i will wear these shoes well

from @wearweare channel on telegram~

today, i shall share the story about these pair of handcrafted woven shoes i purchased from a very inconspicuous shop tucked away along changi village, called (q. ambiguously) “Fashion Shoe Shop”. during my staycay at changi village, i wandered the shops only to be drawn to the rows of very beautiful shoes (there are both leather and synthetic variants). i was super hungry and wanted to get dinner, but couldnt help being drawn to the shoes… & i was told the shop was gonna close in 30 mins! haha so u know, i went in.

i wish i took more photos of the place, but i was busy fawning and asking the owner questions about his shoes. “where do you get your shoes from?”
“yes, these are very high quality handcrafted shoes. the designs are very unique and now production has stopped because the artisans are old, and covid pushed them to retire. so these shoes, i wont have any more of them after they are gone”

“these artisans are from overseas?”
“no, all Singaporeans! These are made locally u know! these are people who have been in the shoe trade for many years, some up to 50 years! like me. but covid, now a lot retire. so i dont think i can get any more shoes from them, unless some of them decide to produce again.”
“wow… thats sad… 🥺 i love these shoes… im so hungry but delaying dinner to look at them uwu”
“ya, ya, i know. but how, last time ah, people have to beg craftsmen and artisans to become shoemakers and apprentices, now no one wants to take over the craft. and of course, the older generation wants their children to succeed as businessmen and whatnot, so they wont force them to continue. thats how it is, last time, we can work in one industry for 30, 40 years, now its not like that…”

at this point i have nothing to say but nod slowly … picturing the people who made these shoes, who dedicated their life to shoes. but then i said “nowadays, the shoes i find in malls, they aren’t like this…”
“yes, cos the material quality is different and its usually factory produced. but then its okay also, look at charles and keith, they are doing well, from local brand become global! but i tell u a secret. its because LV actually bought a share, so a portion of charles and keith is actually designed by the crafters under LV. i know cos i in the shoe trade la!”

haha, at this point, i laughed and told him he is very cool and i want to buy this pair of shoes. he purses his lips and looks at the shoes on my feet, dissatisfied. he says, “girl, the shoes is just slightly bigger than your feet. its not a perfect fit. i dont wanna sell for the sake of it, are u sure you want this?”
ive fallen in love w the shoes at this point though, so i walk several rounds around his shop, fast and slow, and keep assuring him i will love and use them well. hahaha i was actually having to convince him to sell them to me. “i really love the shoes uncle, i will wear them!”

he finally relents, smiling, and says, “ok, ok. if only i had one size smaller.” he goes on to teach me some leather care tips, how to keep the shoes dry, and gives me a discount of the price (🥺🥰)

now when i wear these shoes, i remember the passion they carry and how much they were loved, both by the craftsmen and the shoe shop owner… the dedication to the craft that is able to celebrate the wider success of the industry beyond themselves (i was expecting bitterness in his words at how times are changing, but there were none), and just a pure, pure love for the craft of shoe making and the shoe industry…

i dont have any takehome point for this story, take what you will … it reminds me how the old/new binary we use is often a false one, its perhaps more helpful to think of what we wear in terms of cycles and seasons, of craft and workmanship instead of trends or styles … of course its also that the story adds to the shoe i wear on my feet, heh.
uncle i will wear these shoes well! ♥️

some musings on this story, after chewing on it more:

ive always been moved by the intertwining between artisanship and people; craft and crafter; object, owner and tradesmen. there is a beautiful ecosystem of trust and reliance, of dedication and skill on the side of the artisan, of patience, waiting and appreciating on the side of the owner. relationships anchor the act of consumption and production, rather than the other way around.

what i recall from this conversation is not bitterness but rather a peace in things changing and growing and evolving, as they always will be. it perhaps less important for things to stay the same as it is for stories, values, methods to live on in new ways. even though there is a prevailing sentiment that these trades are “dying”, and that we are now moving into a period of pre-emptively mourning their loss, i believe there is yet still so much Life in the work of tradesmen, crafters, collectors and artisans in Singapore, so much to be sought out, marvelled, appreciated, inspired by; so much of the values, traditions and ecosystems to be reclaimed, stories to be retold, objects and methods reworked into our daily lives. Perhaps these things can live on in beautiful new ways.

one of my absolute favourite things is to see old traditions being respectfully reworked into new styles, fashions and objects, all the while paying homage to the deep roots of where it came from.

one of my favourite designers is @sarahnsikak, an artist and fashion designer whose beautiful patchwork dresses and garments pay homage to the Heroro women of Namibia. I love how she is not only reworking their methods into her designs, but retelling their stories in new ways, and reclaiming the intimacy of consumption and production through the slowness of her craft. At the same time, the dresses pay homage to the oldness and history of the craft through the use of secondhand or waste fabrics, even as much as this choice also speaks to the urgent climate crisis that the fashion industry is complicit in… i could go on for paragraphs writing how much political, social and cultural power/ influence this dress holds within its billowing, vibrant, twirling self…

i guess what i really see here is how what we wear is so much more than a frivolous material item we put on our body,

on one hand, within each item lies economic chains of production and consumption, its environmental impact, human labour, culture, history, social ties, complicated intertwining of social/economic/capitalist agendas… on the other hand, what we wear is deeply intertwined with our perceptions of aesthetic and beauty, body image & standards, our bodily comfort in the clothing and so bringing things like health, mobility & disability into play, social status, belonging… it is at once deeply personal and entirely political (i use political to refer to systems & structure of power)

in this way, i believe the potential of fashion, as both an embodied, tactile experience of a singular individual choosing what to wear in the morning, and an intangible, rich space where society, history, politics, culture, economics and the environment intersect, to nourish and guide our way into activism: a deeper engagement with issues of social & environmental justice.

as i have written on the Wear We Are tele channel, i believe deeply in the power of enjoying the experience of fashion – dressing up, buying clothes, treasuring and owning items, in guiding and nourishing our engagement with the problems and issues it inherently intertwines with.

ive started writing Wear We Are and curating this space simply out of a desire to document and celebrate my own journey into living a more conscious and engaged life, starting with where i am, and what i wear.

as i wrote freely, i realise that it was really my ingratiation into the process of thrifting – the play, freedom and beauty it allowed me to experience in my body and self-expression – that led me to asking questions about fashion and consumerism that eventually led me into issues of environmentalism, capitalism, colonialism, gender, race… ultimately pointing me towards the urgent and beautiful vision of intersectional social justice.

keeping this little happy chat bubble here for documentation, i was very happy when i realised these things for myself.

may this space be a reminder that what we enjoy & desire, what is Good for us, what gives us Life, is often not mutually exclusive with, but instead imperative to, the urgent transformation and revolution we need in our world today. im seeing this for myself in thrift, artisanship, craft, fashion, dressing up, clothes… what about you?

join me https://t.me/wearweare


self care/ community care

hello world! hello me!

today, i am quite UwU and heartened by the week – of rest, reflections and processing and tending to my inner garden. i don’t use these words lightly, as much as they sound so fluffy…

i named this blog ra’ah because God gave me this word this year, and it’s been an anchor throughout – ra’ah is used in Ecclesiates, where it says:

every version of this verse hits me different in a good way

ive written a lot about this word and what it means to me on my instagram so do check it out if you would like the long and in depth journey of me and this word.1As i start this writing documentation of my journey as a “young 20-something” “christian” “activist” – ive never FULLY resonated with any one of these words because of the social and cultural stereotypes and contexts they are often used in, and would prefer actually to say i am a highly sensitive, deeply affected by the world person walking out a journey with God – i go back to the word ra’ah because it encapsulates and grounds my direction for this space. this space of figuring out what it means to heal, personally, as well as heal, collectively, intertwined and interdependently. It is a space where i want to see self-work and community work as intertwined and mutually enriching and nourishing. it is space where i want to work things out, personally & politically.

ra’ah – it means to enjoy. the verse up there, it states, so clearly and simply, that it is pleasure from the hand of God (!) that we can enjoy ALL our labour, toil or work. I like to use the word labour because while work has so many related connotations to what one’s job or career is, labour reminds me of a life’s work – what are we even alive, breathing, occupying this space in the world for? i used to think (as a believer) my life is a sacrifice to God. For him to do what He wants to do.

That is most definitely true. but ive never imagined that this life’s work was meant to be enjoyable, pleasurable, rich & delightful.

but that’s what God is saying here, at least to me.

for so long, ive thought of life split up into three segments: clear up my own mess, clear up the world’s mess, and then, relax when its over or you reach retirement age and no one expects anything from you anymore.

as someone who struggled and still struggles with her mental health, the first segment seemed to be going on forever.

so, i decided, forget it, lets just forget the first part, and move onto the next part. let’s at least be useful somewhere and somehow. i dabbled in so many non-profit related work, in photography and videography, i volunteered in family service centres and charities, i served in my church. im NOT in any way a hero, nor have i done anything amazing, but i would say im constantly striving to give and help… whatever little i have. i was always conscious it was little, and felt that sheer relief that God somehow still wanted to use that little bit. i was always conscious of my own brokenness, helplessness, weakness, and that made me cling onto Him.

i would say, yes, the journey was beautiful in its own way, and even needful in its own way, but you can imagine what it is like when a broken, empty person trying to help other broken, empty people… its painful. its full of pain actually, because you cannot ever seem to do what you’ve set out to do (help people) because you realise your own struggles are getting in the way. then you feel burnt out, small, condemned, useless. you’re like, “God… why did you create me?”

eventually, my body collapsed and forced myself to stop running and striving in this desperate way. at the core of it, i saw myself as rejected and useless until i could find meaning and purpose in helping others. i saw life as something to be earned and deserved, rather than a gift to be received.

even though the season of giving and serving definitely showed me my need for God, it resulted in a very broken relationship with myself, and with Life. striving and striving, never allowing myself to receive pleasure, beauty, joy, freedom, peace.

through the word – ra’ah – which i’m only just beginning to understand and live out, i have come to realise that what i thought were three separate stages or segments of life (if i may separate them: growth, labour, pleasure) were One and Intertwined. Life is a gift, where we grow, where we labour in our own growth and in our communities, where we find great enjoyment and pleasure in this labouring, individually and together. as we become, we are also working, we are also partaking, we are also enjoying. society has taught us that life comes in fixed stages or linear hierarchies when really it comes in overlapping and encircling ripples, life embraces you as you learn to embrace yourself.

for reALLy long, ive always felt hindered in my ability to connect and contribute to the world, because of what i saw as mental illness. there’s so much to be unpacked where mental illness is concerned (how much of it is really an individual’s problem and how much of it is determined, shaped, inflected, fuelled or propped up by societal – political, cultural, economical – structures and systems?) and that is definitely something i want to explore more here. but for now, i find in myself more than sufficient Grace to say that i have come to see my own healing, self-work and self-care as intertwined and nourished by a deep and active engagement with my immediate communities and the wider world around me, indeed that self care/community care are one and the same thing.

Credit: @ogorchukwuu

this doesn’t mean i keep on giving, giving, depleting my own energy for others at the expense of myself. it means trusting that my self-work, my self-care is not the simple shopping spree or mind-numbing vacation, but a sincere, persistent digging deep into myself to find what i truly want and desire, to find what makes me move and rumble, what my whole being yearns to vision and create. it is trusting that this entire process is part of community-building, too, and then actively and intentionally creating those connections through vulnerability and holding space, for the Other and your Self. (but what is this other/self but yet another binary? can we choose to leave the vision of the autonomous ego behind? more on that later, too) in this way, self work becomes community work when we choose to see the process of unlearning, of shaking off the dust of stereotypes, biases, small-minded beliefs and ignorant behaviours, of quieting the voices that say we need to be productive, useful, superior, better …. as a part of loving and nourishing ourselves, and each other, and embracing what is True, together.

really, i believe self-healing can only happen in a community of co-labourers, grounded in Love.

it is finally also believing that all of this, ALL of it, the painful and ugly and gory bits, can also be deeply fulfilling, pleasurable, enjoyable – ra’ah. where my soul sees Good. I want my soul to see good, even in the difficult in-between, the painful poking and prodding.

part of all of this, trusting that i can hold space for myself in this chaotic, messy world, to write, to make, to create, to do things that i love doing and makes my soul sing. to believe that even something small like this can mean something. and i really believe, if in simply following my own path i can inspire another person to shake off the dust of the world, and do the same, i can rest fully satisfied.

so in all of this, may those neatly divided categories tumble and fall; because God has again showed me how big He is, how big His heart is for Me and for My life. and for every single one of His people as well. so much richer, so much more beautiful, this Life, than i could have ever imagined.

may You bless and nourish and open up this space for me to move, dance, paint and sing freely, God, may You be intimate and close to me in the process.

from my favourite hand-letterer, poet and artist, @lorihetteen

💌 all my love

[1] my instagram account is privated, but i will accept anyone who isn’t a bot or spam or shop account, because it helps me to curate with intention when i keep the space very personable and small. but i will accept any HUMAN BEING! ❤ (or Very Sincere and Persistent Animal!)