built by women: meghan cleary, founder of MeghanSAYS® shoes

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Did you know that there are less than 10 footwear companies in the United States run by women? Women purchase twice as many shoes as men yet only eleven women designers/manufacturers were represented in the Power 100? So many companies create products believing they have their customer’s best interests and sartorial desires at heart, but my dear friend, Meghan Cleary, involves her customers at every stage of the product development process and she’s one of the kindest, smartest, passionate, and funniest women I know. Meg and I met in 2006 and back then we were in the business of bringing women together (specifically in book publishing + writing) to collaborate and support one another. Every month I hosted a gathering of 50-100 women in hopes that there would be strength in numbers, and Meg’s tireless and unwavering support (from finding us spaces to bringing the coolest people into the room) marks the kind of woman she is: mentor, friend, collaborator.

It’s been formidable to witness her bloom from passionate shoe aficionado to a company owner, and when I sampled her products first-hand, not only did I love the price point ($98-$168) for the quality, her shoes were stylish and comfortable. She’s someone who I always want to celebrate and even though I took a break from posting on this space, I wanted to share with you not only her line but her verve and wisdom. Meg’s worth breaking my break (I’m still on hiatus). I hope our chat will inspire you just as much as she’s always, always inspired me. –FS

 

Felicia C. Sullivan: When I first met you, nearly a decade ago in New York, you were this ebullient force who had just published a book about shoes and was a fierce connector—you had a way of bringing smart, passionate woman in your network together that was infectious. We’re both from the east coast and I remember how we talked about our respective journeys west. What motivated you to leave New York, and what have you gained (and lost) as a result of calling Los Angeles your home.

Meghan Cleary: Well, first of all, that is so nice to hear. I remember being a part of really trying to bring women writers together with you and it was so fun. There are so many groups now like Binders doing that online it’s cool to think we were there in the beginning.

In terms of making my shift to the left coast, I had been thinking about moving to Los Angeles for about a year before I finally came out. I had a lot of friends here, and after ten years in NYC — and watching my once quaint West Village neighborhood turn into a high-end shopping mall (!) — I was craving some physical things — mainly space and light. The idea of having more space and more access to nature was a big thought — as a creative person literal, physical space can be really freeing. I was also looking for an easier lifestyle, not so much the daily schlep. Originally I was going to come out for six months and see how I liked it, but here we are eight years later! What’s interesting is how many people from NYC have made the leap. There are more of us here now than ever although I’m like don’t tell any more people how great it is — we want it all to ourselves!

In October 2008, I came out here for a TV appearance on TVGUIDE network. I was on a show called “Fashion Team”, which was a really great show about actual fashion — really well produced. One of the co-hosts who interviewed me was Lawrence Zarian. He was incredibly encouraging and took me aside after the show and told me I was one of the very few experts that came on the show who actually know what I was talking about and knew my subject matter. His words kind of planted a seed in my mind and by the end of the weekend, I was like ok, I’m coming out. It was perfect timing. My contract for consulting I had with a big bank had just ended, and I was free to go. A month later I got on a plane with my dog – it was Nov 5, 2008, the day after the election and everyone was in a really jubilant mood.

10428-1 TOGETHER(1)FS: I admire you because you navigate disparate worlds with ease. You have a background in financial writing and marketing, you are the expert in footwear –how do you balance the reality of having to be a freelancer (doing the things that pay the bills) while pursuing what gets you out of the bed in the morning (your new shoe line, MeghanSAYS®)? How do you make time for both and do you feel a sense of balance?

MC: Well, thank you so much. There are so many people like us that have to juggle and hustle. Choosing a creative life means you have to really get inventive about your income streams, learn how to manage your cash flow like a fierce businessperson and be flexible. I got really fortunate early on in that I worked in finance doing marketing and it is something I can always return to. I actually enjoy it because it is so different than my creative life – it’s very calming, in fact because it works another part of my mind and there is often a beginning, middle and end to a project. I’ve found that my natural penchant for narrative and story is extremely helpful as well in my financial consulting realm.

In terms of balance – well, I think balance is kind of bullshit. There is no balance — there’s maybe balance over the long-term but for me, it is more about figuring out how and when to expend energy. There are certain times of day I get more done in an hour than I would in three hours at another time of day. As a woman there are certain times of the month I am more creative and outgoing, some days I’m more introverted and marinating. What types of people do I spend what levels of energy with, how do I sustain energy over a long day? My biggest challenge has been allowing my body to rest when I am sick. I still find this a challenge. Especially as a creative person, if you are consulting too, you don’t get paid for missing a day. The hustle is always there in the back of your mind, and as a creative person, we are not given stability and pensions and etc. You have to make that all for yourself. Fortunately, as the workforce changes, there are a ton of resources to do so, and as I said, especially as a woman you have to get financially savvy – and it still can be challenging even then. Barbara Stanny is a great person to read about this. Also my friend Laura Shin writes a ton of helpful articles on freelancing and personal finance.

LA TimesFS: Your journey to shoe designer is amazing! Tell us how MeghanSAYS® came to be, and your vision for the debut collection and the brand.

MC: Thank you! It has been so exciting honestly. I became obsessed with shoes when I was five years old and I also wanted to be a psychologist when I was little, I started writing poetry when I was 10 and I have always loved dressing up. What I do has been kind of a weird blend of all of these things. I’m deeply interested in shoes in relation to questions about culture and identity, what they say about people. I love really spirited, fun design. Through my work as a shoe expert and listening directly to actual women, I learned there was a huge gap in the market for what women wanted in a shoe. I thought it would be fun to begin to try to meet that need in a really fun, spirited way. The collection itself came out of an offhand conversation with a friend at a holiday party – one thing led to another, and soon I had a manufacturer who was willing to underwrite the first line of samples. This is huge for a woman entrepreneur – we do not have the same type of access to capital and infrastructure that men do so it was a huge beautiful thing they were will willing to do it. My first meeting at Soho House, I brought shoes to the table literally and put them on the table – I had a very clear vision of styles I wanted, what I was thinking of. While I was talking, the woman at the next table leaned over and asked about the prototypes I had on the table — she wanted to know where to get them! I think that helped and boom! We had a line. I wanted to create shoes for women that were easy to wear and at the same time extremely fun. I don’t take the word fun lightly by the way – there’s so much in our society set up for not fun, to actually try to infuse it into things you do, and in this case, an actual product I feel is essential.

FS: I love that your line is affordable and stylish without sacrificing on quality—a rare breed in the shoe business. Is this balance a challenge (if so, how), and did you have a price range in mind for your woman going into the design and manufacturing process?

MC: I love that you called that out – it was something I thought about a lot. What I learned is that how you are able to price your product is largely based on how many shoes you can get a retailer to order and your relationship and negotiating power with a factory. It sounds totally backward I know, and you need to go into the design and sample process with an idea of where you’d like to be pricing-wise obviously, but it all comes down to how many shoes you are making. The more you make, the lower the price the factory can give you. So the more a retailer buys, the better pricing you can give them and, in turn, the customer. You also have to figure in margins for your manufacturer and yourself. I got incredibly lucky that the manufacturer I partnered with has amazing relationships with factories and was able to get the pricing we wanted. Although in order to keep the flat under $100 I took a huge margin hit. I have practically no margin on the flat but I was adamant I did not want them to be over $100.

FS: What has surprised you most about launching your business? What didn’t you expect? More importantly, what were you (or not) prepared for?

MC: I was surprised and honestly I am always surprised when I set out to make a product – making actual physical things gives you a whole new appreciation for how things get created from a sketch to on someone’s feet. All this year I literally go into a shop and am like wow – can you believe this glass was made wherever it was made, and now it is here on this shelf and I can buy it! How amazing! Seriously, the amount of things that have to come together to make a thing, and then get that thing into the store, seems like a Sisyphean task. But it happens! It all happens and comes together. You wouldn’t think you would get so excited about supply chain or shipping logistics, but you do! Again my manufacturer has a huge infrastructure already set up so for me to plug in was amazing – and still it was full of surprises even though it’s a well-oiled machine. That’s just the nature of making THINGS.

FS: I’ve met a lot of people our age who feel regret. Regret that they didn’t pursue this or that life sooner or hadn’t met their partner earlier in life, but I tend to believe that we find ourselves at a certain place because of all the choices we’ve made, not in spite of them. Would you agree? Do you have any regrets about the paths you’ve taken?

MC: I think honestly the only thing I regret is spending ANY time on worrying or what my brilliant friend Vanessa McGrady calls future tripping. It is a natural part and parcel of being an artist to have fear, anxiety, dread and resistance come up. It’s only now I feel like NO! I do not want to spend time dragging myself into that pit like I have spent too much time doing that. Saying that, I also have a very fearless side of myself as well. I don’t really listen when I hear naysayers and I have a special penchant for just doing things. Like ok, that sounds fun, I’m gonna do that. I do. That’s how I wrote a pilot last year and how I started a shoe line. Literally because well, why not?

My godson Daniel is the cutest; he calls me a “possibilitarian”. I try to stay in that zone so my only regret is when I’m out of that zone and I spend any time out of it.

FS: Have you endured any challenges building a business as a woman? How did you manage them?

85653-24A BLACK-2MC: I think the challenges I face as a woman are extremely subtle and some not so subtle. I am a white, college-educated woman, so I have a certain amount of privilege in the world and ease with which I can navigate the world. Saying that, I know that because of income inequality, I have not earned as much as my male counterparts, and I am a pretty fierce negotiator, so I certainly probably have come close but over time I could have probably earned more as a man. Also, women are just not given the same financial tools and information from a young age as many men are. I remember I had a great boss at one of the banks I worked at and I asked him how should I invest my money and he was like just park it in a money market – because it was assumed I would get married. He didn’t say get fierce with your 401K, and use it to try and buy real estate or learn about stocks — it was kind of like ok, honey just put it there — and he was an amazing guy who I looked up to in so many ways. I think had I more financial savvy I would be further along. When I first read Barbara Stanny’s Prince Charming’s Not Coming — it opened my eyes about how I think about the ambiguous “future” when it comes to finance. We all sometimes have magical thinking when it comes to money. I’ve gotten very savvy over the years, but still could be so much savvier.

Then there are real, logistical and institutional issues — women do not have the same access as men to capital and financing. And if you are entering a male-dominated business, oftentimes it’s difficult to make the relationships necessary to take the business forward. Factories, sourcing, etc are usually male-dominated so you have to partner up with people or find other ways to convince people to work with you. Capital is the lifeblood of businesses especially when making a product so to not have that access can cripple you early on.

In terms of how I managed these issues, honestly, I just plow ahead. I don’t think about it too much. I find that in a lot of cases, passion, enthusiasm and having a clear vision resonates with people and they will take a chance with you. You only need like one person to get on board.

FS: Who/What has inspired you along the way and why?

MC: So many people. My mom taught me how to work things out and hustle. We got hit by a recession in Michigan when I was little and she was always super resourceful and taught me the same skills. Very handy for creatives! My auntie Mary who did my logo for MeghanSAYS® and all my illustrations for my Shoe Are You?® book and web series. My aunt Kit who had the awesomest shoe collection ever and was a major businesswoman and marketer. My dad who always finds some kind of humor in every situation. He loves to throw in “slingback pump” into any conversation because now he knows what that is! My brother who always is super hilarious. Funny is a big thing in my life and I can giggle my face off with all these people. My boyfriend Tim is one of my major sounding boards. He works in entertainment so he totally gets the creative side of things and is always a huge proponent of just going for the creativity full on.  My BFF in New York, Sarah, who I call the The Rabbi, always tells it like it is. And my BFF in LA, Vanessa, who is always down for blowing up the fear. Jason Campbell who always pushes me to look at design and style in new ways. I also belong to an extraordinary writing group who I call The Pod run by David Hochman — they are my secret superpower group.

FS: What are the three things that people who are interested in launching their own business or going freelance? Are there specific lessons you can share regarding shoe/manufacturing-related ventures?

MC:
1. Don’t quit your day job/Quit your day job. What I mean by this is keep your sources of revenue flowing, but try not to get too caught up in the daily grind of a j-o-b. Like the office politics, etc. Keep it light, keep it observational, positive. You need to keep your psychic space to create so don’t spend it on office blah blah blah.
2. Learn how to manage cash flow and what that is!
3. Be flexible.
4. Lose the shame in working a day job! People get so wrapped up in appearances. I’ve found most of my day job people are my biggest supporters! I’m always very appropriate when revealing what I do in addition to my regular work, you have to feel it out at your particular workplace, but once you tell people you’d be surprised how many people want to be your cheerleader. Because you are doing the risky thing, the thing many are afraid to do. It doesn’t feel courageous sometimes but it is.

Regarding footwear – wow – that’s a whole other interview! I’ve learned a lot but I’d say in the end it all comes down to product and your factory. You want a great factory that wants to make the best product for you – especially because in my case my actual name is on it!

FS: What are the three essential tools (or resources) you rely upon to get through your day?

MC:
• Burt’s Bees lip balm
• I TRY to meditate – don’t always get there but I try
• Petting and walking my dog – best oxytocin booster ever!

FS Most importantly, which of your shoes do we absolutely NEED in our closet and what is your favorite of the collection?

MC: The ballet flat!!! Seriously you can have one in every color – it is so comfortable, perfect travel shoe and just the chic-est shoe around IMHO. Makes every foot look amazing from size 5 to size 11. The denim is beyond, the floral is super punchy, the b/w gingham I wear literally every day though now I am alternating it with the blush sparkle microsuede because I just fell in love with that one too!

 

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All images courtesy of Meghan Cleary. 

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the time I bought things and told you about them

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Over the summer I made a mistake in trusting a blogger I didn’t know. I packed the whole of my life in 49 boxes–I would bring to California only the things I loved and needed–however, I found myself browsing blogs during a work trip to Arizona and I happened upon a blue floral skirt from a company called Chicwish. It was gorgeous, cheap, emphasis on cheap. And although I consider myself savvy–I know the awareness and affiliate game that happens between brands and bloggers–I fell in love with a piece of fabric that was more about what I envisioned for California than the California in reality. I was buying something because I was frightened of all the uncertainty that came with moving across the country. I wasn’t buying something I needed from someone I trusted.

Big mistake.

To say the quality of the skirt I received was abhorrent would be an understatement. I’ve seen better quality at the $1 stores I used to patron when I was a kid in Brooklyn. I would be the girl in the flammable skirt living in the gold, citrus state. Tossing a bucket of salt into a gaping wound (even worse than believing bloggers who are routinely paid to lie on a daily basis because elevating that brand sure looks good on paper), was Chicwish’s return policy. I had to pay to ship and return my item, and after over a month wait, I reached out to the brand to query about my return to which I received an offer for store credit.

When I write your clothes are terrible quality as a reason for my return, I certainly DO NOT want store credit. Essentially, I spent $20+ of my hard-earned money on a crap skirt (initial shipping + return shipping), of which I’ve only myself to blame for buying something to fill a void. I could make this post about the influencer marketing racket (of which I’ve been privy on the agency/brand side), however, I’m trying on positivity for size.

I have a few close friends who are bloggers, friends whom I love and trust, and even then I’ll ask: would you buy this with your own money, or is this product good enough considering you got it for free? Because you could so easily make allowances for things that don’t deplete your bank account. You tend to overlook flaws and inconvenient return policies.

Before I moved to California, I went on an insane home shopping spree–an event of which I’m constantly reminded whenever I view my bank and credit card statements. I left much of my furniture in New York, and I found myself buying A LOT of new things (couch, bookshelves, rug, kitchen carts, etc), and the purchases added up. That, and the fact that my apartment is pretty expensive, has forced me on a strict budget. Luckily I work from home so I don’t have to worry about clothes, gas, and parking, and most of my disposable income is spent on books, food, and fitness.

Today I’m sharing some of my choice investments.

For the past seven weeks I’ve been struggling with heavy breakouts, and it wasn’t until visiting a dermatologist two weeks ago did I learn that I had a stubborn case of folliculitis (my prescribed topical regimen, below). Infected pimples covered the sides of my face and ran down my arms, shoulders, chest, and back. I was miserable. My doctor prescribed an oral and topical antibiotic and I’ve been washing my face with a cleanser that has 5% benzoyl peroxide. My condition has improved by 75%, but I’ve had to make massive adjustments to my skincare regimen. Lately, I’ve been using Simple skincare (I really like their exfoliating wipes and water-free cleansers), Dermalogica and Murad moisturizers. The holy grail of my purchases is Mario Badescu’s Drying Lotion. This really works. Trust me on this one. I typically use this before I go to bed and blemishes vanish by morning. While the Drying Lotion didn’t solve my stubborn skin care problem, it helped before I saw a doctor, and made taking meetings outside of my home bearable.

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I work out pretty often and much of what I wear during the week is athletic gear. I have a pretty big selection since I sweat heavily and need to cycle through my gear pretty often. So I look for clothing that will stand up to multiple washes, clothing that is sweat absorbent and has the flexibility to move how I move. I’ve hated Lululemon since 2009 because they simply do not make quality clothes for curvy women, and I always felt like I needed Crisco to pull on their tops and forget about their leggings.

To supplement leggings I’ve collected from Zella, Old Navy and Gap Body (Gap Body is good, not great, and I’ve found that my Old Navy gear lasts longer), I recently discovered Beyond Yoga via a 50% sale in my hot yoga studio. The pants are soft, roomy, completely absorbent and really stand up to the fact that I need to throw them in the wash every week. They’re on the pricey side, admittedly, so I have a few investment pieces and supplement with Old Navy and Zella (when I can get them on sale).

As I mentioned, I sweat. A LOT. So much that my mat, which is often promoted to those who take Bikram or hot yoga, isn’t stopping me from sliding. I purchased a yogitoes mat towel and I have absolutely no regrets. Since yoga is a huge part of my life (I practice 3-4x/week), buying a towel was essential, especially since I tend to be injury-prone.

Since I spend most of my time working in front of a computer, eating, working out or snapping photos of my cat, I don’t need fancy handbags whose cost are the equivalent of a month’s rent. Expensive finery used to be important to me but the desire was more about projecting a life lie I was living rather than having people get to know me without all the accoutrements. I’m not knocking expensive things, live your life, but coveting the latest handbag is no longer part of my life. For the past year I’ve been toting around a canvas bag, and it was only until recently that I upgraded to a $150 (!!!) tote from Cuyana, specifically this one. I own a Celine bag and there is literally no difference in the quality and suppleness of the leather. The only difference being that I didn’t cry when I reviewed my credit card statement because I dropped a few grand on a few scraps of leather and an embossed label. I love this tote (I’ve posted another snap, along with a photo of a wallet I purchased, below) because I can fit my laptop, books, gym clothes, water bottle, you name it. I’ve already managed to stain it and I found the leather pretty easy to clean. Plus, it’s presentable for business meetings and client lunches. #WINNING

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Something’s happened since I’ve moved to California–I’m less of a morning person. While I naturally wake at 6, the first hour is a struggle and I can’t face the world (or email) without being heavily caffeinated. Breakfast used to be a grand affair, but now the idea of going near the stove is unthinkable. As a result, I was downing copious amounts of cereal (not good, people) or AB&J sandwiches (again, not good). On a recent trip to the market, I discovered Love Grown Oatmeal, and it’s GLUTEN-FREE! As my friend Amber would say, GET INVOLVED. I add water (or almond milk) to the mixture, heat in the microwave for one minute, and top it with fresh fruit, and breakfast is done. I can then spend a good hour catatonic in front of the computer before I even contemplate a shower.

PRAISE BE.

I also have an upcoming post about items I’ve purchased for my home and a MONSTER post on the 50+ books I’ve read this year, but if you have any questions about any of the above, or about folliculitis, drop me a note in the comments.

the evolution of an address

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You can’t possibly know how much I struggled with posting this photograph on this space. I abhor having my photo taken because it feels like a physical distraction. We all make unconscious judgments and assumptions based on what we see; we assess the superficial: Is she pretty? Is she the “right” weight? And we speculate and place value judgments on the deeply superficial: Who makes that dress? How can she afford it? Suddenly, what we see becomes an extension of our mirrored selves, and we forget about the person behind the photograph. I’ve been guilty of this having stared at photographs of myself over the years and thinking, What was I thinking? I was too thin. How did I look like I was happy when I was far from fine? Is it possible for a lens to freeze-frame a lie? And so on.

For the great deal of my life my style was a mimicry of those who surrounded me. When I was a teeanger, I wore clothing several sizes too large and striped shirts from The Gap. In college, I wore tight shirts under flannels, Doc Martens and baseball hats. In my twenties, I was obsessed with Anthropologie, and anything that carried the stench of luxury. In my early thirties I still erroneously believed that expensive clothing gave you what you lacked. It wasn’t until I gained the most weight I’ve ever sustained on my frame did I have to sit back and think about fit, comfort, and more importantly, what I liked.

Believe me when I say that I’m the very definition of low maintenance. I don’t wear makeup, save for a swipe of lipstick or I’d otherwise be mistaken for the dead. I walk fast and find heels to be a cruel form of sartorial torture. No, I’m not interested in blisters, scabs, and bloodletting simply for the sake of appearing fashionable. For whom? For what? And more importantly, WHY??!!! If something looks complicated in assembly or wear, I run screaming in the other direction. I’m too old for drama; I don’t need my clothes to exhaust me.

Although I slowly lost the weight I’d gained, I learned to dress for my body. I’m a freelancer who’s no longer tethered to office attire. I’m petite. I will always have a sizeable chest (grr) and curves, and some cuts/looks, while beautiful in theory, are hazardous in practice.

I’m also moving to an anti sweater-weather state, so there’s that.

This year I donated and gifted bags of clothing, shoes, and accessories. I’ve pared down to only what I love and need. I’ve no multiples. I’ve discarded all of the clothes from my 20s when my size was a negative integer (I assure you those were not halcyon days) and I’d forsaken comfort for trendiness. Now, my uniform consists mostly of v-neck drapey tees with cardigans and fitted pants, or dresses that nip/dart at the waist. You’ll almost always find me in flats or sporty sneakers, and I care less about the label and more about the quality of the garment. I LOATHE shopping (reason: people) and clutter (reason: anxiety; I’ll have to pay to move all this crap) so the idea that I won’t have to enter a store or deal with an online return gives me an insurmountable amount of joy.

I want to feel comfortable and somewhat stylish but I don’t want to overthink it.

For the first time in forever I’m wearing white and color. I picked up this dress over the weekend and I’ve already worn it twice. Although I have to wear this with a slip (I got a Commando full-body slip on a recommendation, but I hate it because it rides up), this is probably the most comfortable and AIRY item of clothing I own.

It also doesn’t hurt that it’s California-ready!

Photo snapped by my sweet friend, Alyssa, before we had…ALL OF THIS!

cheeseburger at Upland, NYC
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love.life.eat.: what I’m loving right this second

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If you’ve seen me within the past two weeks, you’ve seen me wearing this sweater. I’ve written much about my shift to a more minimalist, functional wardrobe on this space–so much so that I’ve recently given away all my designer handbags to friends because I don’t want to form attachments to things I truly don’t love or need. Since we’re in the midst of monsoon season in New York, this lovely wool sweater has kept me warm on treks to the gym and lunches with friends. I still can’t get over the fact that Banana Republic is killing it right now. Murder in the first.

For the past three days I’ve locked myself in my apartment in an effort to revise my manuscript. I’ve received some exceptional and promising feedback from editors, and I’ve taken a step backed, cooled off, and, with a clear head, have been at work at a revise. And even though I’m an introvert, I get a bit loopy if I don’t at least hear people speaking for a few days. So on a lark I viewed the first two seasons of Black Mirror and I might as well have fallen into a black hole because I binge-watched this show, catatonic, all day yesterday. The UK import bills itself as the modern-day Twilight Zone (a bold statement since Rod Serling is THE standard), however, a show, which observes the many ways in which technology has and will change society, is remarkable. In “White Bear,” a woman wakes with amnesia. As the day unfolds she finds that she’s being hunted by various people while hoards stand back, silent, filming her with their cell phones. We later learn that her punishment for filming the death of a child is for her to relive the incident every day. Every night her memory is wiped clean while she watches the video she made in a loop, and the next day she wakes to the nightmare all over again. The story is rich in how it navigates participatory justice, celebrity in a cell-phone culture, regret and memory. In “Fifteen Million Merits,” a futuristic, ultra-virtual society where every transaction is intangible and everyone pedals a bike to stay alive, a talented singer is forced to choose between being an adult performer or a slave to a bike. Her choice is chilling, but the man who fell in love with her is changed and unchanged in ways that will surprise even the most jaded of viewers.

Suffice it to say if you want to think, if you want to question your relationship with your devices, watch Black Mirror (it’s on Netflix/Amazon, although I’ve found the full-length versions of the episodes I’ve mentioned online).

For two weeks I’ve acted like THAT ASSHOLE WRITER. When a very famous editor wrote that my work is serious, brilliant, but too difficult for an American audience, I wrote my agent that I can’t help that America is stupid, and no way in hell was I going to dumb down my manuscript. I suspect my agent has an endless reserve of patience (or he’s used to dealing with writers like me), and he told, quite kindly, that the intention is not to dumb-down my manuscript, but rather look for ways to make it tighter, stronger. And then I happened upon this article (my dear friend Amber has been telling me about Mark Manson’s writing since our trip to Thailand) on all the reasons why we fail. In short, I was arguing against advice instead of taking it. Manson writes,

Guaranteed express ticket to sucking: trying to be right instead of good. I don’t care what it is, if you’re more invested in arguing your point of view against people who are trying to help you than you are in improving yourself, then you’ve effectively given up. And for all of your brainiac debating, you’re still too stupid to see it.

I’ve learned a lot about humility over the past few months, and once I sat down to revise my manuscript (I’m halfway through the book), I was surprised and humbled over how much there was to edit. There’s not a page untouched by track changes.

Normally, I can’t read books that are similar to what I’m working on, however, I found re-reading Andre Dubus’ We Don’t Live Here Anymore to be of tremendous comfort. Re-reading his novellas on love and adultery makes me realize what’s lacking in my work. Yesterday (in-between episodes of Black Mirror), I revised scenes, stayed longer in them. It’s hard for me to detangle love from loss, and at one point I had to take a break.

Save for a workout with a friend and a lunch, I’m continuing my imposed novel-editing solitude this weekend. Know I will be eating copious amounts of this Coconut Peanut Butter. Another recommendation from my friend Amber, this butter puts all nut butters to shame. I actually tossed my peanut and almond butters after I sampled a spoonful of this stuff. It’s hard to explain why coconut oil and peanut butter work, but they do. OH, GLORIOUSLY SO. The delivery costs are a million dollars since the butter is shipped from Hawaii, but trust me, it’s worth every penny.

Finally, remember my long diatribe (I know, which one?!) on my Brooklyn BodyBurn challenge? My old workout gear isn’t holding up so I invested in some pants from Gap Body as well as these Zella leggings. You know you’re in deep when your workout gear exceeds your casual wear, becomes casual wear. GULP.

why I will never shop at j.crew again (or a lesson in brand loyalty) — a rant

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Let me tell you a story about a lifelong love affair…with a brand. We met in the most unlikely of places–a college mailroom, where the object of my affection was shoved into hundreds of mailboxes, eager to find me amidst the lunchtime rush. This was a time when people still wrote letters, affixed stamps onto envelopes (there was no fancy adhesive so we just did the thing that others who had come before us did, we licked), and pored over catalogs. We’d been dating for over a year, and much like a faithful, long-distance girlfriend, I wore his barn coat ($98), wool rollneck sweater in oatmeal ($48; this was before the advent of more fanciful colors like puce and heather river) and wool henleys in an act of devotion. I’d fallen in love with someone who possibly lived in the Ozarks or Colorado or somewhere in the bucolic U.S.. During lunch, I scanned the pages, painted scenery of weather-beaten rocks and cabin homes lodged beyond a great, vast forest.

This was a time when people began to use summer and winter as verbs. One could arguably say that these were the best of times and the worst, because how could we know the future that lay ahead of us with our gadgets that serve as extensions of our limbs and a small box of a machine that would become our Wonderland. Just call us Alice and watch us tumble into the deep. But not yet, not yet. Right now few people used email (DOS, anyone?) much less understood it, and we purchased our clothing from department stores, boutiques or mail-order catalogs.

Can I tell you that the object of my affection was different from the rest? Sure, I had affairs with L.L. Bean (their snow/rain boots are! the! best!) and Victoria’s Secret (back when we thought it cool to order bras from catalogs, the irony of which you’ll read about soon enough), but I was committed to J.Crew. J.Crew, know that Sinead O’Connor crooned “Nothing Compares to You” after she slipped on your barn coat in burgundy and wool sweater in charcoal grey.

I don’t talk about my work on this space simply because I don’t want to. I spend much of my days playing the role of a professional, and there are some spaces where the introduction of this costume would serve as a cruel intrusion–namely, this space. However, last week I found myself so enraged, so disappointed, that I have to talk about it. The intersection of how I think and what I love came to bear. For the past 17 years, I’ve been working in one capacity or another in marketing. For most of my career, I worked in consumer marketing–a role that required me to know how to sell products or ideas to consumers, how to tell stories. However, in the past two years, I’ve focused on brand marketing. The brand side has become challenging in a way that consumer marketing, and its social and digital antecedents, have begun to bore me. How do you architect a brand? What are its pillars? How do you position it? How do you craft benefit language for the consumer in a way that’s compelling? What’s their “Reason to Believe”? For the past two years, I’ve been taking the discipline of branding and brand definition and using it in brand building and transformation projects. How do you change perception? How do establish yourself and your identity in a sea of competitors who clamour for consumer dollars? The work is heady, more strategic than the consumer marketing tactics I’d deployed previously, but it felt like how an advanced yoga student would return to a basics class to relearn the poses and become reaquainted with the foundation.

Before I could market products to customers, I had to deeply understand, for each of my projects, why a consumer would love a particular brand’s product and how they, in turn, would fall in love with the brand. I’m not going to get into the details of this because I can tell you that I’m already bored writing about it, but I was reminded of my 18+ year commitment to J.Crew, and how, in one year, the brand fucked it all up.

First, let’s talk about the quality of the goods, shall we? If you think J.Crew has exceptional cashmere, you have never owned exceptional cashmere. I’m going to pull a “remember when” and you’re just going to have to deal with it. REMEMBER WHEN J. Crew sold thick, double-ply cashmere that didn’t pill after a single use and get ratty after a year, making you regret the MILLION DOLLARS YOU SPENT ON THAT VIOLET SWEATER THAT WASN’T CALLED VIOLET, BUT LABELED SOME OBSCURE HUE? Remember when J. Crew sold wool that wasn’t cut with cheap acrylic? Remember when they didn’t hock acrylic sweaters for $118 a pop? I DO. You can give me the song and dance marketing story, replete with elevated fonts and pictures of Italian factories and fields, but nothing can replace sense memory. My clothes used to last longer, feel better, and no amount of bullshit marketing tactics, gleeful Jenna-loving bloggers and resplendent photoshoots are going to change that.

J.Crew, your clothes have gone to the crazies, and I know, deep in your heart, you know this. And don’t even get me started on Madewell, your insouciant younger sister, because the acrylic sweaters I once purchased on sale? I wear them AROUND THE HOUSE.

As a result of the poor quality, and some questionable designs, I haven’t shopped at J.Crew for nearly two years (save the Minnie pant and the Tippi sweater, both purchases put me to thinking that I’ve been trapped in some 1960s film where everything has shrunk and every woman’s name ends in an “i”). I turned to Madewell, to only realize that their clothes are the antithesis of their name (a cruel tease when expensive clothes fall apart after a single season).

Can I interrupt here? Can I tell you that I loved (and patroned) J. Crew for three reasons:
1. I hate shopping. I hate stores. I hate fitting rooms. I hate people. And J. Crew made my life simple. They sold quality classics online and in catalogs, both from which I could order from the privacy of my own home.

2. I aspired to their simplified, whitewashed version of a life. For years, before the fashionable Jenna-inspired “edits” and cool girls looking drunk in catalogs, the J.Crew lifestyle was simple, cozy, aspirational, yet accessible, and all I wanted to do come winter was swathe myself in one of their sweater-blankets, light a faux-fire and sip cocoa with organic, non-GMO puffed marshmallows. While my life, and racial identity, was this constant specter that hovered, J. Crew offered escapism and free shipping.

3. I naively thought that J.Crew was a brand that loved their customers. Oh friends, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Setting aside the questionable quality for the insane prices (I was patient though; I would wait for Crew’s triumphant autumn return), let’s dive a little into brand love, which sent this whole rage blackout on its course.

You should know that I don’t share my personal identifiable information with just anyone. I have Inbox Zero. I don’t subscribe to many newsletters. I’ve gone to great lengths to have my name and address removed from scores of mailing lists. I had a rage blackout when the TREE THAT WAS THE RESTORATION HARDWARE CATALOG landed on my doorstep. You’ll often find me on the phone with some customer service representative telling them that no, I do not want their catalog, and no, I would never shop at Fingerhut. I don’t want a complicated life, and because of this, I buy clothes from a handful of brands I trust.

AND THEN I RECEIVED THE VICTORIA’S SECRET CATALOG. I have a long, contentious history with VS, which I won’t document here, but suffice it to say I am not their customer. I do not want to be on any of their lists, etc, etc. So when I received their catalog for the third time, I decided to deploy a friendly inquisition. After speaking with multiple customer service representatives and two supervisors, I learned that Victoria’s Secret purchased my information from J.Crew.

You may think my reaction was dramatic, but who cares? I felt BETRAYED. I immediately called J.Crew and launched into a tirade about how I was “disappointed,” how I checked off that I never wanted my information to be shared, sold or communicated to any other company–I don’t even give my email at checkout! I was assured by my rather flummoxed and just-as-shocked-as-you representative that it’s against J.Crew’s policy to share/sell customer information. The representative promised to look into the matter and call me back.

No one ever called me back.

Perhaps because she was made aware of the fact that J.Crew does share customer information. I learned this because after speaking to a few more ill-informed representatives (did anyone get a CSR manual from J. Crew on their policies and procedures, because the clue phone has been ringing off the hook and no one is picking up on their end) and sending emails to their 24/7 email line, I received this note as part of a longer email thread:

While we do occasionally share addresses with third party companies, those companies are only allowed to send one piece of mail and are unable to add the customer to their mailing list. We are able to turn this sharing “off” upon request which the associate you spoke with should have been aware of and offered to you.

Interesting. So when I opted to not have my information shared, my information was shared anyway. In marketing, we like to call this erosion of brand trust. Or, a violation of CAN-SPAM if you want to get legal about it. Another call to their customer service line, a request to have my information removed from their database, was met with this terse reply: If you can’t tell me your phone number or email, how can I possibly remove you from our database? To which I calmly responded, I don’t know. My address? My catalog ID #? She put me on hold for ten minutes and then I got disconnected. Classy.

This post has gotten so long that I’m not going to even go into J.Crew’s lack of floor service in their Flatiron and Soho locations. When I’m routinely asked, Did someone assist you with your purchase today? I’m often left to respond, no, no one helped me with my purchase today.

A lot of rookie marketers will conceive of grand campaigns to lure customers from one consideration set to another. They will transform their site and social channels into “content machines” where your feed is flooded with “information you can use” delivered by a “human voice.” Self-appointed gurus will prattle on about how content is king, but let me break it down real slow:

CONSUMERS DON’T GIVE A SHIT ABOUT YOUR CONTENT IF YOU’RE FAILING THEM AS A BRAND.

Do I give a shit about J.Crew’s newsletters and 24/7 stylists when half their customer service staff doesn’t even understand their policies on how a customer’s information can be shared/marketed? Do I give a shit about their Cyber Monday sale when I’m spending more money than I used to for a subpar product? Marketers, me being one of them, are used to dousing glitter over shit and calling it glitter, but customers aren’t stupid. If a brand can’t get the basics right: product, product value and proposition, and service, they will never care about the glitter. Stupid people care about glitter. Informed, discerning customers, who value their money and service, care about a good product and a brand that’s honest.

When I wrote J.Crew a long, heartfelt letter telling them why they lost me as a customer, much of their response was: “We’ll forward your information to the appropriate department.”

Yeah. I think it’s about time we see other people. Cuyuna, Everlane, Banana Republic with your comeback cashmere and sweaters, Rag & Bone–meet your new customer.

In case you’re wondering, I’m wearing a few new favorites: Banana Republic lovely cashmere open cardi, wool crew sweater and the softest wool coat.
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my journey to a healthier body, from the inside out: getting comfortable in your own skin

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This week-long series isn’t about how I lost nearly 30 pounds in three months, rather this is about a lifetime battle with my body and how I’m finally traveled to a place where I’m settled in my skin and love it, from the inside out. This week, I’ll be sharing highly personal aspects of my life as well as practical tips I’ve learned–all in an effort to inspire you and remind myself that every day requires self-work and self-love. I was going to introduce this series when I hit my goal weight, but that felt pointless, because this is a journey that has no end until the end, and that’s actually really comforting. Shocking for a Type-A control freak like me. In today’s post I talk about the tough stuff I’ve had to endure throughout this journey and how it made me comfortable in my own skin–from people who want to play armchair physician, to doctors who don’t respect, to analyzing my poop and how to shop for a changing body, I share all the good times.

I have a phrase that I use often and it’s this: You’re either on my bus or you’re off my bus. Over the years I’ve endured admonishments and petty cruelty from the barnacles–those who proclaimed to be my friend to then only suck the life right out of me. The barnacles are sneaky, spindly in the way they cleave and attach, and you practically need a scalpel to excise them from your life. For years, I thought it was normal to surround myself with judgmental, catty assholes, and I’d normally get drunk just to get through a dinner party without throwing things. And for a time I thought it was perfectly fine to befriend people who wheedled and connived, “friends” who made me doubt yourself, made me strive to be my lowest self.

Then I woke up. It was as if I’d been asleep all this time and I suddenly woke up! Removed the sleep from my eyes and grabbed a scalpel to remove all the human lesions that’d formed attachments to my skin. Because make no mistake, surrounding yourself with toxic people,–and I’m not talking about people who sometimes go through a shitty time, because we’re human, not game show hosts–people who thrive on making you feel small will invariably make you feel just that. Small. My circle is well-cultivated and magical; we all bear one another, from time to time, on our shoulders. Because that’s what friends do, bear the weight of our sorrow and wipe the tears from our eyes because one day they know we’ll be there to hold their head in our hands. We’ll be there in our pajamas, bearing a bucket of ice cream, two spoons and a DVD of Bachelorette (the movie, not the show) because that’s what we do. We love without judgment.

So when I started to get sick from all the gluten and dairy, but before hives would make a map on my body, some people would play doctor and tell me about the ailments they thought I had. Pay no mind that I was paying trained medical professionals, no, no, no, once you have a degree from Women’s Health and Marie Claire, playing the part of a physician seems easy, downright necessary. Friends would interrupt me and tell me about their friend (it’s always their friend) who had the same exact problem and it wasn’t gluten, it was XYZ! Or was I really nixing gluten and dairy because I wanted to just lose weight ((wink, wink)Come on, be honest), because haven’t you heard? Hating on gluten is so en vogue.

My response? I politely told everyone to please shut the fuck up and let me deal with actual experts. Because sometimes a friend comes to you simply for comfort, rather than a desire for you to fix everything. I don’t need you to solve my life or tell me about your friend, who I don’t know or care about, I just need you to shut up and be a friend. I need you to be present and here for me, just as I’ve always been present for you.

Even now, even still, people, sometimes complete strangers, want to tell me about how I’m feeling and how gluten sensitivities don’t exist. I have to remind myself that this often comes from a place of kindness (at best) or ignorance (at worst), and I thank them as gracefully. I tell them that I’ve medical professionals on the case. While I don’t need to punch everyone who annoys me, I’ve learned to speak up for myself. I’ve learned to tell people, politely, that I don’t need their armchair medicine. And if they don’t respect that, if they continue to prattle on and talk over me, they are just as politely kicked off my bus.

Because I don’t have time for your nonsense.

Speaking of nonsense, have I mentioned that this journey WAS/IS/CONTINUES to be expensive? After my cat died last year and I relapsed, I spent the remainder of 2013 catatonic. So much so that I forgot to enroll in health insurance, something I sorely regret this year. Thankfully, my doctor of over a decade was kind enough to extend a payment plan, and I see my investment in Dana, in the grand scheme of things, minor compared to what I’d have to shell out if I had major health issues down the road. I don’t mind working longer hours, taking on supplemental projects that I don’t necessarily love, if I’m paying for experts who have my best interests at heart.

Not when I’m paying an allergist $1000 to treat me like a small child. The hives that I experienced as a result of eating gluten and dairy after I’d abstained for two weeks, persisted. Although they covered less of my body, I woke every day to itch and redness, and this baffled my doctor and nutritionist. They hadn’t seen a case this extreme for this long, and they recommended a visit to an allergist, because perhaps in my vulnerable state I’d opened myself up to an allergy? Who the fuck knows. What I do know is this: I wish I’d never seen this allergist. I wish I could have my hard-earned money back. I wish I’d never heard of this woman’s name at all.

I debated for weeks whether or not I should post the allergist’s name, and I won’t because I’M TRYING SO FUCKING HARD TO BE GRACEFUL even though I seriously want to pummel her. Can we start with the fact that I spent more time waiting in the waiting room than actually speaking to the doctor? Even during my first session I felt uncomfortable because she literally pushed my food sensitivity test results aside and said, yeah, let’s get some real tests. She cut me off, didn’t want to hear about my food issues, and pushed me into submitting myself for expensive tests that were inconclusive and sloppily-rendered. I was going to post a picture of the patch test she did on my back, and I relented because the image might give you nightmares. It sure as hell did for me. In the end, she charged me for shoddy work, delayed sending my biopsy results (but didn’t have a problem sending me a bill and hounding me for it), and made every session more about my ability to pay than my actual condition. I sat in my nutritionist’s office yesterday and had a rage blackout when we talked about said allergist, and Dana reminded me that I have to let this rage go.

Fine. I’m letting it go. But I will say this: don’t ever let a doctor (or anyone for that matter) make you feel small. Don’t let a doctor override your instinct. This allergist tried to tell me that these smaller hives were actually worse than my original condition and I honestly regarded her as if she were smoking crack. Because she had no idea what I went through and I know, and my DOCTOR KNOWS, that when I went to see her I was dealing with residual hives. If you’re seeing someone about food sensitivities, make sure the doctor listens to you and has respect for holistic medicine. Remember, you are the client, and they are the recipient of your hard-earned money. Do your research, ask questions over the phone before your appointment, and if you get a strange vibe don’t feel bad about not going back.

It reminds me of a story a friend told me some years ago. About a decade ago she’d developed celiac, and a team of doctors told her that she had depression, that she was making up her symptoms, that she was bonkers for believing that her condition was related to gluten! HA! HA! She told me how she left doctors’ offices powerless, confused, angry. No one deserves to be treated like that. If your doctor isn’t on your bus, KICK THEM OFF. Preferably with a spiked boot.

Since I just talked to you about a pile of bullshit poop is a perfect segue, don’t you think? While it’s true that no one likes to talk about their bathroom business, it’s a real sentimental education so get out your pen and paper and take notes. If this is too TMI, scroll down a bit to the awkward snap of me on the street.

For the past two years I vacillated between constipation, diarrhea, and bullet stools. Going to the bathroom was NOT FUN, and it got so that I would drink two cups of coffee just to go to the bathroom. Does that sound normal to you? Your body has this arcane and incredible capacity to educate you about yourself–you only need to listen. Your stool is a direct reflection of what’s going on in your digestive system, and while you don’t need to make your poo fodder for brunch conversation, you should be checking out your business on the regular because it’ll tell you if you lack fiber, water, nutrients, etc. In addition to the cute infographic above (cute was reaching a bit, yes?), Sarah Wilson has a terrific, simple post on figuring out your stool situation. Spending time with yourself in this way isn’t always fun, but it’s informative.

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What else gives me vertigo? FASHION. (I mean, look how awkward I look in the above photo? Nothing creeps me out more than having my picture taken.) I remember I used to post outfit photos on this space and I’m so embarrassed that I did–who did I think I was prancing around like that? Spending sums of money on clothing I didn’t need. Clothing I’ve since donated or given away. By no means am I a stylish person–I prefer clothes that are simple and have a function. I’ve no interest in being creative with my clothing, rather, I save that for prose and the food I make and photograph for others. However, one of the biggest challenges was finding clothes that fit during the height of my weight, bloat and overall malaise, and the transition to where I am now. While I’ve about eight pounds to go to hit my goal weight and most of my old clothes fit, I’ve found that my style has changed over the past four years. I still focus on clothing that’s comfortable and functional, but more than ever I’ve made a point in buying less and better.

During my transition, most of what I wore were “legging pants” because they had stretch, cotton dresses and nothing that clung to my body. As I started to lose, I took in dresses that were investment pieces when I hit the 20 pound mark and plan to leave them at that size because I like clothes that are not too form-fitting and have a little give. More affordable linen pants from Old Navy and stretch trousers from Uniqlo were donated, and I replaced them with wool and silk trousers. Last week I bought my first pair of jeans in four years–Paige Denim, boyfriend skinny (love!)

Now I have about 15 items I wear pretty frequently and I’m slowly giving away or donating the bulk of my wardrobe. I don’t need multiples; I don’t care for trends, rather I prefer to buy classic pieces (black, grey and navy pants; v-neck and crewneck wool and cashmere sweaters; one button-down, a few pairs of shoes; one black handbag) and I punch up my wardrobe, which can get a bit boring, with accessories. I really like BaubleBar’s bits and recently purchased this lovely bracelet from J. Crew (on-sale!). I also troll Hitha’s + Grace’s sites because they often find affordable costume jewelry and accessories designers. I also have a bit of a scarf addiction, but luckily I stockpiled while I was in India so I’m all set…for the next six months.

But in the end, I wear what makes me feel good. While writing this post I wondering how I was going to cobble together poop, barnacles, crap allergists and fashion, and I’ve realized that I’m talking about comfort. Be your loudest advocate. Do and act from a place of what feels good to you. Surround yourself with people who love and support you. Love and take care of yourself, and whether you’re fashionable or functional, wear clothes that feel like a second skin.

Next Up: Today, I’m traveling to South East Asia (!!!), so hopefully I’ll get time to pen tomorrow’s post on the plane! I’ll post some final thoughts and what’s next on the horizon for me health-wise, and on this blog. I’d love to hear from you. Do you like series like this? I’m trying to experiment with long-form storytelling, and let me know if you’re keen on hearing more of it and if there are any subjects in particular you’d like to see me write about.

And FINALLY. I met with my nutritionist yesterday, and asked if she’d be willing to answer some of my reader’s questions, and she SAID YES! If you have a health or food-related question for a professional, please leave them in the comments section. I’m going to compile them when I’m in Asia for a follow-up post.

love.life.eat. of the week

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While I’ve always been curvy, the size of my chest has oscillated wildly over the years. In my 20s, I was impossibly thin, and shirts fell the way they would when draped on a mannequin. Part of me misses those days without cleavage, not having to worry about the way tops and dresses fit–I simply wore what I wanted to without thinking about it. Now, that’s all I do. Think about ways in which I can dress around my boobs. And yes, I’ve heard the countless refrains of VIVA LA BOOBS! Celebrate the girls in their glory, and what not, however, that kind of style makes me squirm beyond measure. I’ve always been modest–glamour has never been part of my repertoire–and I much prefer classic cuts, effortless fits, and naturally, the color blue.

Believe me when I say that 90% of my wardrobe is BLUE.

A few weeks ago I tried on every dress in my wardrobe and sighed over the BOOB SITUATION–the fact that nothing fit right because of the size of my chest. So I donated and gave away 40% of my wardrobe, and replaced what was missing with fewer pieces of higher quality. I purchased this classic black dress because I love the fit, drape and back, and the fact that I can dress this down with a cardigan. Boobs secured. In the midst of a rage blackout over my father’s medical condition, I blacked-out and purchased this dress in this pattern from Meg Shops in Williamsburg. I’ve worn this linen dress four times in two weeks and I am in LOVE. I love this dress so much I even considered purchasing it in PINK. Guys, PINK. I have ZERO pink in my wardrobe.

Finally, I purchased this swing trench from Everlane because of the perfect cut, color, and price. It also replaces a less-than-flattering grey trench that I’ve been holding onto for longer than I want to admit.

While some look to their wardrobe as a means to tell a story, my clothes are purely functional. However, my home is a place filled with stories–the nesting dolls from Russia that were nearly confiscated at the airport, the prints from a wonderful photographer I met in Melbourne, the ceramic vase from Mexico, the cashmere scarves from India and linens from Cambodia–and I’ve become a collector of art and items that evoke memories. Although many items I own have been acquired as a result of my travels, I became obsessed with Sivana Skayo’s Intimacy Under the Wires series, specifically this photo. The image has already inspired another trip–one I plan to take this fall.

And finally, I’ve recently acquired an ice-cream maker and naturally I’ve booked two ice cream socials with close friends. Know that I will be making a ton of sweets from the Ample Hills Creamery book.

UPDATE: DO NOT PURCHASE FROM ARTFULLY WALLS. MY PRINT CAME IN HORRIBLE CONDITION, WAS OF CHEAP QUALITY, AND HAD THE WEBSITE BRANDING ALL OVER MY IMAGE. I’M ENRAGED THAT I SPENT $70 AND WAS RIPPED OFF.

the dress I’ll be wearing all. summer. long.

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Truth be told, I’m not very fashionable. The idea of shopping {the crowds, the quality, the ever-changing sizes} gives me vertigo, and I very much prefer to live in a uniform. Over the past year, I’ve pared down my wardrobe considerably, and I’ve about 10 items I wear on rotation, pretty regularly, and nothing, nothing, has made me happier. Not only do I not have to deal with the waste of money and fabric, but I wear items I truly love and pieces which have considerable versatility and quality. And it’s not a shock, as exhibited by the color palette here, that I tend to wear neutrals and blue. In fact, nearly all of my wardrobe is blue — this outfit may very well be the exception.

I can’t tell you how much I LOVE THIS DRESS. I adore the soft fabric, the swing of the dress, and the fact that I can eat a huge bowl of pasta and no one would notice. I plan to wear this dress at least once a week, and it’s perfect paired with heels and a jacket for work, or for errands around the city in my Supergas. Believe me when I say that I want to SLEEP in this dress, it’s that comfortable.

Outfit Details: Dress: Puella @ Anthropologie | Jacket: Paul Smith {old} | Necklaces: J. Crew {old} | Glitter Flats: J. Crew {old, but I’d recommend Grace Atwood’s lovely collaboration with Matt Bernson} | Leather Tote: Robert Leather Factory, Firenze {$100}

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life lately

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luxe firenze find: roberta leather factory

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It’s rare that you’ll find my talking about fashion or clothing on this space, as it’s not a huge part of my life anymore, however, I do believe in making smart investments on beautiful, quality items that will go the distance. Truth be told, I actually loathe shopping. From the crowds to the nauseating dressing room lights to brands who change their sizing annually, I experience nothing short of vertigo whilst trying to purchase a shirt. To that end, I’ve spent this year editing my wardrobe to have only the things I love, only the things I need, only the things that fit.

Then I went to Florence. Initially, I was set against buying anything beyond truffle oil and some antique cups, but then I met a very chic, elderly French woman who had the most sumptuous leather bag. She whispered that it was from Roberta and it was only $110 EU.

How fast plans change.

If you’re in Florence, you must stop at Roberta. A small shop just over the Ponte Vecchio, you’ll find excellent leather at extraordinary prices. I picked up a black leather tote, lined in suede, for $100 EU. Scored lambskin gloves for $25 EU. Not once have I used my Celine, opting for this simple, label-less tote that holds EVERYTHING.

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dispatches from firenze: a woman is prone to wander

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