke about, at fashion events across Europe, here it is in transcript! Enjoy!

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Title: Cultivating a Co-Creative Space of Value, Tradition & Love

Today I will speak about how I have created a space of value, tradition and Love. But furthermore, how this space contributes to especially unique design incorporating, in this case, the case of Ways of Change, traditional skills and modern design. Of course in the fashion industry we are constant creators of unique designs receiving limitless inspiration from our own realities, my feeling is that when we combine our realities through connection, we are only making possible more unique creations.

So, I’d like to share how in my experience, co-creation and the way that we see and relate to each other has opened doors to creativity, inspiration and human connection.

I would like to invite you for a moment of reflection.

Close your eyes. Drop in to this space.

Thank you for joining us today. I appreciate you being here. Your time, energy and presence.

I invite you to reflect on a time when you felt valued. One specific time. Maybe someone verbally expressed to you how valuable you, your presence, your skills, are to them. An authentic expression of gratitude and appreciation.

Maybe it was demonstrated through an action. Someone hugged you. You received a raise or a promotion at work.  Perhaps the presence of friends or family has contributed to feeling valued. Simply having people, friends and family present at an event, a ceremony, a performance or a graduation.

Or a group or individual valued you or your skills enough to want to learn from you.

Go back to this time and space. Experience how you felt, what emotions you experienced. (This is only for your own reflection, we won’t share.)

Remain in this space. And reflect on what happened next. Did feeling valued and Loved influence your creativity? Or influence your self-worth? On that day would you have shared ideas more readily, when you felt Loved and valued?

My interest is in how we can create this space. And what are the possibilities, especially for creativity, if we exist and relate to each other in this space? One where every human is valuable. Not just in the case of their skills, but in their humanness, their experiences and ideas.  It’s not so hard and I believe it begins with human connection. I believe that when we see ourselves as one with others, we begin to value each other and then we can create together.

Please open your eyes and join me here. Thank you.

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My career began as a researcher carrying out unprecedented work and using participatory methods in refugee camps on the Thailand Burma border. My work was unprecedented in the way that it focused on the skills, experiences and opportunities of forced migration in a positive way. By definition ‘participatory’, the type of research methodology I was using, embodies listening, hearing and valuing communities regarding their needs and strategies.

Ways of Change was a co-creation from the beginning. Those years ago, while doing that research, people were asking for access to a marketplace where they could use their traditional skills. They wanted to use their skills, experiences and resources to work towards self-reliance, however they didn’t have access to the internet, a Thai marketplace, they didn’t have work rights or freedom of movement. I was hearing them loud and clear and during a meeting with a camp committee one day we further developed the idea for Ways of Change, an ethical fashion brand using an online platform to connect people living in refugee situations with the global community.

As the Founder of Ways of Change, I live and work with refugee communities in the jungle on the Thailand Burma border.

Each and every WoC piece is an embodiment of co-creation, and the values which get us there; connection and Love. The pieces are conceived in jungle homes, porches and open-air living room floors full of women, men, vulnerability, ideas and laughing children. The skills and patterns are traditional and swayed by modern design.

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I will always remember those first meetings I had together with Kayan women and men from the refugee camp, where I was hoping to gain insight into their culture and ideas for pieces to make. We talked about colors and why they used certain ones as well as the many striped patterns they wore and their traditional hand-woven shirts. One of their favorite patterns to weave appears to be a simple design, however for them it is a flower, representing growth and beauty. I learned about the symbolic colors they wore, mostly white and red. However, we had just met each other and we had not reached a point where we were designing together, we were very shy to share ideas, to speak. It takes a lot of confidence to let our creativity flow. This would come much later, there was a very necessary piece missing that only could come with the growth of our relationship.

As our connection deepened, the design process became more intimate and fun. We are always laughing while discussing the modern design part of the process because it is so far removed from their, and often my own, reality. It is really a stretch for them to get their minds around popular colors that change seasonally. However, through our personal connection we are able to create a relevant story. When we were designing a collection of hand-woven bags I explained to the women that the style of the ‘wristlet’ was what I always carried when I was a teenager, I liked that it was small, attached to my wrist and I could dance with it. We laughed about how excited I was that this was now fashionable again. My friends loved the idea of recreating this item especially for me. It was our most popular bag in that collection.

Today, we are able to design collections, like our newest, the Choice Collection. This is a line of jewelry made from recycled metal, the rings that they Kayan women are sometimes wearing around their necks. These pieces are an archetype of the choice that is very specific to Kayan women, which they make about wearing the rings. However, choice is a very powerful and innate freedom that we all wield and use everyday.

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This jewelry is a co-creation which happened because of the physical rings from women, the culture, the traditions and the experience of these women. It also happened because of my vision and knowledge. And of course the self-taught jeweler, Mo Thai and his wife, Mu Be, who came up with the designs.

Mo Thai and I had a moment, just before I left Thailand to come here. No one else was around and he had just completed the first of a very powerful piece of jewelry, made from these rings. He held it up for us both and we admired it. The power and the beauty in our creation was palpable and we knew everything that went into it, the fire and the hammering, but also the tradition, the respect, the honesty. We looked into each others eyes and I said, we created this together. 

Our products and this way of designing are possible because we also have co-created a new reality, one of honor, Love and human value, cultivating a space where honesty and creativity can be nourished and ideas are valuable and to be shared, explored and become reality.

The relationship that we have is one of mutual benefit and empowerment. I am so honored to be a part of this community who has welcomed me to live and create with them, who teach me and share their home and wisdom. I know that they value myself and my experiences, the same that I value theirs, because I assure you, I had nothing more than this, my experience and ideas to offer when I arrived to them.

It is this value that we see and feel in each other, this connection that allows us to create together.

I tell the people that I work with regularly, “I value you, your skills, ideas and experiences. I respect, honor and Love you and the value that you place on yourself.” And I tell myself the same.

I can share that in expressing Love and valuing each others’ humanness and oneness with each other we have shared in the positive benefits of our ever increasing self-Love and self-worth which allows our creative energy to flow. And this is the community of co-creators, myself included, that have made these products.

As well, through this process we have initiated community projects which work towards the positive change that the community want to see in themselves. Ways of Change has supported community projects including; the building of alternative energy sources, income generation projects, business and financial training, sewing and weaving training, natural building, women’s empowerment and cross-cultural engagement.

To provide some context, the people I work and live with have lived in refugee camps and villages for the past 30 years, they have been told that their lives and skills are not valuable by the narrative that our current global model of refugee protection provides. The refugee context is more often one of deficit. Using a language and embodying the belief that refugees are victims with little self-agency. With this in mind we focus on giving and helping from the outside with our own definition of people’s needs rather than connecting and co-creating together. 

This was the focus of my research those years ago, looking inside, and Ways of Change embodies this approach everyday.

I hope that WoC serves as an example of human connection, Love and the beauty that is co-created when we look into each other’s eyes, even beyond someone’s story and into our oneness.

I didn’t accidentally wonder into a refugee camp those years ago. The focus of my career has been working with people affected by conflict and migration for a very specific reason. I found, in people who are actively leaving behind conflict, hate and dominance and actively seeking peace, positive change and Love, the very values I was searching for, the values I honor and choose.

I work everyday towards cultivating a space where these values can thrive and potentially be shared with the world, as many refugees are resettled, locally integrated or repatriated and responsible for rebuilding a war-torn country.

So, in a time of unprecedented forced migration, I encourage you to open your eyes and your heart, to connect and to see the value in each human. To co-create new realities together. This is how things and spaces and connections of beauty are made. The first step in co-creating is seeing and hearing and valuing every human for who they are, beyond their story.

So, when you receive a Ways of Change necklace from our online shop it comes in a hand-woven jewelry bag with a recycled paper insert that reads, “This necklace was made with Love to wear close to your heart.” Now that you have a glimpse into the process co-creation, the Love and the value behind each piece of jewelry, I hope that you can attest to the authenticity of this statement.

Thank you for your presence today.